(From the Sunday Star-Times, Auckland, 3 November 1996.)
Classical Music Bridges The Wall
Floyd turns classical -- but not as you know it. MIKE ALEXANDER reports on the
forces behind this week's world premiere of Symphonic Floyd
Auckland Philharmonia has swapped the traditions of yesteryear to embrace the
classics of the "my generation" for this week's world premiere of The Symphonic
Music Of Pink Floyd.
This is classical music -- but not as you know it, as the 87-strong orchestra takes on composer Jaz Coleman's impressions of music from two quintessential Pink Floyd albums, Dark Side Of the Moon and The Wall.
"The orchestra was chosen as the ideal medium to demonstrate the point that music once categorised as progressive' by one generation is now considered classic' by another generation," says Coleman, the philharmonia's composer-in-residence. "For those of us who grew up with the sounds of Pink Floyd, upon listening back to the recordings we find ourselves trapped in a cul-de-sac of nostalgic associations. We felt that the new impressions of the music that played such an important part in our lives might help the exorcism process."
Coleman arranged The Symphonic Music Of Pink Floyd, the 1995 album which has given rise to the concert. It was recorded with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of New Zealand musical identity Peter Scholes, who will conduct the Auckland performances. The record spent 36 weeks at the top of the Billboard crossover charts in the US and has sold nearly 750,000 copies.
"I am a classical conductor. What excites me about this music is the way it gets into the orchestra and explores the colours and dynamics of it," says Scholes. "You have got all the forces at play. There are seven percussionists and the colourings that Jaz has come up with are wonderfully dynamic, vibrant and invigorating. Then there is the beautifully lush, rich string sounds. Two of the pieces, Another Brick In The Wall Part II and The Great Gig In The Sky, are strings only. In fact, all of the pieces were written for a double string orchestra, so the texture is a great wall of string sounds."
The Symphonic Music Of Pink Floyd is the second in a trilogy of landmark rock albums Coleman and Scholes have reworked for the classical idiom. The first was Symphonic Rolling Stones, featuring vocals from Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Maire Brennan and Ian Anderson. The third, yet to be released, is Symphonic Music Of The Who. The projects required the consent of all three bands, who listened to the music and gave approval.
If that's not tough enough, the Pink Floyd project had added difficulties. "After everything we went through, it was going to be called The Dark Side Of The Wall," says Coleman. "Initially, we thought it was a done deal. The guy who put the whole thing together -- no names mentioned -- paid for Peter and I to fly business class to London. He had told us he had a record deal and everything. We recorded the album in two days, so everything went smoothly from our end. As soon as we had done the job, he got the tape, cut a deal and paid everyone later'. So nobody got paid for about five or six months. If we had known the situation beforehand, I probably would have had a heart attack."
So how did the record end up on Philip Glass' Point Music label?
"Philip Glass got given the DAT tape and went to one of these big high society Washington parties with all of these senators," Coleman says. "He told everyone he had this tape of some different interpretations of Pink Floyd. They all wanted to hear it. So he put it on and they all went Wow!' He signed a deal next day. The Pink Floyd album was quite a funny chapter really. Quite frankly, I wouldn't care to go through the same procedure.
"The most positive thing about the whole experience was that I think it brought out some of my best arrangements. I state openly that I absolutely detest The Wall, but one of the things I enjoyed was having to arrange music I hate. If I am a good arranger I should be able to turn it around so it moves people. You can do anything with music. Every possibility is available. I think that's the key to good arrangement. All the great composers have had to arrange at some point in their career. I have really enjoyed the exercise but instead of choosing Beethoven, I choose popular bands. The funny thing is that we have already got orchestras who want to include it in their programme because it is more popular than Beethoven."
It's something of an enigma that the Cheltenham-born Englishman of Egyptian descent, better known for his brutal, intense music with post-punk band Killing Joke, should find a second career in New Zealand as a composer and arranger. Though schooled in the classics -- he studied piano and violin and by age 14 had sung in many of the great cathedral choirs of England, achieving the most prestigious accolade for a chorister, the Saint Nicholas Award -- Coleman's career has oscillated between the white heat of Killing Joke and the symphony orchestras of the world.
"Killing Joke's music is really a catharsis, whereas with orchestra my whole attitude is romantic. I seek to create a more desirable reality," Coleman says.
Now that he is a New Zealand resident, part of that desirable reality includes his commitment to working with the Maori language. The Aotea concerts will feature two original Coleman pieces, Fanfare For The Millennium, a "lighthearted celebration of the last five minutes of 1999", and Pacifica, a series of tone poems written for string quartet, but recorded for full orchestra for the first and maybe only time.
Fanfare has already appeared on the recently released recording with Scholes and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra of Coleman's Symphony No 1 while the string quartet version of Pacifica is scheduled for release on November 14.
Pacifica features Maori vocalist Hinewehi Mohi, who has toured with Killing Joke and is well-known for her appearances with Moana and the Moahunters, Dalvanius, Herbs, Upper Hutt Posse and Sir Howard Morrison. But she is a relative newcomer to the oft out-of-bounds-to-Maoridom world of classical music. Does she find it ironic it has taken a foreigner to recognise the beauty of Maori culture and language?
"Well, he's kind of brown, but it's not really that surprising. It's only when you go overseas that you realise people relate, even if it is only vaguely, New Zealand culture with Maori culture. There's a huge love for the haka and Maori song and performance. Kiri is probably the Maori face that has been up there but she hasn't ever taken Maori to new levels. It's not really in her background, which is a pity. The Maori cultural tradition has never had a presence in classical music. Tourism has distorted the traditional action song and waiata. They have been slotted into the cabaret market and never quite been able to break free of that."
For Coleman, his attraction to the Maori language is a natural affinity for its sound.
"The two languages I have focused on, outside of English, which I like the sound of are Arabic and Maori. The attraction for both is that they use different phrasings to express rhythm. The rhythm is all in the voice. The Maori don't have log drums like the Cook Island community or even the rhythm instruments of the Samoans and Tongans, but they have got drums in their body, in their voice. It's complete.
"One of the reasons I work with the Maori language is because I believe that it is representative of this country. Being a Pom, who lives over here, I have often thought about the difference between a New Zealander and an Englishman -- the cultural difference. The one thing that separates New Zealand from England is Maoridom. You see it in the All Blacks when they do the haka, you see it in the koru on Air New Zealand. Dare I say it, Maoridom is exploited wherever necessary because of the cultural identity crisis in the pakeha community.
"I hope through my work and by working with other artists that we can build up a musical identity for this country. My vision of New Zealand wouldn't be a lot of peoples. The two cultures here that define New Zealand are the pakeha community and the Maori community. Anything else will erode the original culture that's here.
"There's such a cultural identity crisis in New Zealand that it is only through Maoridom that it can be resolved. There's a lot of defensiveness among pakehas. They think you have to be Maori to enjoy Maoridom. That's not so. If you identify with a culture, that culture is yours."
The Symphonic Music of Pink Floyd, Aotea Centre, Auckland, Thursday and Friday