William Orbit – Pieces In A Modern Style

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Album Review by Mark Bayross

Most people will know William Orbit from his production work with Blur, Seal, Prince and most famously, Madonna. Fewer people will know that he spent the late 80s and early 90s in the band Torch Song and as a solo artist, releasing the cosmic prog-trance STRANGE CARGO trilogy, and finding the time to record as Bass-O-Matic and found Guerilla Records.

By rights the very premise of this album should be enough to make music purists start spitting tacks. After mauling Samuel Barber’s beautiful “Adagio For Strings” with a hi-NRG trance beat, which predictably, turned on enough of the record-buying public to send it Top 10, here is a full album of classical pieces given the electronic treatment. Orbit has tackled a range of music, from the baroque of Vivaldi and Handel, through Beethoven and into the 20th Century with Barber, John Cage and Henryk Gorecki.

Fortunately, William Orbit has not taken the easy option and released a collection of commercially viable “dance” versions for the clubbing masses – instead what we have here is over an hour of ambient introspection. BARBERs “Adagio” starts the album and, mercifully, it’s a straight rendition, its haunting strings building into that wonderful crescendo. CAGE’s “In A Landscape” and ERIK SATIE’s “Odive” have a haunting quality reminiscent of The Future Sound Of London’s “Lifeforms” album, while PIETRO MASCAGNI’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” is all Global Communication-style moogs and washes of melody.

Most of this is beatless and fairly quiet – GORECKI’s two-part “Piece In The Old Style” sounds like Vangelis, while RAVEL’s “Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte” builds from a chorus of bleeps to a fuller, expansive melody. Bizarrely, the most danceably “modern” track here is the re-interpretation of Beethoven’s “Triple Concerto”, where thunderclaps and strings transform into bass-heavy beats.

With artists like m -ziq and The Aphex Twin blurring the boundaries between electronica and classical arrangements, and Glass and Riech’s compositions attracting the “intelligent techno” crowd, this is hardly ground-breaking stuff. Also, the almost beatless vacuum of sound does give you the impression of floating in an isolation tank for an hour. It is, however, worthy of some attention, as there are some very beautiful moments lurking within.

After all, with song writing credits from Messrs Beethoven, Barber, Handel, Vivaldi and Ravel, you can’t go wrong.

4 stars