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Album Review

The fourth release from the U.K.'s Nonclassical label features Cortical Songs, a collaboration by John Matthias and Nick Ryan in four brief movements scored for solo violin and string orchestra. Although their parts are fully written out, the timing of the players' entrances is triggered by a computer program modeled on patterns of neuronal spiking in the human brain, so that no two performances are the same. Matthias is the violin soloist and Ryan controls the live interactive programming. The results — shifting atmospheric sound masses — are texturally fascinating, particularly in the third and fourth movements. The movements seem too brief, though; this slowly evolving material needs a longer span, a broader canvass on which to unfold, and would be even more persuasive if given more space. As is the case with most of Nonclassical's releases, the album includes remixes of material from the main piece, provided here on 11 tracks by 12 musicians, some with primarily classical backgrounds and some from more experimental rock traditions, although, as with most of Nonclassical's artists, that distinction is pretty blurry. The remixes offer a gratifying range of responses to original material, from the static minimalism of "Neuron Trigger" by Radiohead's Thom Yorke to the giddily erratic groove of Gabriel Prokofiev's "Brain Bumper." In some, like Marcus Lancaster's "2nd Movement" remix, the material is so thoroughly processed that it's hard to recognize the source. Dominic Murcott's background as a percussionist comes across in "The Bipolar Shuffle," one of the most inventive and sophisticated tracks. Another standout is Marcus Coates' lovely and spooky "0.2 - 20.000%," which uses layers of the solo violin line essentially unaltered, underlaid with a mysterious new accompaniment that develops into an ominous cloud that eventually engulfs it. This is another impressive track that could be made even more powerful if the material were given more time to expand and breathe. Cortical Songs and the remixes should be of strong interest to listeners intrigued by the intersection between new music and experimental rock.


Born: England

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s

b. England. Although Matthias may be best known for his contributions to recordings by other artists, the multi-talented musician finally got around to launching a solo career shortly after the dawn of the twenty-first century. Influenced by artists such as the Beatles and the Smiths early on, Matthias soon began playing in bands, such as the obscure Jackdaw Music. By the middle of the 90s, he had become quite an in-demand session musician (mostly for his violin skills), as he appeared on recordings...
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Cortical Songs, John Matthias
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