OM by Sven Grunberg Melodiya Records, 1988, re-released on Boheme Music, 2000 http://www.boheme.ru , http://www.bohememusic.com This Russian re-release features music of the Estonian composer Sven Grunberg, who started in the late ‘70s as an imitator of the big synthesizer-rock sounds of Vangelis or Kitaro. In the mid-‘80s, as documented on this collection, Grunberg moved more towards spacemusic and ambient sound, incorporating more “world-music” material into his compositions as well. He still retains his base in synthesizer special effects and sound spectacle, though; the Eastern musical motifs are no more than exotic flavors added in, taken well out of their cultural context. But that is not necessarily a bad thing; Europeans have for centuries adapted Orientalisms to their own use. Grunberg’s melodic lines tend to ramble, but do sometimes come together in a fairly good tune, such as the playing in the later minutes of track 2, “Reflections.” He tends to rely on lots of “big moments,” probably because of his history as a film composer where this is what the scenes need, but this episodic quality works against his musical structure. Even after ten minutes, it seems as if a piece is going nowhere, despite lots of exciting bits. Grunberg’s rather incoherent eclecticism is evident in the last track, “OM,” where he mixes – in one eleven-minute piece - not only space-ambient, but Japanese science fiction and pseudo-Kabuki noise, as well as “tribal” (but synthesized) drum rhythms. In the liner notes, he tries to justify this as a “homogeneous world music” that would unite humanity, but I’m not convinced. There are plenty of sonic pyrotechnics but at the end it’s a lot more style than substance. HMGS rating: 4 out of 10 1/4/01
HINGUS (Breath) by Sven Grunberg Melodiya Records, 1981, re-released on Boheme Music, 2000 http://www.boheme.ru , http://www.bohememusic.com This re-release of vintage music from the Estonian composer Sven Grunberg takes the listener back to the “age of brass” in popular synthesizer music. (“Hingus” means “Breath” in Estonian.) Like the more famous Vangelis, Kitaro, or Tangerine Dream, Grunberg stacks up a big, brassy, rock-oriented sound, made even more bombastic by the use of a pipe organ. His harmonies are rock/modal/pentatonic, with lots of synthesized glissandos, theremin-like melody lines, and canned percussion. Unfortunately, this Eastern European attempt at big-sound synth-rock doesn’t have much content. In most of the pieces, Grunberg stays on one chord, one set of notes, through an entire 6 or 7 minutes. There aren’t many changes, just one loud stylistic cliché after another. The catchy melodies that characterize the music of Vangelis or Kitaro are missing, replaced by aimless noodling. When he finally does get some movement going, as in the longer last track on the album, “Flower of Light,” it’s more interesting, but it is still mostly harmonically static until the last few minutes, where he manages to pull out a fair rock tune. The production is not helped by the pretentious liner notes (“we face the universe from oceanic depths to sonorous silence of the starry sky, the beating of the human heart in the engrossing calm of the infinity…”) This recording can be seen from 20 years later as a “period piece,” as well as a kind of interesting, though mediocre, bit of musical history. It shows what an imitator of the big commercial electronic artists of the time was doing, behind what was then still the “Iron Curtain.” HMGS rating: 3 out of 10 1/4/01
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