ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Dark Journey’ by Ying-Ting Luo

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Ying-Ting Luo is an award winning film and video game composer from Taiwan. She was musically precocious from a very early age, starting piano at four and then the flute at eight. This led to studying at the prestigious Taipei National University of the Arts which led to many awards.

She then went to the even more prestigious Berklee College of Music where she studied film and video game scoring. She graduated with honours and has since composed scores for documentaries, feature films and video games as well as working with Grammy award winner Susana Baca, Wang Leehom and Joyce Moreno.

This album, ‘Dark Journey’, is a suite of orchestral compositions with an underlying concept: imagine your lover is a criminal and you’re stuck on a long journey with them. This intriguing theme sets the tone and opening piece The Suitcase contains this sense of the mysterious and slightly ominous. From its first bars, it becomes apparent that Ying-Ting has a real gift for composition.

Swirling strings combine with arpeggiated harp to create a magical soundscape which is then augmented by glockenspiel, giving the music a Danny Elfman-vibe (Edward Scissorhands, Spiderman). Indeed, her music combines the dreamlike quality of Elfman with the more dramatic, rhythmic style of Hans Zimmer and the pieces tend to alternate between these two styles with consummate skill.

‘Let’s Dance’ begins with pizzicato strings, then jazzy piano and woodwinds weave an enchanting melodic web that keeps the listener gripped. The woodwinds are beautifully orchestrated, which shows both her talent and years of training. There’s a continuity between the tracks, as well as recurrence of key themes, and the ominous ending of this piece explodes into the tense drama of ‘The Train to Death’.

This piece shows her compositional range, with strident low strings and brooding brass combining with epic Hans Zimmer-style percussion. The low strings are doubled with piano in the same register giving the music a real power and the way she maintains the tension shows her gift for musical storytelling.

‘The Painful Abyss’ is a distinct contrast, a plaintive, mournful melody first heard on oboe then counter pointed by flute. Towards the end it returns to the pulse-quickening excitement of the previous piece. ‘The Killer In The Desert’ has a really exotic flavour both in its eastern melody and percussion which brought to mind the Arabian Dance from Tchaikovsky’s classic work The Nutcracker. It perfectly evokes the title of the piece and ratchets upon the musical drama toward the end.

‘Peaceful Date’ showcases her gifts as a pianist as well as a melodist. The beautiful melody is doubled by violin and conjures quite a mood in its brief duration. ‘Casino in 1928’ is again a perfect musical portrait of what the title suggests, based on the dance rhythms of that era. It features a playful, jazzy melody on bass clarinet and my only complaint is that this didn’t last longer.

The gorgeous, haunting main theme returns on ‘The Dangerous Sex’, used in a Wagnerian way (Richard Wagner formulated the idea of the leitmotif, a melodic theme associated with a character or emotion that recurs across a large scale work). This piece acts as the calm before the storm of the following ‘The Bloody Truth Behind The Sweetness’. It starts out by lulling you into a false sense of security, with a happy flute melody in 3/4 waltz time. Then a minute in, it explodes into a fiendishly dramatic section that has you on the edge of your seat.

‘The Lonely Body In The Ocean’ consists of just glockenspiel, like a haunting and sinister version of Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The closing composition ‘The End of the Wrong Love’ returns to the theme of ‘Let’s Dance’ and it feels like a piece of musical irony; the lightness of the melody is interweaved with dark, moody strings and we know things have not ended well for the story’s protagonist.

Overall, this is a remarkable concept album by an immensely talented composer and musician. With a complete grasp of orchestration, she has learnt to blend her many compositional influences into a nuanced style of her own. ‘Dark Journey’ takes the listener to some magical and dramatic places, and like all the best albums leaves the listener wanting more. Ying-Ting Luo could well become one of the most prominent composers of our era.

 

VERDICT: 9.3 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Forgotten Reality by Olexandr Ignatov

 

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Olexandr Ignatov is a Ukrainian composer, arranger, producer and multi instrumentalist, playing keyboards and piano. He has released music as a solo artist before including his 2012 debut album, Prime 1. This album is comprised of classical instrumentals, comparable to film music composers like John Williams, Thomas Newman, David Arnold and Hans Zimmer.

Forgotten Reality consists of sixteen pieces, starting strongly with the opening Adventure To Go. Strident strings combine with powerful horn lines and bombastic percussion to create a cinematic soundscape of stately grandeur. The orchestral rendition is so convincingly performed and programmed that the average listener will think the piece has been performed by a real orchestra.

The title track also makes a strong impact, with an insistent four note rising motif doubled in high (violins,violas) and low (cellos, basses) strings, portentous low end piano setting the tone. The music then explodes in a firework display of combined themes and harp glissandos, the music building in emotional force and tension. It’s as good as anything you’ll hear in the cinema.

Can’t Stop The Sunrise is a contrast, based around a simple but effective lilting piano melody. Here the music is more restrained and subtle, gradually building in complexity. Land Of The Lost is a return to the highly dramatic style of the first two tracks while Truth Will Triumph is a moving piece with a haunting melody that follows an intro of solemn chords. The final section is simply euphoric.

Immortal is one of the most exciting pieces, swirling strings creating a fierce momentum and some superb percussion heightening the effect. The following Extroverted has a similar style but is lighter in tone, perfect music for a flying scene in a film. Blue Ice showcases his gift for writing memorable melodies, with perhaps the most beautiful one on the album on this piano-led piece.

