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Classical Music Review

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The Broken Vessel


Composers: Andreas Barth, Geir Hjorthol and Magnar Åm
Label: Ravello Records
RRP: £13.99
Release Date: 09 March 2018

With The Broken Vessel, Andreas Barth, Geir Hjorthol and Magnar Åm take the concept of “industrial music” to a whole new level. The recording took place in an abandoned Norwegian factory, “The Propeller Hall,” using everything from the acoustics in the building to the muffled sounds of traffic outside its walls. In this way the building became a partner in a concrete as well as a metaphorical way in creating the music of this 11-track (1 hr, 02 min, 15 sec) album...

I have to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of industrial, nor modern classical music, where the composers throw away melody and emotive themes and instead concentrate on experimenting with the unconventional sound that instruments can make. For example 'Refraction II' sounds like someone has severe constipation and has locked themselves in a public toilet cubicle (the acoustics are not the sound that would drift out of a private bathroom)..

With The Broken Vessel, it's not clear whether the three composers wrote their pieces with "The Propeller Hall" building in mind, or whether the recording session there was just used as a gimmick to make an otherwise lacklustre modern classical recording a little more interesting. Personally, I'm hoping it was the former, as the venue really does make for a better listening experience, although this would work much better as a performance piece rather than on a recording as presented here.

The press notes do indicate that the composers had the image of an abandoned factory in mind when writing:

... the three composers/musicians created their sonic interpretations of a factory, now abandoned, as an image of the relation between past and present, but also between the materiality of industrial production and the spirituality of music. They created this project using instruments such as a glass harp, grand piano, trumpet, the human voice and various percussion instruments including tools and materials found within the factory. They manipulated their sonic output to simulate the industrial sounds of production in an attempt to musically translate the labours, but also the hopes and longings of the workers of the past. The outcome of this was a series of musical images filled with contrasts between darkness and light, drama and peaceful meditations. Though the past cannot be fully translated, Barth, Hjorthol and Åm reimagine the factory in its working condition, bringing the building to life in an attempt to retell its story to a new audience...

While I'm not entirely sure whether they fully succeeded in their original goal, the album does make for a bizarre and, on occasion, interesting listen. There are elements in tracks like 'On the Edge' where you're interested is piqued by sounds you're very likely to have heard elsewhere.


Darren Rea

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