Nicolas Collins

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

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AllMusic Review by

A former student of Alvin Lucier, composer Nicolas Collins has been at the forefront of electronic music innovation since the mid-'80s. This disc contains three outstanding examples of his distinct and innovative approach. The first piece, "Broken Light" for string quartet and "hot-wired CD player," places the Soldier String Quartet in the position of interacting with skipping and otherwise damaged CDs containing the music of Corelli, Locatelli, and Torelli. The music is alternately frenetic and stasis-filled and, as Collins mentions in his liner notes, a nod toward Terry Riley's landmark composition "In C." "Broken Light" also displays an eerie sense of synchronicity between the players and the discs. "Tobabo Fonio" features Collins in the role for which he's achieved the most renown, that of the player of a trombone from which no trombone sounds emerge. His trombone contains a CD player and other electronics so that, when he puts lips to mouthpiece, one might hear a vocalist, an orchestra, a rock group or, in this case, a Peruvian brass band. By altering his breath pressure and manipulating his slide (and who knows what other machinations), Collins is able to widely vary the sounds emitted, so much so that the actual source may be only intermittently apparent. Here, he takes minute slices of original material and splays them out into fascinating drone patterns, only allowing the brass band to bloom in full force toward the end of the composition. The title track revolves around campfire stories nested into one another, beginning with and eventually reintroducing the title words as part of each embedded story. The voice triggers various electronic sounds wherein the words might disappear under an oddly syntactic rush of drumbeats or metallic pings. Collins uses some of the same music as in "Tobabo Fonio," both as a tape source and played live by the ensemble. The texts utilized generally have something to do with the themes of fraud (the art forger Van Megeren), misinterpretation, and appropriation, making ironic reference to Collins' own subversive use of found material. Its unusual combination of extreme and surprising sonic events with an underlying sense of Americana (storytelling around the campfire) make for a wonderfully rewarding and unique listening experience. Very highly recommended for adventurous listeners.

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