SIMON H. FELL  Kaleidozyklen

[full press reviews]


"A 2000 highlight: Simon H. Fell's orchestral swing monster Kaleidozyklen at Leeds University (will some publisher kindly sign this composer before he explodes?)." Ben Watson THE WIRE

"Simon Fell is a performing musician of the highest order who seeks the bridge the gap that has arisen between contemporary composition and free improvisation. Unlike Braxton, Fell actually knows how to write for the symphony orchestra - his music reveals a knowledge and understanding of Varèse, Birtwistle and Stockhausen. Duration, the work's opening movement - and its longest at 26 minutes - is based on an 88 note series which purposefully sets out to explore extreme registers (to coin the language of set theory, Fell is more interested in exploring p-space than pc-space), contrasting fully-scored material of considerable complexity with passages of raw fury that the composer astutely recognises can only be properly articulated through improvisation. After the seven-minute eerie slow movement Timbre, the work's central pillar, Frequency is a compositional tour de force: the use of multiple conductors recalls not only Stockhausen but also Ives, and Fell's fondness for throwing in quotations from 20th century classics in perfectly in line with the American master's all-inclusive musical vision (though I don't think Ives ever quoted Strauss). (In)articulation is where Fell parts company with the European avant-garde's self-imposed aesthetic purity and throws his hand in with the Americans: he programmed the famous Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth Symphony into music software that scanned the work for minimum accuracy, "correcting" the score into a bland diatonicism worthy of early John Adams or Gavin Bryars. Keeping a foothold in Europe at the same time, this bizarre sub-score is accompanied by tremolo strings working inexorably through a 23-note series. ("I hope you find it as disconcerting as I do," writes Fell.) The final(e) Intensity finds the composer back in the classics, quoting the double bassoon Dies Irae from Adrian Boult's 1968 The Instruments of The Orchestra (a Fell favourite: he already used it back in his Mutual and Reciprocal Ceremonies) to power the music forward to a noisy and thrilling climax. By studiously avoiding the slickness of cut'n'splice postmodernism (compare Fell's work with Zorn's: both express their deep admiration for the contemporary classical and free jazz/improv repertoires, but their compositional approaches are a world apart), Fell doesn't - won't - make things easy for you, but he makes it abundantly clear that to get anything out of music you have to be prepared for the long haul. Kaleidozyklen will have plenty of surprises in store for the patient listener long after Zorn's pretty but somewhat vapid recent compositions have yielded up their secrets." Dan Warburton SIGNAL TO NOISE

"There are few musicians with ambition equal to that of Simon Fell. His determination to externalise sounds that crowd his mind's ear has resulted in some exhilarating, challenging, and at times creatively perverse recordings. In earlier pieces, notably Compilation III, Fell has engineered spectacular superimpositions and momentous collisions of disparate soundworlds. He loves the sonorities of post-Webernian serialism, unapologetic dissonance and unyielding mass that veers between extremes of register. And he loves the unpredictable, teetering on the brink energies of free improvisation. These two musical realms interknit in Kaleidozyklen, subtitled Composition No 57 for improvising double bassist, clarinet, piano & orchestra. In his sleevenotes Fell explains that he was after something like the 'messy heterophony' of Charles Mingus, Sun Ra and Gil Evans. He also pushes the piece's frame of reference back through Varèse, Ives and Stravinsky to Mahler, whose Fifth Symphony's Adagietto is weirdly present in the fourth movement of KaIeidozykIen. Fell himself takes the solo improvising role throughout, pitching his bass tirelessly and sometimes ferociously against the bristling ranks of the LSTwo Ensemble, a contemporary music group from the University of Leeds conducted by Simon Baines, with five assistant conductors to support him through the music's most complex and demanding passages." Julian Cowley THE WIRE

"His integration of improvisation with 'classical' composition on such releases as Kaleidozyklen, Thirteen Rectangles, and Composition No. 30 are probably unmatched both for audacity and thoughtfulness (and that’s no mean feat). In his works, you’ll find blues, Boulez, Ellingtonia, Stockhausen, Taylor, and noise - not just slapped together, but organically merged." Walter Horn BAGATELLEN

