Efterklang - Performing Parades(CD+DVD) [Leaf - 2009]“My frustration is that there are no frustrations,” remarks Efterklang’s Casper Clausen on the ‘behind the scenes’ documentary accompanying this live CD and DVD of the group performing their critically-acclaimed 2007 album, ‘Parades’, in collaboration with The Danish National Chamber Orchestra. This comment neatly summarises the main issue with the music on both the original album and this new version: by lacking in frustration, it also lacks degrees of contrast in tension and release, the type that can incite drama and stimulate through counterpointing conformity with deviance, cleanliness with dirt or the intellect with the visceral. The compositions on ‘Parades’ have plenty of the former but too little of the latter, and being originally written for orchestral accompaniment, its rearrangement is no different.
It’s difficult throughout not to keep comparing it to much of Björk’s more orchestral work. The palette is virtually identical here – strings, brass and woodwind create a lush and occasionally bombastic platform for glitchy electronic rhythms and xylophone (or music box) solos while somehow managing to incorporate guitar, drums and voice. But where Björk’s voice effortlessly charmed and bathed her audiences in otherworldly delight, Efterklang’s choir, which is central to almost all pieces here, is reminiscent of music teachers – confident, earnest and competent, but not performing their primary craft. Similarly, the flowing arrangements on albums like Vespertine are informed by spiritual minimalism but not constrained by theory, while Efterklang’s studious but stilted use of modern classical techniques feels fragmented and more of a showcase for considered anecdotes from an ivory tower than a fully-formed immersive experience.
Classical music and rock have often been odd bedfellows. As Karsten Fundal, the score arranger for ‘Performing Parades’ points out, the music for the orchestra is read from a score, while the band have it in their heads. The compositional process is grown from significantly different disciplines and the parameters in performance attempt to combine these symbiotically. But this certainly wasn’t a problem for ‘Performing Parades’, the original album is almost too faithfully reproduced, the problem is in the mildness and the measured, the well-mannered and the well-behaved, and the lack of confounded expectations all contributing to a frustration that inspires antipathy.
The DVD makes a little more sense of the music through revealing the set and costume design - all players bore simple painted symbols on their faces and were dressed in white trousers with colourful shirts and pointy hats that carry the triangular theme from the backdrops. This positions ‘Parades’ closer to children’s theatre, where the polite, conservative sounds, never-too-sad and never-too-fierce, wouldn’t risk offending any family day out. And, whether with children or without, the audience certainly roared at the end of the set. So, if you liked Efterklang’s ‘Parades’, you’ll love ‘Performing Parades’ as it adds a live dimension and gives insight into its staging (as well as featuring seven videos of selected tracks from the album). But for the uninitiated you may find yourself after something a little more unexpected, unusual and unconstrained.Russell Cuzner