Wednesday, 31 October 2018



Let's pick up where we left off..


Chill-seekers searching for over the top, multi-media terror need look no further than Belgian composer Stefan Prins' "Generation Kill." You might want to dust off the old projector screen and let this video roll. Composed in 2012 in dedication to the Nadar Ensemble, Prins' "Kill" is as horrifying to watch as it is hear. This avant-garde production calls for "percussion, e-guitar, violin, violoncello, 4 musicians with game controllers, live-electronics & live-video," leading to an eerie cacophony of bizarre audio and visual effects that appear as though they were sliced straight out of a horror film. 

What is truly eerie about this piece lay in it's underlying theme: who is running the show? Those at the control deck? The musicians themselves? Are they performing live, or are they hollow shells, previously filmed in an unknown, discreet location? Prins intentionally left the answers to these questions lurking within the dark abyss of ambiguity.


Hungarian-Austrian composer György Ligeti's "Volumina" for organ opens with a blood-curdling behemoth of dissonant tones that could make even Beelzebub's blood boil.

The devilishly dynamic cluster of sound is produced by the forearms of the organist, which Ligeti instructs must lay across an entire manual, with all of the instrument's stops pulled out. This shocking work initially proved too horrific even for the organ itself: whilst practicing the piece on Sweden's Göteborg organ in 1962, the over-strained instrument caught fire, leading to a cancellation of the work's scheduled premiere (once the church council at Bremen - where the live performance was scheduled to take place - caught wind of the organ's curious self-immolation.) Volumina would not hold its debut until the Spring of that year, and even then, only in the form of a pre-taped recording of a live performance.

Saturday, 27 October 2018


It's that time of year again - as fellow music enthusiasts dust off their spookiest selections of classical masterpieces intended to send the listener into a tizzy of tormented terror, Unraveling Musical Myths has once again sifted through the deepest layers of musical hell to unearth the most spine-tingling, palpitation-inducing tracks of abysmal hellfire. From creepy and classic masterpieces to contemporary bone chillers, this year's addition has a little something for everyone.

Be warned, dear reader, this chillingly curated collection of acoustical terror will be anything but a walk in the park. Far from the average "best of" Halloween playlists, this latest edition dwells among the unknown: those obscure masterpieces from Western and Eastern Europe, the Nordic countries and beyond. Occasionally, a more familiar holiday fixture will bear its fangs for the more traditionally inclined seeking to get their shriek on -  but for the most part, it is my hope to introduce the listener to something newly horrific.

*Due to time constraints, a limited supply of videos will accompany brief synopses. I will continue to add snippets as my schedule permits.

In the interim, let the macabre music speak for itself:

PART I/III (second and third posts will be placed below part one)


Originally composed for violino grande (an acoustical hybrid of violin and viola) and orchestra, this absolutely bone chilling concerto takes the listener on a horrifyingly harrowing journey though purgatory. This isn't your average spooky orchestration, either: Penderecki upped the angst-fueled ante by adding some of the most haunting instruments to the rhythm section: a guiro, whip, rattle, celesta - and even a saw - in order to violently slice through the frenzied din.

Saturday, 13 October 2018


Think the double bass is big?

Check out the Octobass!

Octobasse Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal Eric Chappell 1
OSM double bassist Eric Chappel
This massive bowed string instrument was created at the behest of Hector Berlioz in the mid 19th century. The French composer was a vocal advocate of the instrument, and rallied for its widespread adoption as an effective means for a rumbling bass line to cut through the fray of the rapidly expanding orchestra which had become synonymous with the Romantic era. Such evidence of his enthusiasm survives in print - an example of which can be found in Berlioz' famed Treatise on Orchestration.

