Recording of December 1963: Music of Edgar Varèse, Vol.2

Music of Edgar Varèse, Vol.2

Arcana, Déserts, Offrandes, Chanson De Là-Haut (Song From High)

Dona Precht, soprano, Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Robert Craft, conductor.

Columbia Masterworks MS-6362 (LP). John McClure, Thomas Frost, prods. TT: 24:45.

In electronic music, the sounds of musical instruments, natural noise-makers and electronic signal generators are recorded on tape, modified by running them at higher- or lower-than-normal speeds and manipulating their tonal content, and then combined in rhythmic and tonal patterns to create entirely new forms of music.

This Columbia recording is one of the few discs of full-length electronic compositions, and is an outstanding example of the virtually limitless range of tonal colors available to the electronic music composer. As for the music itself, I do not pretend to comprehend it. I even hesitate to grace it with the designation “music” at all. Perhaps in so doing, I label myself as a stick-in-the-mud reactionary, but I must admit that repeated listenings have not made this any less alien to my ear than it was on the first playing.

There is, however, a strange fascination about its shimmering, iridescent patterns of sound. It is also, incidentally, quite a demonstration record for top-notch equipment, for it has some of the highest- and lowest-frequency tones recorded on it that I’ve heard in some time. The recording is one of Columbia’s best, although I defy anyone to tell whether it is high-, low-, or medium-fi. How hi-fi can a recording be, when none of the sounds on it are supposed to sound natural?

This is a must, even if only as a tonic for jaded ears.—J. Gordon Holt

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