Over the years, numerous classically trained musicians have interpreted the modern-rock canon. Two of the more high-profile examples are the cello quartet Apocalyptica covering Metallica and Christopher Oï¿½Riley re-imagining Radiohead songs as solo piano pieces. Meanwhile, in a land not too far away, electronic musicians have made a sport of covering analog compositions. Atari Teenage Riot sped up and pulverized versions of classic punk songs, and Dalek and Nobukazu Takemura reconstituted some of Handelï¿½s famous work. Hell, even the techno version of 4 Non-Blondesï¿½ ï¿½Whatï¿½s Upï¿½ has had far more staying power than the original.
Now we connect the dots with something brand new. On Acoustica, the twenty-two-piece collective called Alarm Will Sound attempts classical versions of electronic songs. And not just any electronic songs, but those of the enigmatic Richard D. James (also known as Aphex Twin), whose work is certainly not known for its accessibility. Says Alarm Will Soundï¿½s Gavin Chuck: ï¿½His music was so complex and imaginative and unique and intelligent ï¿½ so we knew we could play it and be ourselves.ï¿½
Apparently, in the land of Alarm Will Sound, ï¿½be ourselvesï¿½ means ï¿½attempt ludicrously difficult and unnatural musical endeavors.ï¿½ To their credit, the band members make it work most of the time.
Acoustica spans Aphex Twinï¿½s complex and often baffling discography, but the bulk of the material (nine of the discï¿½s thirteen covers) is from 2001ï¿½s double-album Drukqs. Although Drukqs isnï¿½t generally regarded as one of Aphex Twinï¿½s best records, it effectively covers many moods, from ambient interludes to chaotic drum ï¿½nï¿½ bass workouts. (Alarm Will Sound probably couldnï¿½t afford to purchase a complete discography for each of its twenty-two members, either. You gotta compromise sometimes.)
Acoustica opens with ï¿½Cock/Ver 10,ï¿½ and the listenerï¿½s first impression is likely to be, How the hell can a live drummer play that? Stuttering, off-kilter, breakneck beats are obviously much easier to program than they are to play, but the fact that Alarm Will Soundï¿½s four (!) drummers can pull it off should prove to skeptics that Acousticaï¿½s lofty premise can be effectively realized. The discordant track sounds like a composition for a demented Saturday morning kidï¿½s show, the skittering drums, plaintive woodwinds and distorted vocal samples combining to create a musical backdrop for a particularly macabre Sonic the Hedgehog adventure.
Other tracks possess this cartoonish video-game quality, particularly ï¿½Logon Rock Witchï¿½ and ï¿½Fingerbib,ï¿½ but thatï¿½s certainly not the albumï¿½s dominant motif. (Itï¿½s hard to have a dominant motif when youï¿½re covering Aphex Twin.) ï¿½Blue Calxï¿½ cultivates an air of dreary isolation with its persistent quarter-note stomp and droning woodwinds, ï¿½4ï¿½ sounds like segue music for a 1970s network drama as tweaked by DJ Shadow, and ï¿½Omgyja Switch 7ï¿½ is a stuttering dissection of classic film-noir ambience.
But Acoustica moves into truly rarified air with its final two tracks, in which Berlin-based techno artist Dennis DeSantis remixes Alarm Will Soundï¿½s versions of ï¿½Pwep Garlek 3Bï¿½ and ï¿½Cliffs.ï¿½ Yes, thatï¿½s right: An electronic artist remixing the organic compositions of a classical collectiveï¿½s re-interpretations of a different electronic artistï¿½s work. Excuse me while my head explodes.