ust as few rock bands seem unable to resist drafting in their local Dial-A-Philharmonic at least once in their careers, electronic artists seem similarly enchanted with the bankrolling of string sections. Presumably motivated by a vague notion of prestige, grandness, or artistic integrity the orchestration highway is a notoriously treacherous place, and for every stretch of pristine Efterklang or Telefon Tel Aviv asphalt there exist numerous William Orbit potholes and Rob Dougan gridlocks. However 2005 seems to be producing a bumper crop of those possessing the adroit acumen required to coax disparate digital and organic elements into an amblicated union, with Marsen Jules’ Herbstlaub, Amina’s AminaminA and Susumu Yokota’s forthcoming Symbol LP all ample testament. To these effervescent ranks we can now add the debut release from Britain’s Ryan Teague, a classically trained musician who fell upon electronica whilst dabbling in more traditional compositions. As such you could argue technically that Teague doesn’t really adhere to my opening preamble concerning digital artists who like to straddle the odd musical border, coming as he does from the other side. To which I reply “Fair enough, go write your own bloody introduction then…”
Six Preludes opens with a perfect example of what undoubtedly constitutes Ryan Teague’s primary talent; the ability to produce deeply complex and richly textured music in a manner that strikes the listener with total clarity and a friable sense of the unpremeditated. Very much in the style of Maurice Ravel, “Prelude I” is introduced by imponderous, heavy-lidded strings that, whilst seemingly custom tuned to invoke an acute sense of optimism-frosted melancholy, also serve as aural catnip which the ear greedily (and gratefully) laps up. To this violin and clarinet confection, Teague then adds some Plaid-style division bells, couches it in a smur of ice-water digitalis, and tops it all off with Chloe Leaper’s diffused, yet utterly captivating, operatic vocals. In less assured hands “Prelude I” could readily have descended into a cluttered and over-egged shambles, but with an almost belligerent confidence Ryan Teague has achieved a notable landmark composition that bears comparison with the likes of Steve Reich, La Monte Young or Terry Riley. All this and it’s only the first track. Of his debut album. Ouch.
Taking the Ronseal approach to song titles, Teague wastes no time in puncturing the profoundly beatific mood established by “Prelude I” through the musical juxtaposition of “Prelude II”. With a significantly darker hue and less languid arrangement, “Prelude II” isolates the listener through much tighter (and by implication, tenser) strings which adhere to an almost Stockhausen-esque breed of serialism. As the song progresses, Teague allows individual viola opportunity to shrug free of their choral coalition and ride high into the mix with startlingly mournful results, rendered all the more lucid through a backdrop of waning broadcast static. “Prelude III” is similarly restless as Teague allows a clutch of metronome strings to throb in and out of focus whilst a rustic xylophone and tender piano unpick an overarching melody. By the time a thrumming set of Vladislav Delay style clicks & cuts are ushered in, “Prelude III” has somehow been thawed from its brittle origins into a film noir influenced composition that, if listened to on your iPod whilst out and about down town, will have you sat under a broiling sky whilst you pensively chain-smoke, wishing you could see in monochrome. Or is that just me?
Of all the work contained within Six Preludes, number four is undoubtedly the most overtly abstract and challenging piece, taking what is at times a quite uncomfortably pitched central violin part then peppering it with shards of groaning bass. Teague does however give the merest glimpse of a sun dappled exterior through a music-box melody played reticently on the xylophone, before bringing us back full circle with a hissing wad of untreated background noise that thoroughly asserts “Prelude IV” as the gauche (yet genius) awkward sibling. Having to follow this oddly brutal soundscape, Teague chooses to ease us back in gently through the swan-neck clarinet and almost breathy strings of “Prelude V,” whose latter half is soaked in a rattling, yet discreet, analogue bubble bath. Evidently priming the listener for a grand finale, “Prelude V” seems intended to signpost this ultimate destination by teasing the diverse strands used throughout Six Preludes into individually revealing their respective qualities.
As anticipated “Prelude VI” provides a sublime climax that is certainly majestic (and quite possibly ostentatious), but never loses sight of its dignity. Through a subdued palate of snap, crackle and pop electronica, Teague, along with guest cellist Dave Dhonav, creates a piece of music which forcibly tugs at the heart strings without once resorting to the usual clichéd chocolate box shortcuts this may imply. Exquisitely judged and shrouded in an illusory ambience, “Prelude VI” adds an extra layer of cognition to all that has preceded it and in doing so signals that Six Preludes is best consumed as a cohesive whole. Whilst at times Ryan Teague’s debut is both bruisingly intimate and brow furrowingly obdurate, it is nevertheless a shockingly accomplished album which proves surprisingly difficult to dislike. With a depth and scope that is criminally absent in much contemporary music, it begs the tantalising question; if these are the preludes what follows next? I daren’t even begin to imagine.
Reviewed by: Adam Park
Reviewed on: 2005-05-10