Boiled down to its basic elements, the language of computers consists of ones and zeros. Over the years, various attempts have been made to create natural sound electronically. Sounds created in their own right are often very effective. But when the programming wizards attempt to capture and purport to duplicate Stradivarius violins, Buffet clarinets, Zildjian cymbals and the like (often urged on by the economies of scale that displacing professional musicians can bring to cash-strapped producers) the art laughs at them—real mirth, not contrived smiles.
With his ten-track album of computer-generated work, Nick Davis brings new meaning to the phrase “one-man band.” The subject matter has mostly to do with human conflict ("Flight to Freedom") and affairs of the heart ("A Lover’s Lament"). The musical glue is provided through the keyboard and via the East West PMI Bösendorfer 290 piano library. Most of the tracks begin with the piano—all of them feature it. When totally alone ("Lullaby for Madeline") the sound is clear and full but the all-important "moments" fail to materialize, even as the "Dormez vous?" legato line balances the frequent stop/start of the theme.
The remainder of the instrumentalists come from a fully fledged band drawn from the vast samples and library of East West Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra. But when the 18-piece violin section heads for the stratosphere ("Yearning"), the anaemic quality weakens the passion considerably—the chords wheezed rather than soared. This is all the more troublesome given that the full-blooded French horns add much melodic depth but, here, lack the clarity of attack expected from the “real” thing. Still, the final measures truly disappear convincingly.
"Return of the Brave" (although begging the question, don't many of the brave remain on the battlefield?) features the most successful recreation of the album: the snare drum. But one success does not a victory make. This march past is more stilted than heroic and the phrases too often stop abruptly rather than lift. Happily, some long-overdue bits of syncopation (like needed rain) add welcome relief to Davis' far-too-vertical architecture.
Rhythmically, there is much alteration between triple ("Forever More"—easily the most successful number of the lot; the piano/harp music box a treasure of childlike simplicity, effectively foiling the occasional dark side of the harmonic plan) and duple ("The Fallen"—featuring hints of the Apocalypse, hues of Barber's Adagio for Strings and an incessant upper-register piano ostinato), but nary the twain did meet. For all his melodic gifts, Davis now needs to focus on rhythmic "colourings" just as much as his palette of sound.
But don't take my word for it, here's a sample: Forever More.
Those interested in the state-of-the-art for computer-generated instrumental music must find a place in their library for this disc. Others, who savour portamento, fully-blended woodwinds and true staccato should continue to make their way to the local concert hall. JWR