Ancient and modern

The classically-trained musician in me ought to be offended by William Ørbit’s Pieces in a Modern Style, but it’s not.

In fact, the pieces selected by Ørbit are pretty much unfamiliar to me, and the timbres he’s selected to interpret these pieces render them nearly unrecognizable as classical music.

As a result, inexperienced listeners — id est, most of us — would probably refer to other non-classical albums to describe Pieces in a Modern Style than compare them to the hallowed interpretations on any number of classical labels.

Craig Armstrong’s orchestral ambient album, The Space Between Us, comes to mind. Maybe even Bang on a Can’s live interpretation of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports.

Pieces in a Modern Style makes for nice, trancey listening if you don’t let the source material distract you. At the same time, Henryk Gorecki’s Pieces in the Old Style 1 or Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Triple Concerto couldn’t have been written by any other composers.

I just wish Ørbit included some detailed liner notes to inform listeners how much of a transformation these pieces under went.

The most recognizable work is perhaps the most unchallenging interpretation on the whole disc — Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings from his only String Quartet. C’mon — I did the exact same thing when I was learning about sequencing back in 1991. Thankfully, Ørbit places the Adagio at the beginning of the disc, dispensing it forthwith.

A second disc of remixes takes up the job of radically reinterpreting Barber’s biggest hit. To the classical establishment, these remixes are crass. But the ATB remix in particular is quite personal. In other words, little of Barber remains — as it should be.

The remixes also beg the question: if Barber were alive today and hanging out gay bars, would he appreciate hearing his own composition blaring through the P.A.?