Album of the Day: Murcof x Vanessa Wagner, “Statea”

Ambient and classical music have a lot in common and a vast chasm between them. Both have texture, tone, and tests of patience that promise certain rewards. But the making of each—one usually by means of electronic processing, and the other most often by hand—signals different origins and different priorities. For the cross-genre collaboration Statea, two artists—the Mexican ambient producer Murcof and French classical pianist Vanessa Wagner—focused on matters of contrast and commonality to find a meaningful middle ground.

The duo came together under the aegis of InFiné, a French label with curious ears (the company motto: “easy music for the hard to please”), and settled on a cast of celebrated modern and contemporary composers to both of their liking. The result is a sort of crash-course in 20th-century classical music remade in ways that celebrate the source. John Cage comes first with “In a Landscape,” which starts off as a naturalistic solo piano piece before certain notes begin to echo and stretch in ways that suggest more than just ebony and ivory at play. That would be Murcof, working with electronic effects that gradually become more and more pronounced, until it becomes hard to distinguish what is acoustic and what is electric.

Giving up that ghost comes as welcome relief as Statea stretches out stylistically. In “Variations for the Healing of Arinushka,” beatific piano notes divined by Arvo Pärt are greeted delicately by an electronic throb and even beats by the end. In “Avril 14th,” the tables are turned with a track by electronic antagonist Aphex Twin (from his infamous album Drukqs) turned into something more conservatory-inclined, thanks to Wagner’s tender performance. Points of approach vary, so that György Ligeti gets a treatment as dark, moody noise (“Musica Ricercata No. 2”) and Morton Feldman turns to minimal techno murmured in hushed tones (“Piano Piece 1952”). All the while, Murcof and Wagner rise up and down in terms of prominence with a deft sense of when each is needed—and when both can come together as one.

Andy Battaglia

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