"Simon Fell never allows paltry matters like logistics to curtail his composerly aims. Case in point, the massive orchestra assembled to realize this hour plus ingot of music. Far from monolithic in terms of intent or content, his Composition No. 57 mirrors the topography of a city in its complexity and diversity. The charts are so labyrinthine that Fell enlists the aid of a conductor and five assistants to officiate all the action. Bass, clarinet, and piano are the principal improvising participants, but other instruments regularly rise above the masses, no small feat considering the colossal instrumental sections brought to bear on his score. Classical composers including Mahler, Stravinsky, Strauss, and Messiaen are also named as audible referents in the architectures, but the name that kept creeping into my consciousness was Bob Graettinger. Fell divides the piece into five movements, each using a serial system based on a pre-determined portion of the eighty-eight pitches corresponding to the keys of a piano. Each segment is designed to explore an overarching structural idea. Duration and Timbre deal in pitch extremes. Both pieces pit groups of lower register instruments against higher to create a frequently disquieting layering of sound that, despite its methodical design, feels oddly organic in delivery. Frequency is the most dynamic of the segments, involving the supportive conducting staff and the introduction of seemingly extraneous and disruptive elements to continually galvanize the orchestra. (In)articulation injects a bit of intentional entropy by feeding a Mahler score [Adagietto, Symphony No. 5] through music-reading software calibrated to the minimum accuracy setting. As played by the orchestra, the pockets of deliberately garbled information inject a thrilling sense of uncertainty with trap doors opening in unexpected places. Everything culminates with the cacophonous Intensity where Fell and his congregation has some fun with skyscraper sized slabs of dissonance and another pithy classical quotation, this time with Pauline Trusselle's contrabassoon as spokesperson. Projects of this size and scope have a tendency of buckling under the weight of their ambitions. Not so in Fell's case and he makes what would otherwise seem an unwieldy and unruly beast sing from start to finish." Derek Taylor CADENCE

"They were rioting at Leeds University and the man to blame was composer Simon Fell. The wizard of wilful discordance strolled on to the stage accompanied by a troupe of young, earnest music students and proceeded to baffle and enchant us with an hour and a half of violent sensuality. Fell's Composition No.57: Kaleidozyklen, receiving its world premiere, is the latest in a long line of works that have seen him wrestling with a bewildering array of self-inflicted musical challenges, not least of which is how do you get a large orchestral group to improvise freely around a system of musical notation and not end up making a meaningless racket? Somehow on this occasion, the University's contemporary music ensemble pulls it off. How they do it, or indeed what exactly it is that they are doing, remains a mystery. A written commentary is provided but it is full of phrases such as 'real-time xenochronicity' so there's not much help there. The piece is split into five movements and there is a central director and five sub-conductors. Instruments include brass, woodwind, a harp, electric guitar, piano, violins, a big drum and a double bass. The latter, played by Fell, is horrifically assaulted from beginning to end; in fact some of his scrapings sound like someone desperately scrabbling at the inside of a coffin lid. Some members of the audience crane their necks, muttering 'how is he doing that?' while others just sit back and accept that there are some things they will never understand. The general mood of the work is glacial. Broken symphonic fragments float out at us from an encroaching blizzard. The insidious second movement is like trying to get to sleep with a malevolent voice telling you that you need to go to the lavatory. The fourth movement is a skewed homage to Mahler, the score degraded by an insensitive computer software programme. Throughout each movement the musicians' faces are rapt. Director Simon Baines, first violinist Shelley Jamison and clarinettist Rachel Cocks exchange feverishly intense stares with Fell and the five sub-conductors help us perceive form and swing in this shimmering tapestry with their bold and enthusiastic gesticulations. The warm response to the piece left Fell beaming with joy. "I hope you find it as disconcerting as I do," the composer wrote in the programme. Don't worry, Simon. We did." James Griffiths THE GUARDIAN

"The ambition of this work is justified by a through-going inventiveness and musicality: the three soloists are shown off to advantage but without ostentation in this luminous and enlightening contemporary music." Guillaume Tarche IMPROJAZZ

"More fun from UK's Bruce's Fingers label, one I'm enjoying increasingly for consistent high quality sound and high energy creativity. Kaleidozyklen is a major new work by the prolific and eternally busy Mr. Fell. The 71m work is broken into five sub-works: 1. Duration [26'42"], 2. Timbre [7'19"], 3. Frequency [17'49"], 4. (In)Articulation [8'53"], and 5. Intensity [10'37"], individual units being studies in serial method, improvisation (structured), and aleatoric (think Partch/Ives) sound production and arrangement, polyrhythm through adjacence (xenochrony), the use of pitch counter-extremes and timbral contrast,...  Yeah, it's all happening here.  I was fondly remembering late-Partch, and my readings on Ives throughout Kaleidozyklen, which, as a whole, truly defines Simon Fell b.w.o. his influences, his peeves, his likes and leanings. I'd love to see the score!" Bret Hart THE UNHEARD MUSIC

"The five parts on this CD are really complex and have many different moods on each of them (the first one is more than 26 minutes long and makes all the musicians shine). A must for improvisers." MUSIC EXTREME

