Tag Archives: Vanessa Wagner

Ten Records that Blur The Line Between Electronic and Classical Music

Murc of Wagner

Murcof x Vanessa Wagner by Pierre Emmanuel Rastoin.

Considering how closely aligned electronic and classical music have been for decades—from string-laden samples and Philip Glass-like synth grooves to questionable covers like Tiësto’s dopey trance anthem take on Samuel Barber—it should come as no surprise that line between the two has become blurred over time. In fact, it seems pointless to peg many of today’s artists to either.

“I have always been surprised to hear my albums classified as ‘ambient,'” says Polish composer Michał Jacaszek. “They may have ambient elements—like deep reverb or delayed textures—but I prefer an ‘electro-acoustic’ label.”

“I don’t think I’d ever classify my own music in any modern classical sense,” adds producer/12k founder Taylor Deupree. While he’s collaborated with the legendary Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto several times (Disappearance, Perpetual), Deupree sees more parallels between traditional and progressive music forms in the work of his longtime labelmate, Kenneth Kirschner.

“Ken often uses the sounds of traditional classical music,” explains Deupree, “but with very modern and very minimalist compositions. I think that’s where the interest and strength lies in this type of music—where the inspiration comes from people like [Morton] Feldman and [John] Cage.”

That’s certainly been the case with a recent string of records from Mexican producer Murcof and pianist Vanessa Wagner. Last year’s Statea LP reinterpreted everything from John Adams to Aphex Twin, and this summer’s EP.02 pays tribute to Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt, and Morton Feldman without tarring the originals in techno-fusion tropes.

“The piano is the starting point of our project,” explains Wagner. “It’s important that electronic effects do not swallow its sound, even if it is sometimes distorted. Similarly, it also seemed very important to stay true to the scores of composers that we interpret.”

The same can often be said for post-classical provocateurs like Alarm Will Sound, the chamber orchestra famous for flipping Aphex Twin on his already twisted head. The following feature isn’t about concert halls invading the club, however, or vice versa. This is closer to the middle ground where it’s never clear what’s being “played” and what’s being “produced.”

Here are 10 essential classically-inclined electronic albums.

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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