Hidden Orchestra – Night Walks (Tru Thoughts/Border) ALBUM REVIEW

This guy got funding from the Scottish Arts Council, so somebody must see genius in his work. The blurb tootles on about “cinematic soundscapes with multilayered drums and innovative, truly modern production style.” It goes on (it really does go on): “Influenced by everything from jazz, hip hop and drum’n’bass to field recordings, Western classical music and Eastern pentatonic scales.”

While these statements are true, to a degree, they fail to address the fact that for at least 15 years now there have been legions of young men at computers making music roughly along these lines. It all started with the trip hop genre, which opened up a new world of cut’n’paste musical adventure. With samplers, and especially computers, it became blindingly easy to graft one sample onto another with a nifty drum sequence and a cool bass line. Hey, presto!

The success of these ventures wasn’t to do with the fact that they combined a raft of different styles, and everything to do with how the styles were combined to forge a new composition; and just as importantly, whether the you man at computer (YM@C) had imagination as well as perseverance and some skill at putting it all together.

The problem with Hidden Orchestra is that, despite some wonderfully evocative elements, it’s quite boring. He knows how to find a crisp drum sound, and to squeeze a flavourfully wood-like sound out of a virtual double bass; he knows how to get a synthetic string section shivering just so, and to get some Eastern flutes wending their way through his sonic architecture in a pleasing fashion. It’s just that the end result doesn’t flush out more than fleetingly memorable musical moments, and although it’s much more tasteful than any of those Ministry of Sound chill out compilations, it utterly lacks the conviction, edge or imagination of the masters of this genre – people like Amon Tobin and, oh, Amon Tobin again. Really, you just can’t go past Amon Tobin when it comes to music for imaginary cinema, and if there’s one thing that Hidden Orchestra does very well is demonstrate just how great those Amon Tobin records are. Perhaps it’s closer to the jazz-noir of Cinematic Orchestra, but that group also makes music that may be considered gorgeous, but also vacuous and ultimately insufferable.

The sound? Variable. There are moments of sonic bliss, where everything is of stunning clarity and depth (those woody faux bass lines again), but there are also moments of disappointingly muddy bottom end, where it’s as if his sampled sources just couldn’t stand up to the clarity found elsewhere. Now, I’ve got lots of albums featuring simultaneously variable sonic sources (sorcery?) and sometimes it works beautifully, but there’s nothing really clever or sharp about the way he combines his forgeries.

Night Walks had enough enjoyable moments to keep me listening all the way through, but I probably wouldn’t do it a second time. GARY STEEL

SOUND = 3.5

MUSIC = 2.5

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