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Old 11-08-2010, 01:47 AM   #11 (permalink)
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(Cross-posted from my Weekly Music Trading Post review of an album from dankrsta)

TuxedoMoon - The Ghost Sonata (1991)

"...Every story is about death..."

dankstra told me that this album was based on the band's "opera without words", and a little research helped me delve into this aspect more.

TuxedoMoon's opera without words was performed in 1982 at the Polverigi Theatre Festival in Italy. It was entitled "The Ghost Sonata", and the soundtrack (this album) was not released until 1991, although its brilliance was as relevant then as it was in 1982, and even in the present day.

I was also told that several bits of this "opera without words" were available on youtube, which I took full advantage of later to capture the visual aspect of the experience as well as the auditory.

The album itself is rather on the dark side, rich with layered instrumentation (numerous electronics, violin, woodwind, strings, piano, and what I perceived to be a vocoder on many vocals) and intriguing spoken word sections.

The album opens chillingly with "The Funeral Of a Friend", eerie spoken word dialogue over dark-layered instrumentation which segues perfectly into the title track.

The title track itself is foreboding, melancholy, and etched with deep sadness as well. It was perfect to listen to as I did for the first time, at night in my bedroom, completely absorbed in the soundscape TuxedoMoon beautifully etched out for their listeners.

"Catalyst" was certainly one of the more unsettling tracks on the album, although a mere 43 seconds. The sounds were disturbing, jarring almost, and a deep, evil voice was heard, along with the frightening screeching sounds. It segued into "An Affair at the Soiree", one of my overall favorite tracks upon repeated listens.

There were dark samples of laughter, sounds reminiscent of glass breaking, bells chiming, and even what sounded like distant screams near the beginning, although the instrumentation itself was surprisingly upbeat. Set to the dark samples, however, it sounded less like a joyous carnival (which I feel it could have) and became more reminiscent of a party gone horribly awry. I thought of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death", in which the host, Prospero, holds an elaborate party in spite of the overwhelming amounts of death in the town. The illness (The Red Death) which killed the townspeople had, unbeknownst to Prospero, made its way into the castle in human form, ultimately becoming the death of the revelers. It's an ominous tale to be sure, and is what this track caused me to think of. Another eerie spoken word bit appears at the end of this track, darkening the tone even more.

"Music Number Two", the fifth track, opens with melancholy piano strains, giving way to a duet of piano and violin. This track is much more sad than it is creepy, although it is strangely beautiful in its way. The sound of water splashing at the end (which continue into the following track, "A Drowning") certainly take the sadness into outright terror.

In "A Drowning", I was completely unsettled while listening at home alone. The sounds of water splashing along with the particularly macabre instrumental work and layering of sounds (often grating and dissonant) makes this one of the more difficult tracks for me to listen to. It's brilliant, but it's terrifying, and coupled with my own personal fear of drowning, particularly effective.

"The Cascade" is another track which is far more melancholy than frightening, before working itself into a frenzy of sound. The violin and piano race violently, quickly, with occasional other instrumentation to add a since of urgency to what I can only perceive as escape - escape from utmost horror. The music slows, sadly, futile, making it feel as though escape has not been successful, as though the inevitable has occurred.

"A Mystic Death" has vocoder-fed vocals, whispers, and sounds of what could be a heart beat, a drum of soldiers marching...whatever it's meant to be, it doesn't sound particularly happy. The echoing of the different voices is frightening, unsettling - it seems to me that they're ghosts. As the track gives way to the following track, "Basso Pomade (Dogs Licking My Heart)", the strings return.

This feels less like a track of personal terror, more of general darkness. "Licorice Stick Ostinato" is quite unsettling. The use of vocal samples at the beginning made me uneasy, and the music that followed was epic and dark, reminiscent in a few ways of something Danny Elfman might compose for a film score. It concludes with the sound of thunder, going into a full on storm as it makes its way to the next track, "The Laboratory (Parts 1&2)".

The sampling in this one is particularly great, the screeching of strings and dark sounds underneath making for particularly alarming emotional response. The maniacal laughter sample halfway through as the music kicks back in startled me a bit. As the dialogue comes back in, the music increases in intensity and tempo, further darkening the atmosphere. I couldn't help but think that if a walk-through haunted house were planned and executed perfectly with this is a soundtrack, it would knock the pants off of any other haunted house in existence. Very intense stuff.

"Les Odalisques" opens with more of the narration, the voice perfectly setting the mood of the piece, with female dialogue brought into the mix of the narration. This track is another which is less frightening, and more Gothic - although I mean Gothic in the historical sense; not in the kids wearing all-black and listening to Marilyn Manson sense.

"An Unsigned Postcard" goes headfirst back into the more unsettling soundscapes of previous tracks. It begins in slower tempo, sounds lower in the mix making for an intriguing (although probably still frightened) listen. This gives way into the reprise of "Music Number Two".

"Music Number Two (Reprise)" perfectly wraps the entire listening experience up. It starts off sad and beautiful, gradually building a few darker elements into the mix, and definitely has the feel of an epic finale. It's lovely, dripping with melancholia and feels quite antique (although I mean that in a really good way; that was just the word it evoked) ultimately.

Ultimately, this is a glorious album. Thank you very much to dankrsta for this trade; it will certainly be played much more, and I'm going to check out some more Tuxedomoon stuff in the future, for sure!

GRADE: A
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Old 11-08-2010, 06:05 AM   #12 (permalink)
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^ That actually sounds like a genuinely interesting album! I've heard the name TuxedoMoon somwehere before - no idea where - but I've never actully bothered to get into them. Having just read your review there, that's gonna have to change pretty soon as it sounds like it's bang in line with most of the kind of music I've been listening to a lot more of than others lately.

Thanks for the review, and I'll make sure to read through the others when I can. Keep 'em coming
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