Warp Works & Twentieth Century Masters (Warp)
Family reunions can make for awkwardly satisfying affairs—awkward in the classic we-can’t-possibly-be-related way; and satisfying in how they manage to highlight a bond that reaches across age and lifestyle. Warp Records, the eclectic London-based electronic label, did a little family-tree research of its own with the London Sinfonietta for a set of collaborative concerts in 2003. The programs paired the work of a slate of avant-garde mavericks—usual suspects like Cage, Conlon Nancarrow, Reich, Ligeti, Varese and Stockhausen—with arranged-for-orchestra versions of tracks by Aphex Twin and Squarepusher, the star sonic experimenters on the Warp roster.
This two-CD release captures the highlights and, perhaps even more than the live staging in gilded concert halls, effectively pulls down the fence between fans on both sides of the genre aisle. It’s a well-considered crash course on music that examines the intersection of human performers and machines. The programmatic juxtapositions serve all the composers well, but though the work translated to acoustic instrumentation fares better here than it has elsewhere (think relative disasters by Alarm Will Sound and Christopher O’Riley), you lose something—vital things in certain cases—when the music is stripped of its characteristic timbres. For instance, Aphex Twin’s prepared piano pieces are transfixing in this context; his orchestrated AFX237 V7 falters.
The project would have failed if the performers could not tackle Squarepusher and Ligeti with equal commitment, and the London Sinfonietta is clearly not faking it. Their success allows fans of any of this music to talk to each other in a compelling fashion and meet the relatives on common ground.—Molly Sheridan