Recorded at Nemo Studios, London, England.|
- Movement 1 [18:20]
- Movement 2 [6:20]
- Movement 3 [6:06]
- Movement 4 [9:54]
- Movement 5 [7:20]
Composed, arranged, produced and performed by Vangelis.
Vangelis - keyboards, percussion
A real jewel in the crown of his ouvre, this album highlights Vangelis' ability to create a unique sound-world for a single musical project. This time it involves that period of the year, sort of fresh early spring, when new life crops up everywhere all of a sudden: the start of a new cycle of life and death, hence the album-title 'Soil Festivities'. Vangelis manages to get across this feeling of "the miracle of nature" really well and in a very direct sense - there's nothing wishy-washy or New Age about it. Accordingly, it's also completely devoid of the human factor - quite unlike for instance the Romantic composers like Mahler who very much viewed nature as being linked to Man's inner state.To achieve the maximum effect of freshness Vangelis uses some rather exotic harmonies (mostly in major keys - his usual nostalgia isn't really apparent here), random percussion-effects and "jumpy" melody-lines.
The long first movement is set to a brisk walking tempo and sometimes accompanied by rain-effects. Added to this Vangelis lets loose his improvisational skills to probably indicate the many forms of life springing into existence. The second movement has a more tune-like quality and could be meant as the musical image of a plant growing beautifully but then withering away. This is the most tranquil piece of the lot, in contrast to the next three which are darker in atmosphere. The third movement shows the violent side of nature with moments of despair alternating with ones of glory, indicating the struggle to survive, whilst the fourth is more contemplative and a bit gloomy. The best is saved for last: a wonderfully loose piece in which Vangelis again shows his skill at improvisation, going through many moods and tempos before setting up an emotional conclusion to this feast of life.
Presenting a very direct and well-balanced view of the natural world, one cannot recommend this album too much, but don't expect anything Romantic.
1999. Ivar de Vries
This is such an album, where you must sit down, dim the lights and listen, enjoy the music.
2005. Wilfred Smit / The Netherlands
To get a hint at the extent of Vangelis' range as a composer, compare this release with Mask, an album released just one year later. About all you could say that these have in common is that they both use the same polyphonic keyboard sounds and are both broken into untitled movements. While in Mask, the Greek composer would use bombastic symphonic-choral colors to evoke with full drama the pageantry of heaven and hell, this one instead chooses as its focus the natural ambience of earth, in a tone that is minimal, but not necessarily Minimalist.
Opening with a thunder clap and gentle atmosphere sounds, the foundation of "Movement 1" is a dot-drone, forever repeated in a way that will likely recall "O Superman" by Laurie Anderson, and adorned occasionally with tic-like insertions setting the drone askew a la Tony Levin's bass line in "Industry" by King Crimson. From here, Vangelis builds a sparse, symphonic bed that actually makes me think of the music of Weather Report around the time of Mysterious Traveler, in its terrific ambiguities and its way of blurring the usually sharp borders between figure and background, solo and texture. In other words, at a broad, panoramic level, the music of "Movement 1" sounds like it's improvised, with Vangelis simply playing in the moment, completely at whim over the droning and tics. On the other hand, the interplay and layering of the various keyboard colors suggest music that is in fact pretty intricately composed. The second and fourth movements are extensions of "Movement 1," setting the repetition in terms of a musical phrase instead of a drone, either held static ("Movement 4") or set to cycling key changes ("Movement 2").
By contrast, the third and fifth movements are considerably more amorphous, providing a roar of percussive crashes and sprightly keyboard scampering that in the blink of an eye might bottom out into a pit of low rumbles and sustained synth lines, or might not. At the same time, these less delineated movements still manage to contain the same untroubled, lush touch that is the album's stamp. Listening to these is like observing a covert community of ants, bustling with life and activity, all hidden under the protection of a motionless plant leaf.
I really like this album and while not a blazing masterpiece, I consider it to be one of the quiet trophies in my collection. Though by its unassuming qualities this is not an album that you would intuitively expect to find yourself returning to again and again, that is curiously how it's worked out with me just the same.
Perhaps it's one of those instances where the overall quietude of the music almost seems to make it ring louder in memory.
2005. Joe McGlinchey