Kjell Tore Innervik: Utopias

Kjell Tore Innervik: Utopias: Radical Interpretations of Iconic Musical Works for Percussion
Xenakis: Psappha. Morton Feldman: The King of Denmark.
Kjell Tore Innervik, percussion
2L 2L-141-SABD (SACD/CD, BD, downloads: DXD, DSD256, MQA). 2018. Morten Lindberg, prod., editing, mix, mastering, balance; Beatrice Johannessen, rec. technician. DDD. TT: 46:04
Performance *****
Sonics *****

With 32 Grammy nominations, 24 for Recording Engineer and Music Producer, Morten Lindberg and his 2L label continue to issue one astounding recording after another. Their recordings are not simply unique for their sound, available in multiple two-channel, surround, and hi-rez formats, physical and virtual; they also stand out for 2L's repertoire, which ranges from core classical, folk, and jazz to cutting-edge contemporary explorations sure to scare away fainthearted record producers and listeners.

If the two works on this recording, Xenakis's Psappha (1975) and Feldman's The King of Denmark (1964), aren't exactly new, their construction and sound are radical in the extreme. Xenakis doesn't specify instruments, but does call for three groups of wood and/or skins and three groups of metal percussion instruments. His score for the 18-minute Psappha is written in extremely challenging graph notation consisting of 2396 segments. As with the chance compositions of John Cage, the possibility that two performances will sound alike is nil.

Even more astounding is that Psappha, which in Innervik's performance seems all about color, texture, rhythmic patterns, and maximally percussive disruptions rather than the emotions of the heart, derives its name from Sappho (ca 610–ca 580 BCE), the Greek poet from the Isle of Lesbos whose first-person lyrics rhapsodize love between women. Xenakis may or may not have given a hoot about lesbianism, but he does seem to have been taken by the rhythmic structures of Sappho's verse.

Feldman, who claims to have written the nine-minute The King of Denmark on a Long Island beach while under the influence of, in part, "the muffled sound of kids in the distance and transistor radios and drifts of conversation from other pockets of inhabitants on blankets," constructs a timeline of columns of boxes three high. Each box represents a beat, the choice of tempo left to the percussionist but with indications for type of instrument, number of notes, and relative pitches. Not only that, the piece must be performed only with fingers and arms, rather than sticks and other implements. Feldman goes for the flesh that Xenakis ignores.

Ironically, if Xenakis's work is about mathematical precision, structure, and dynamic impact rather than sensuality, Feldman's intentionally softer and dynamically limited work is about space, silence, and sounds that, in Kjell Tore Innervik's performance, strike me as sensual in the extreme. If Psappha is forthright, masculine, "just the facts, ma'am," The King of Denmark creates an expansive space for wondrous journeys of mind and spirit. Two different faces of wow, as it were.

Innervik seems to have spent an inordinate amount of time researching each composer's background, and the effects of war and persecution on the evolution of his music. (One side of Xenakis's face was permanently disfigured by British shrapnel in 1944.) He and Lindberg positioned instruments to maximally underscore the importance of patterns and space in both men's compositions—there's a lot of movement of on these DXD-native recordings—and selected instruments with radically different colors and sounds. Lindberg also recorded Psappha from two different perspectives—it appears twice on Utopias—with "first persona" designed to present the intensity of color and impact heard by the performer. The result is an extraordinary auditory feast: a major showpiece for how much color, texture, and dynamic contrast an audio system can deliver, and one that will sate both gut and imagination.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Listen to Utopias with Focal Utopias? ..............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Excellent recording .......... Excellent test for both the loudspeakers and the headphones/ear phones ....... Very much agreed ....... five stars ......... Another excellent recommendation by JVS ...........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

At certain times it felt like someone was banging on my door (I had to stop listening and check to make sure) ......... that real ...... Excellent imaging .........

dalethorn's picture

Care to share what you're hearing this with?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

At this time I am listening with Hugo2 and Audeze lcd mx4 ............. I am gonna try with my other stuff later ...........

dalethorn's picture

The planar should be quite good with drums.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Audeze planar headphones are famous for their bass reproduction ......... They have the best slam and impact and they can go really low in frequency ............ With this recording there is plenty of that "wow" factor with the Audeze 'phones ..............

dalethorn's picture

This (the youtube clip above) sounds much better than I expected. It must be the pacing, or how well the instruments are defined and separated. I rarely listen to more than a minute of percussion in jazz pieces, but this is something else entirely. I don't have the right words, but the term "journey" in the above article says it pretty well.

dalethorn's picture

I love the Xenakis, but lack the attention units to appreciate the Feldman. I hear Indian influences, and even some from an Asian Dub Foundation album. Presumably the modern recordings borrow from Xenakis. I played this through a few times to be sure, and I'd say that the Tutt-Keltner Drum Improv recording from HDTracks also shares a lot of Xenakis' influence.

Robin Landseadel's picture

Thanks for reviewing some music by Xenakis—my nominee for "Greatest Composer Of The Twentieth Century". I was snagged back in 1973 by "Bohor", on Nonesuch's collection of Xenakis' Electro-Acoustic music. There's some amazing surround mixes of Xenakis' compositions on Mode's DVD's.