Paul Lansky,
Conversation Pieces
(Bridge, 1998)

Paul Lansky is a Princeton University professor who has created an odd collection of electronic music that is difficult to place in terms of what, exactly, he is trying to acheive.

Using rhythms derived from recordings of conversations, he orchestrates piano sounds, orchestral simulations and cheesy synth patches to create what sometimes sound like straight chamber compositions and at others recall the washes and bleeps of ambient electronica.

"Same Scene, Nine Years Later," an example of the latter, takes a heavily-processed conversation and scatters quick, arpeggio-like patterns around it on an instrument falling somewhere between a piano and a xylophone. The resultant stoned drift is pleasant enough, but the piece goes nowhere -- it simply meanders along for 11 1/2 minutes before petering out. The same problem can be found throughout the disk.

The use of synthesisers with frankly unconvincing sounds also does Lansky no favours, so that even an interesting premise like the enhanced cyberpiano of "Andalusia" suffers ignominious interjections from phony string and choir sounds that could have emanated from a kid's Christmas keyboard. Lansky's tonal approach need not be a problem, but it too contributes to the directionlessness of these pieces. There is little in the way of functional harmony here, just a general fear of dissonance and a preference for "nice chords" rather than an intelligent sense of harmonic movement.

These are pleasant enough pieces of background music, and they would probably sound better performed by live musicians, but ultimately the composition itself is fatuous and unlikely to please any but the least demanding listeners.

[ by Richard Cochrane ]
Rambles: 27 July 2002

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