First Night: Goldie 'Sine Tempore', Royal Albert Hall, London
Classical evolution for drum 'n' bass star in Proms
Monday 03 August 2009
Goldie would not be the first choice for children's entertainment. The gold-toothed artist and producer, famous for his pioneering drum 'n' bass music of the Nineties, has always been one to make a statement.
Having grown up in children's care homes, he unleashed pent-up anger by creating aggressive, and immensely powerful, tracks such as Temper Temper, and in his street art. The centrepiece of his recent graffiti exhibition, The Kids Are All Riot, was a self-portrait of the artist swearing.
But on Saturday, Goldie officially added a new form of art to his repertoire – classical composition – when the world premiere of his first piece written for an orchestra took place at this year's family prom.
Many of the crowd would have watched an intrepid Goldie trying his hand at conducting in the BBC's Maestro programme last year and go on to take second place in the competition (Sue Perkins took first place). This was despite his never having played a musical instrument and being unable to read music. Following his unexpected success, Goldie was invited by the Proms' director Roger Wright to compose a six to seven minute classical composition to be performed six months later.
To meet this Prom's Charles Darwin theme of evolution, Goldie named his creation Sine Tempore, the Latin for "timeless".
Anyone wary of the 44-year-old's suitability to a family audience needn't have been. In the first part of a two-part BBC documentary, Classic Goldie, tracking his progress, he expressed his intentions for his composition: "I want it to be upbeat and hearty, and not so much in the depths of despair of my soul – it can be a dark place, my soul. I've lived in the past too long and need to move on."
If this were an attempt to leave his past behind, and embody the theme of rebirth via a new more upbeat music, he succeeds to an extent – there will always be a darkness there.
Starting off with drums signifying the Big Bang, from the darkness of his soul came the eerie screeching of a waterphone, an atonal instrument recognisable for its use in horror film scores. Joined by tribal drumming, tubular bells, wordless hissing vocals, and some abrupt dissonant piano, it instantly set the listener on edge.
Then, from the darkness came a break. He built layers of sound, until the full BBC Concert Orchestra was playing and both male and female sides of the London Philharmonic Choir were singing joyously. (Setting aside the fact that the vocal melody sounded suspiciously like the opening notes of Land of Hope and Glory), there was a climactic moment: a chord so uplifting from the women's choir that the piece opened up, conjuring the sense of an opening dawn.
Goldie's drum 'n' bass could be characterised by its tendency to start off slowly and burst into high-energy sound. Sine Tempore, by comparison, was full of dynamics, and focused above all on rhythm and timbre.
He gradually shifted the orchestra from quieter moments, including a beautiful low-register cello part, back into fuller passages, creating the contours of a sound sculpture. Most impressive was the way in which he made full use of the entire orchestra, the choir, and the Albert Hall's awe-inspiring organ – sometimes all at once.
In fact, the piece was nowhere near as terrifying as Jon Leifs' volcano-inspired Hekla, fuelled by a cacophony of percussion including canon shots, sirens, and the hammer, performed earlier in the concert.
You couldn't have expected Bach's counter-point and the composition, lacking harmony, benefited from its short length. However, it was remarkable how comfortably the piece sat alongside the other 20th and 21st century compositions showcased that day.
"When you learn a form of graffiti, you can do any form of art," Goldie has said.
He says the same thing about music in the documentary: "If you can make drum 'n' bass music, you can make any form of music you like."
Goldie has proven himself again.
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