Classical composers of electronic music have been wrestling with the question of how to join electronic and acoustic textures since the days of wall-sized synthesizers and reel-to-reel tapes. So why does classical music seem so terrible at it? Why is it that popular music seems to have all the answers?
For performers, producers and composers of vernacular music, the electronic idiom is as fluent as a mother tongue, while too often classically trained musicians approach a laptop or a sampler with the halting, deliberate and utterly unconvincing air of an American tourist trying to flirt in Hungarian.
Thankfully, there are exceptions. "Corps Exquis," Daniel Wohl's first full-length album for New Amsterdam Records, showcases his easy knack for electro-acoustics. Those pieces of Wohl's that cropped up on this or that recital prior to his embarking on the "Corps Exquis" project have always excelled at drawing the electronic component out of the acoustic materials, matching the instrumental and electronic timbres by drawing ingenious electronic elements from instrumental sources, but the exploration of a unified sound-world is just one of his strategies here.
For one thing, Wohl's ear for electronics is not only refined, it's also terribly stylish. He isn't afraid to set up a bona fide groove once in a while—the distorted percussion on the second movement, "323," suggests a junkyard breakbeat—and two guests from what might be loosely defined as the "pop" world, composer/vocalists Julia Holter and Aaron Roche, even turn up to croon on a few tracks.
The sound of chamber quintet Transit is very much the at the center of "Corps Exquis," exposed by the mix and by Wohl's often virtuosic writing, but this doesn't feel like a chamber music album with electronic accompaniment. Instead, Transit manages to seems like just one element from a much larger collection of forces, like the soloists who emerge within from a symphony orchestra, briefly take the spotlight, and then weave back into the larger texture. Between Wohl's electronics and Transit's instrumentalism, "Corps Exquis" adds up to more than the sum of its parts.
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