"The LSTwo Ensemble deliver a strong performance, obviously open-minded when it comes to the composer's unusual ideas. Fell balances composition and improvisation, occasionally using the orchestra as a huge texture generator to back up the trio's improvisations. At other times the music is fully scored and blends influences from the late Romantics, Stravinsky, Varèse, and Berio. Duration uses the low and high-pitch extremes of the series, gently pulling the listener into an uncomfortable environment. The standout track is Frequency, a complex piece in which the orchestra is split into six groups, each led by its own conductor to create xenochronous effects all the while following the general canvas of a rondo. (In)articulation stemmed from the Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth Symphony scanned by music-reading software running on a minimum accuracy setting. It creates an uneasy feeling of warped déjà vu. Fell struck on a few really good ideas and managed to coach orchestra and improvisers into a convincing meeting, turning this disc into quite an aural feast that doesn't stand that far from Fell's studio-based group music (like the Compilation series)." François Couture ALL MUSIC GUIDE

"Kaleidozyklen (Composition no.57) is the name of another expanded composition by Fell, this time for double bass (Fell), clarinet (Rachel Cooks), piano (Paul Kosciecha) and orchestra (the LSTwo Ensemble, conducted by Simon Baines and 5 assistant conductors). As in most of his work Fell is researching the borders between composed and improvised music, not only concerning the way a musical structure comes about, but also in the way of playing and interpreting the notes. From this point of view the orchestra on this CD also engages in playing in the spirit of jazz. Bringing a liveliness and emotionality that is often lacking in modern composed music." Dolf Mulder VITAL WEEKLY

"Finally, an orchestral work that combines improvised solos, several systems of notation (including graphs and verbalized instructions, with intentional vagueness built in), and distinct movements exploring overlapping compositional concepts - Simon H. Fell's Kaleidozyklen. Fell's orchestral attitudes, heard here and on previous recordings such as his Composition No. 30: Compilation III for Improvisers, Big Band, and Chamber Ensemble and Composition No. 62: Compilation IV/Quasi-Concerto for Clarinet(s), Improvisers, Jazz Ensemble, Chamber Orchestra & Electronics, have a Braxtonian sense of breadth and ambition. His familiarity with the modern classical repertoire informs his orchestral writing with recognizable traits - Lutoslawski's rhythmic forcefulness, Varèse's sound masses, Ligeti's extremes of pitch and texture, Messiaen's richness of detail, along with characteristics from the jazz side of the ledger - instrumental combinations influenced by Gil Evans, polyphony a la Sun Ra, free jazz intensity and abandon. Kaleidozyklen exploits multiple methods of organization, from serial procedures to subsumed quotations and passages of unrelated activity, though Fell's arrangement of the latter sounds coherent and determined in comparison to his models, Cage and Charles Ives. The most surprising movement is a computer-distorted scoring of the well-known Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth Symphony, layered with improvised episodes and a 23-note series. What comes across loud and clear is an adventurous and insatiably curious sensibility, an ambitious figure with one foot in jazz and the other in classical music." Art Lange POINT OF DEPARTURE

"Those who are interested in the interaction between an orchestra and selected improvisers need a copy of this CD from 2002, containing what was then defined as the "magnum opus" of this perennially thought-provoking musician. Originally, Fell's Composition No. 57 was intended to be a concerto grosso including the SFQ quintet; funding problems forced a change of plan and the author to decide, among other things, of giving bigger "responsibilities" to certain soloists. The core of this concept is the attempt to "create a classical music realized with the sensibility, techniques and flexibility associated with experimental jazz and improvisation". Over the course of five movements, that's exactly what happens: the work - conducted by Simon Baines and basically informed by a "modified" approach to serialism - has a decidedly XX century aroma, especially because it comprises quotations and references to earlier composers such as Stravinsky, Strauss, Ives, Mahler, Messiaen and Brahms - which should also reveal that attentive students of Frank Zappa's output are more than likely going to appreciate long segments of this piece. Each part revolves around well determined technical tools, all the instrumentalists intent in attributing a beating heart to what, in other hands, might sound like a succession of sterile exercises. A fascinating investigation occurs in the third movement, which features "experiments in real-time xenochronicity" that required five assistant conductors to keep the complex architecture of different tempi and tonalities working without excessive clashes. Yet my personal favourite is the fourth, (In)articulation, which uses Mahler's material re-interpreted by the strings after a computer treatment with a music-reading software designed to reproduce the scanned score with minimum accuracy. The result is a warped soundtrack for a hypothetical documentary about the Brontë sisters, the most mesmerizing section of an important recording still deserving the highest attention." Massimo Ricci TOUCHING EXTREMES


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