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Massed string orchestra, Chinese violin making, live sampling in a crazed and hypnotic industrial process.
Released in 2001 but performed in December 1999, The Violin Factory is one of Jon Rose’s most accomplished works, full of multilevel symbolism, ground breaking originality, and stunning emotional power. An ode to factory workers, especially Chinese violin makers, this piece presents a deep reflection on mechanization versus humanization, repetitiveness versus inventiveness. Its origins reside in Rose’s fascination with the big factories that mass-produced cheap violins until the turn of the century. The original performance took place in Vienna, was stretched over two hours, and included a 25-piece string ensemble playing a score conducted by Rose; a Suzuki children’s violin class from Vancouver broadcast via the Internet; and violinists Jim Munro and Parmela Atariwalla, also in Vancouver. Kaffe Matthews was in Vienna, sampling the orchestra and mixing in the Internet material in real time, while Tom Demeryer was blending images of the performing orchestra with film footage of an old Chinese violin factory provided by Ying Li Ma. The piece was edited to 53 minutes for the CD. Rose’s score is made of a number of four-bar motifs repeated for as long as the conductor pleases. These mechanical figures are sampled, displaced, multiplied, joined by the performers from Vancouver, and ornamented by the narration of the factory tour guide. The resulting music belongs as much to contemporary classical composition as to sound collage and audio art. The titles given to the tracks and Rose’s liner notes embed the work in a precise socio political concept. And yet, as serious as it may be, The Violin Factory remains captivating throughout. Not as provocative as some of the composer’s previous albums (like The Hyperstring Project), it is more significative. The CD is elegantly packaged in a cardboard box.