Beauty In The Beast
by Rob Berry
Review of "Beauty In The Beast", a CD by Wendy Carlos Written by Rob Berry for the Ambient FAQ Copyright (c) 1994 ********** VITAL STATISTICS: Wendy Carlos "Beauty In The Beast" (C) 1986 Passport Records, Inc. SYNCD 200 # Name Time --------------------------------------------- 1. Incantation 6:45 2. Beauty In The Beast 3:57 3. Poem For Bali 17:39 4. Just Imaginings 12:06 5. That's Just It 3:36 6. Yusae-Aisae 3:12 7. C'est Afrique 6:13 8. A Woman's Song 4:10 Total Running Time 57:50 All songs composed, produced and engineered by Wendy Carlos. ********** GENRE: "A new music which defies categorization" RATING: 10 of 10 STRONGEST TRACKS: "Incantation", "Poem For Bali" WEAKEST TRACKS: "That's Just It" BRIEF DESCRIPTION: "Beauty In The Beast" is a CD unlike any other. Carlos has left behind the twelve-tone equal temperament scale that has been the heart of all Western music for the past three centuries. In its place, Carlos has used several new tunings, some based on traditional tunings from many different cultures, and some which never existed before. The result is a new, unearthly music that cannot be categorized. Terrifying and seductive all at once, this is a "soundtrack to a dream" by the world's greatest living musician. ********** REVIEW: "You now hold in your hands an album of calculated guesses as to the music of the perhaps not too distant future...." If "Beauty In The Beast" does indeed represent the music of the future, then the future is gonna kick ass. This CD is my all-time favorite, the one I would take with me if I were to be stranded on a desert island. "Beauty In The Beast" is unlike any other CD I've ever heard. It cannot be categorized under any of the familiar labels. "New age", "ambient" or "world music" would seem to fit best, though Wendy Carlos would cringe at being described with any of those labels. "Beauty In The Beast" is unique in several ways. First and foremost, Carlos has started by throwing out the foundation for all Western music since the 1700's: The twelve-tone equal temperament scale. In its place, she has substituted a wide variety of different tunings. Some of these tunings are traditional tunings from various cultures; others were invented by Carlos. And There's more here than just exotic tunings. The all-digital timbres possess nuances normally found only in acoustic instruments. The orchestration is flawless, and her sense of form superb. She has paid a great deal of attention to the details, and this makes "Beauty In The Beast" a truly unique listening experience. Prayer wheels and bass vocals form an ominous intro to "Incantation". Without warning, bombastic horns assault the listener, growing louder and louder, then suddenly fading. After a moment of silence, a *deep* bass voice kicks in. "The Voice" is as much felt as heard; words cannot convey the terror it inspires. The song continues to alternate between the horns and the Voice until the climax. At the song's end, Voice, drums, bells, and horns make one last terrifying assault on the listener's senses, and then fade to silence. To truly appreciate this song, listen at night in the dark, turn up the volume and boost the bass. Warn your Christian neighbors first, lest they mistake this for the Second Coming. "Beauty In The Beast" is a schizophrenic song that shifts from beautiful to beastly and back again. The grotesque opening theme leads into a delicate theme of bells and voice-flute hybrid. The music shifts to an ugly marching theme, and then to a bombastic mockery of circus music. The music shifts again to the bell/voice-flute theme (this time in a different time signature.) The song starts to fade, but halfway into the fade, it shifts one last time into a haunting collage of sounds. "Poem For Bali" is a song in ten segments. The first segment is a collage of sounds. Horns play what will become the song's main motif. Most of the following segments sound similar to the first, though the theme is varied both melodically and timbrally. Sections four and nine are different, however. The fourth segment is modeled on the Balinesian Barong dance, and consists of extremely fast bells and ethnic drums. The ninth part is a mini-concerto for Western symphonic orchestra and gamelan orchestra. (This can't be done in the acoustic world because of tuning conflicts.) The last segment features quiet strings, a gentle bell theme, and the main motif, all gradually fading to silence. "Just Imaginings" is the most bizarre song on the album. The song is a shifting tapestry of strange timbres, all written in the 144-note-per-octave(!) Harmonic scale. The mood vacillates from playful to haunting to grotesque and back again. Buzzing chords, tubular bells, strange horn-flute hybrids, and scampering synth sounds abound. "That's Just It" is the product of a fictional jazz sextet, with Carlos playing all parts. It is downbeat and mildly jazzy-- imagine slow jazz played on off-tune instruments and you've got the idea. The song is rather catchy; alas, it never really goes anywhere. This song also uses the Harmonic scale. "Yusae-Aisae" (pronounced "*YOU* say, *I* say") is meant to portray a Hollywoodesque Mid-Eastern marketplace. To Western ears, it has a vaguely Arabian feel to it. The tuning is *not* authentic, however; this song also uses the Harmonic scale. "C'est Afrique" is based on the rhythms and tunings of African music. The music is more percussive than on other songs, and there is less emphasis on melody and tonality. Vocoder chants add interest to the background of drum timbres, bell sounds, and tinny horn-like sounds. The song is in four sections, which range from plodding to frantic. "A Woman's Song" is based on a Bulgarian folk tune, though Carlos has added Indian instruments, Western horns and other timbres to the mix. This is the most mainstream song on the CD; you could probably play this on an easy listening station without attracting too much attention. The song is quiet and peaceful, and forms a uplifting end to the CD. ********** CONCLUSION: This album takes getting used to. The first few listens will have you wincing as your ears react to all the "wrong" notes. But once your ears adjust, you will be able to appreciate the sublime beauty this CD has to offer. This CD is *not* for those who like gently flowing music. It is full of ups and downs, with sudden twists and surprises throughout the album. It is also not for those who like simple harmonies. The harmonic structure would be complicated even without the new tunings. It *is* for those who enjoy world music, those who love experimental music, and those who like a challenge. I genuinely believe that Wendy Carlos is the world's greatest living musician; after hearing "Beauty In The Beast", you will too. ======== END ========
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