From pp. 405:

"This instrument has tons of strange power and beauty, full and strong, without any roughness. It could produce extraordinary effects in a large orchestra. At least three should be available for music festivals if the number of instruments is greater than 150."
- Hector Berlioz,
Treatise on Instrumentation, Hector Berlioz (rev. Richard Strauss), 1948 Edwin F Kalmus, NY

Measuring a behemoth 11+ feet, 10 inches (roughly 3.6 meters) and weighing 131 kg, this beast of an instrument, tuned two octaves below a cello and with its lowest C note boasting a frequency of 16Hz (the standard range of audible frequencies for humans is 20 to 20,000 Hz), was the design of the French luthier Jean-Baptiste Vuillame, who fashioned only three of the rare specimens, two of which survive to the present day (in addition to two, contemporary made, playable replicas). In total, there are only seven known Octobass - including the original instruments, playable replicas and display pieces - in existence, making it one of the most exclusive classical instruments in the world.

Known for his controversially bombastic orchestrations, Berlioz
would become a pioneer of the larger, lush orchestra we have
come to know and love today. As the spoils of the Industrial
Revolution left behind an increase in vocational opportunities
and resulted in higher wages for the emerging middle class,
an increased demand for the formerly underprivileged to enjoy
the pastimes previously reserved for the wealthy was born.
This led to the construction of larger venues to contain larger
crowds, and composers of the ilk of Wagner and Berlioz embraced
this change by adding instruments to their orchestras to fill the
increased space, ensuring an  adequate resonance throughout
the concert hall. It is thus perhaps unsurprising that Berlioz
would champion the Octobass to assist in slicing through the
din - with it's lowest frequency measuring a mere 16Hz - which
cannot be perceived by the human ear, but merely felt by the
body through the strings vibrations - there existed little in the
way of comparison of a more effective model to accomplish
the same impressive feat.
The Octobass can be found in Paris, at the Musée de la Musique (their instrument measures a whopping 11.4 ft), and in the collections of the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Unlike the smaller double bass, played either with a bow or by manually plucking the strings, the Octobass, whilst also a bowed string instrument, must be played by employing a system of levers and pedals due to the length of its fingerboard and the thickness of its stings. It's bow consists of a healthy bounty of horsehair, and is substantially larger in size than that of its smaller cousin. Due to the massive height of the Octobass, the bassist must access the instrument's strings with the aid of a small pedestal.

Below, you will bear witness to the Octobass in full action through a historic performance of Spanish composer José Evangelista's Accelerando, performed by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (OSM) under Kent Nagano, which held its world premiere at the Maison symphonique de Montréal in Canada on October 21, 2016. It marked the first* time in recorded history that the Octobass was included in a full orchestra setting (it followed alongside a performance of Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben*), and, to date, the OSM remains the only orchestra in the world to have one in their possession.

The OSM Octobass is a replica of Vuillaume's original design, fashioned in 2010 by French luthier Jean-Jacques Pagès with the assistance of clock and pendulum maker Michel Jolly, who aided in recreating the 237 parts of the complex mechanism at Pagès workshop in Mirecourt, France.

Maestro Kent Nagano conducts the OSM in the world premiere performance of Evangelista's Accelerando. Eric Chappel appears on Octobass.

Discover more:

*CLICK TO ENLARGE* Data Sheet, Octobass,OSM

Learn more about this fascinating, rare instrument by visiting the Musical Instrument Museum's YouTube page.


Monday, 8 October 2018


Dear reader,

Thank you for your many inquiries as to my whereabouts - Unraveling Musical Myths will return shortly. I am taking a brief hiatus, commensurate with external obligations
- chiefly, study. Posts, new series, features and full length articles will return momentarily.

In the interim, enjoy below the stunning vocals of Canadian soprano
Barbara Hannigan as she soars effortlessly over the ethereal strings of Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen's "Let Me Tell You," a contemporary song cycle commissioned in her honor for the Berlin Philharmonic in 2013, which Abrahamsen based on the 2008 eponymous novella of the same name by British librettist and author Paul Griffiths. Let Me Tell You forms an artistic take on the dialogue of Ophelia from Shakespeare's Hamlet (separated into three parts).

The stunning work received much critical praise and earned many accolades following it's 2013 world premiere, including the much coveted Grawemeyer Award For Music in 2015.

Barbara Hannigan and the Berlin Philharmonic (under Andris Nelsons) perform Abrahamsen's "Let me tell You," movement 7: "I will go out now" (world premiere performance, December 20, 2013)