Shock Therapy is brief at less than eighty seconds long but it’s perhaps the most futuristic and dramatic sounding piece here, with morphing synths and ‘edge of your seat’ tension. Unstoppable Time is a title perfectly in sync with the music, which has a fine, flowing momentum like time itself, based on a rising melodic figure.

A Bomb Will Go Off is in the vein of Shock Theory, a brooding minimalistic piece of intense musical drama full of ominous drones and percussive hammer-blows. Infinite Survival is a first rate piece of composing, with an understated and serene melody that has a majestic quality, the arrangement unfolding and growing perfectly.

Rising From The Ashes is one of the more poignant pieces, sparse piano setting an evocative mood, alternated with sections featuring tribal-esque percussion. Together We Are A Force is by contrast one of the most inspiring, with a cascade of uplifting string patterns creating an epic sonic tapestry.

Golden Age takes this concept even further with octave spanning arpeggios on strings counterpointed by a noble horn theme. The final piece Battle Is Over is a fitting way to finish, another emotive and moving melody which is beautifully orchestrated and completes the musical journey.

Overall, this is a superb collection of piano and orchestral instrumentals by a truly gifted composer with a strong facility for melody and an excellent compositional technique. Across the duration of the album he shows his skill, range and invention to great effect, aided by the very high standard of the production. It stands alone in its own right as music of great quality but you can easily imagine these pieces appearing in films. Indeed, Olexandr Ignatov may well become a famous film composer in the future.

VERDICT: 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

 

Preview and pre-order Forgotten Reality on Itunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/album/forgotten-reality/1432000386

Other links:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/olexandr-ignatov/1148500874

https://instagram.com/olexandrignatov

http://www.olexandrignatov.com

http://www.twitter.com/olexandrignatov

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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E.P. REVIEW: rEVOLVED by HADDOCK

rEVOLVED_Cover_15kbhttp://www.haddockmusic.com/

HADDOCK is the alter ego of studio and live drummer JonoMagro. Formed officially in 2013, the gestation period for this music has actually been ten years. After trying to find a replacement for the monotony of a metronome, he found that juxtaposing real live drumming with the precision of electronic instrumentation and sounds created a fascinating musical dichotomy.

As a seasoned drummer, he had immense experience behind the kit but had to modify it to fit the demands of his new project. That was the genesis for this five track E.P. rEVOLVED. The five instrumentals are a perfect balance between synthetic electronica and real, expressive drumming.

You can certainly recognize elements of his various influences. Among them, he lists Daft Punk, The Prodigy and film composers like Tyler Bates and Hans Zimmer. It all combines to create a unique style and sound that has the excitement and dynamism of dance with the brooding intensity of soundtrack music.

Opening track Kilgore is an excellent example of this, starting with pulsing low-end synths combining with dark high-end melodies to set an intense tone. Then the punchy,raw sounding drums enter with the impact of a breakbeat by The Prodigy, but this beat is constantly shifting under the listener’s feet in a 14/8 time signature.

This later becomes standard 4/4 and 2/4 later in the track and the way he constantly shifts the accents and syncopates the beat is superbly inventive. The synth riffs holds the music together, aided by some Daft Punk style vocoder effects towards the end of this arresting first track.

Second track Break is lighter in mood and features a repeated vocal sample throughout, which works as a good hook. The drumming on this one alternates between a standard four-to-the-floor dance beat to the highly intricate, almost tribal sounding tom-tom patterns of the middle section. Musically, it employs two synth melodies, both short and very catchy. You could really imagine this being played in a club and going down a storm, especially as the danceable beat stays constant throughout.

Detroit Slim, the third track, is a big change in sound as it features an electronic Daft Punk style 2/4 disco beat that most would assume is a drum machine (presumably played by triggering samples through his modified drum kit). This makes it pure electronica in the house/disco genre, with some funky synth riffs and more vocoder effects thrown into the mix. It’s another track perfect for the dancefloor, but very enjoyable to simply listen to.

Cave Thing again employs mostly electronic soundings drums but also incorporates the snare sound from the ‘real’ kit in parts. This track is my personal favourite on the E.P. as it seems the perfect encapsulation of the disparate musical elements involved. It features a superb hi-hat heavy dance beat (bringing to mind 90’s stadium house duo The KLF) which grabs you as soon as it enters. It has the brooding intensity of the first track with rising synth lines and insistent EDM-style snare fills that help maintain the tension.

The final track My Salvation continues in this style, though this time uses an almost hymnal synth melody over a deceptively fast house beat, and has a futuristic, soundtrack feel (think something like Blade Runner.) Its hectic BPM rate would make it a great track to finish a DJ set with and it makes a fitting finale to this E.P.

Intriguingly, right at the end, the original drum sound that we heard at on the first couple of tracks returns, bringing things full circle. Finally, the drums fade out leaving us in a sea of synth sounds…

Overall, this is a genuinely innovative and original piece of work that also manages to be accessible and commercial. It blended and balances elements of dance and rock, as well as human and synthetic very successfully, and every single track has a strong sonic identity which isn’t easy to achieve with instrumental music. With some very intriguing ideas for performing this live also, I think Haddock will become known as a pioneer in the electronica scene and look forward to hearing a whole album.

 

 

Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 8.8 out of 10