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Fred Frith - Eye to Ear CD (album) cover


Fred Frith



4.00 | 3 ratings

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4 stars The album series "Eye to Ear" by Fred Frith is a 3 volume group of albums originally issued separately. They all feature music from films or theater productions and the music on each album is quite varied. It ranges from completely avant-garde to straightforward, but the music is all distinctively composed by Frith and features him on almost every instrument or piece of equipment, except for the use of some guests on occasion. Together, the album is not that cohesive, but then, this album is meant to be for film and theater music aficionados. However, Frith fans will also be quite interested in hearing it also.

The album begins and ends with "Le Recontre", which is from a film (from 1992) based on a short story by Emmanuel Bove. This composition is a bit starchy, not really leaving much of an impact on the listener, which is usually what movie music tries to achieve, mostly it just brings an uneasy atmosphere. However, it does flow along easily and features the sounds from a tenor saxophone performed by Boris Denker. Other than being a bit odd, there isn't much to capture your attention or imagination without any visuals. "Backroom" comes from a stage production from 1994 and appears in three parts throughout the album. These three tracks are noisy affairs, the first one feeling quite metallic (in sound, not style) and harsh, yet is cushioned by a softly droning background that almost makes it feel comforting.

"Thea Und Nat" is actually a five-part track featuring incidental music from a RV German melodrama from 1992. This one is a complete change of style and is more straightforward sounding, yet not what you would call easy listening all of the time. The music, which is a bit symphonic sounding, is accentuated by accordion and clarinet. This track goes by quickly even at over 12 minutes because of it being composed of 5 shorter pieces. After this, we return to "Backroom" with the 2nd part of this music, this time it is more rhythmic, but this percussive feel all comes from the guitar and instrumental manipulation, not from actual percussive instruments. It is again quite harsh, but with no real "cushion" this time to soften the industrial feel of it all.

"Picture of Light" is my favorite off of the album. It is more atmospheric, but also quite unsettling and dissonant. The music comes from a documentary about the Northern Lights from 1992. The music swirls and unfolds around you and is actually very nice even with it's avant-style atmosphere. In reality, the music was written for the documentary, but was never actually used. What ever the reason for it not being used was, to me it definitely conveys that feeling of being out on a cold evening watching the aurora borealis flutter and flash across the sky. This beautiful piece of art continues on for over 9 minutes. If you expect to listen to this in the traditional way of listening to recorded music, then these 9 minutes will crawl by, but to completely lose yourself in this atmosphere makes it fly by way too quickly.

"Ostkreuz" contains music from a film from 1992 of the same name that was filmed following the re-unification of Germany. This 6 minute track is made up of four sections. It is not really what I would call straightforward, but it isn't really too far out there either, for the most part. It has a slightly industrial feel to it but combines some nice atmospheric textures also. Much of the preceding tracks on the albums are structured quite rhythmically, but this one is much less so, but it is also my favorite selection on the album because it is unpredictable, yet it is not necessarily harsh either. The music is accented with strings, accordion, trumpet and some nice, manipulated sounds that reflect natural sounds.

"In the Train" follows, it flows quite well with plucked and bowed strings. It's a short track and probably the most listener-friendly of the entire set. The music was to be used in the Richard Linklater film "Before Sunrise" for a train scene, and that is really what the plucked music seems to reflect. The music, as nice as it is, was never used in the finished film however. "Backroom III" is the lesser harsh of the 3 Backroom tracks, but it still has a harsh, metallic atmosphere with improvised dissonant, tonal scraping-quality textures backed up by an organ which works to try to smooth out the harshness, at least part of the time. The textures sound quite interesting as they conflict with each other, yet making it the most interesting of the 3 Backroom tracks. The last track is a reprise of "Le Rencontre" which works to tie the entire album together, or at least attempts to do so.

This is not an album for easy listening soundtrack enjoyment at all, though it does have its moments when it could be. But the variation in sound and style here lends to an album that is not very cohesive, but it really isn't supposed to be. It's a collection, and as such, takes various film tracks and collects them together in one spot. It's purpose is to present Frith's film music without regard to categorizing style, the focus is on the composer, not a particular style. As such, it does a great job of presenting Frith's compositional talent. It's not for everyone, and doesn't try to be for everyone. Personally, I find the variety quite appealing as it keeps the overall album from sounding too much the same or wearing out a particular style. This was Frith's first album to be released on John Zorn's label and it definitely works well with that avant-style of music that the label is famous for. In the end, it is an excellent album that offers a wide variety of the composer's style when composing for visual media.

TCat | 4/5 |


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