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STEPHEN EMMER Recitement Supertracks ST75743 (2008)

Stephen Emmer

Accurately described 'an eclectic collection of literary source texts set to original music compositions, the spoken word literature in 'Recitement' is both old and new and is delivered by writers, singers and actors from Samuel Becket and Lou Reed to a French reading by Sylvia Krystel! But despite some initial reservations the project effortlessly overcomes its highbrow pretensions primarily because of the sheer musical drive, compositional ebullience and self belief of Dutch Avant garde composer Stephen Emmer.

The interrelationship between words and music may go back centuries, emanating in operatic librettos and finding a more contemporary expression through jazz, blues, hip hop and rap, but 'Recitement' derives its raison d'etre from exploring the meaning, moods and feel of the particular texts over a number of musical genres.

The litmus test for 'Recitement' is whether the music that comes to bear on a diverse body of literature such as this can offer something more than the words themselves. After all, such poets as Gerard Manley Hopkins owe their standing through their unique expressive use of language. And while Michael Brocken in his liner notes makes the claim that 'music serves to dismantle formulated states of consciousness', it is surely the case that much contemporary music does the opposite, if only because of the ever present commercial imperative.

What makes 'Recitement' that bit different is that on Steve Emmer's most successful efforts such as 'Mondo Sparito' he makes a musical case for exploring the rhythmic tempos of the words with some imaginative arrangements and original music. And whereas Emmer might use bass heavy grooves as part of a cinematic soundtrack feel and then add some additional Latino beats to create the perfect landscape for Alessandro Baricco's words, he thinks nothing of utilising a minimalist interpretation of Ken Nordine's 'Absolute Grey'. The latter subsequently veers into an 80's Kraftwerk mode in an effort to evoke the lyrical feel and nuance.

In short Stephen's Emmer's musical vision is inextricably linked to the words that generate his output and not the other way round. A personal favourite comes in the shape of Michael Parkinson's (not the talk show host) spoken word delivery of Thomas Hardy's 'Invergence of the Twain' which teases out the kernel of some of the most eclectic poetry on the album over a neo jazzy soundtrack. A laid back slide guitar and keyboard generated layered soundscape is topped by some cool vibes that all too quickly draw to a close.

Similarly Gerard Manley Hopkins' 'The Leaden Echo' is set to gentle undulating strings and deft use of echo reverb in a successful attempt to prise out the inner meaning of the poem. And it is to Stephen Emmer's credit that he consistently manages to tap into the inner meanings of the words in over 7 different languages as the listener takes the composer on trust to deliver a musical translation of moods, feelings and emotions.

When it comes to interpreting a reading by the sampled voice of Richard Burton, Emmers adds an atmospheric string arrangement to back Ruud Bruels opening emotive flugelhorn solo to great effect as Burton words drift magnificently over a dreamy musical landscape.

Despite the topping and tailing of the project by a Yoko Ono's 'Listen The Snow is Falling', the 17 compositions are by no means interlinked as a cohesive whole, except that Emmer's does appear to get inside his subject matter with some expressive compositional work, most notably on the rock arrangement and thematic development that cushions fellow Dutchman Remco Campert's words on 'Gaan'.

More audacious is the early Lou Reed take on Paul Theroux's 'Passengers' - a train journey (also the subject of an accompanying DVD) on which the music cleverly suggests the movement of the train.

In many respects this album answers the eternal question asked of the songwriter, which comes first the words or the music? In the case of 'Recitement' the words seem to have inspired the composer to seek out manifest ways to bring them to life, and the fact that 'Recitement' is both diverse and imaginative enough to pull even the most recalcitrant listener to the Dub echo reverb of 'Soweto Sonata' suggests that he has succeeded in his aim.


Review by Pete Feenstra

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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