Loving the Chambered Nautilus
Born in 1976, Brooklyn-based William Brittelle is very much a New Wave classical composer, as evidenced by his third album Loving the Chambered Nautilus. The seven-track recording of intoxicating electro-acoustic music is realized by the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) and Brittelle himself, who's credited with synths and drum programming. What makes it particularly striking, however, is the deft manner by which it fuses the classical chamber music tradition and electronic pop genre. In that regard, it makes some kind of perverse sense that Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Del Tredici and Television guitarist Richard Lloyd are cited as two of Brittelle's mentors. The title, by the way, refers to a marine creature that inhabits a complex shell and thus combines elements of both organic and inorganic material, much as does Brittelle's music in its blend of strings and electronics. He previously released Mohair Time Warp (issued by New Amsterdam Records in 2008) and the 2010 art rock album Television Landscape (which was scored for orchestra, rock band, synths, and children's choir, and featured the ballad “Sheena Easton” as its centerpiece), and also co-directs New Amsterdam Records with composers Judd Greenstein and Sarah Kirkland Snider. His compositional gifts are also heard to striking effect on pianist Michael Mizrahi's recent The Bright Motion, which features Brittelle's “Computer Wave.”
The three-movement “Future Shock (for string quartet)” that opens the album captivates with its complex writing, bold expressiveness, and kinetic propulsion. It's roller-coaster music of passion and high energy that the five musicians tear into ferociously, with Brittelle colouring the four string players' lines with generous portions of creamy synthesizers and hyperactive drum patterns. In the second movement especially, Brittelle counters the sometimes unsubtle hammering of the drumbeats with moments of lyricism and sensitivity in the string playing; needless to say, ACME, led by cellist Clarice Jensen and featuring violinists Caleb Burhans and Caroline Shaw, violist Nadia Sirota, flutist Eric Lamb, and harpist Megan Levin, acquits itself marvelously on the recording. Its impassioned rendering of Brittelle's material is a major reason why Loving the Chambered Nautilus makes as strong an impression as it does.“Acid Rain on the Mirrordome,”a brief, luscious dreamscape situating Sirota and Jensen within Brittelle's synth-heavy soundscaping, separates the opening string quart piece and the fourth “Future Shock” setting, this one scored for Jensen and Brittelle only. The album's poppiest moment arises during the closing title track, which features a stirring vocal performance and banjo playing by Caleb Burhans and serves as a powerful manifesto for Brittelle's take-no-prisoners approach. The mid-song passage where Burhans' voice swells into a near-ecstatic chant is one of the recording's most transfixing and attests to Brittelle's plentiful gifts as a composer. Here and elsewhere, the man clearly goes his own way, indifferent as to whether the material is idiosyncratic electro-pop or some mutant strain of contemporary classical music. Regardless of the particular makeup of a given piece, his polyrhythmic sound is always melodically rich and sonically alluring. It's a short recording by CD standards, but its brevity is more than compensated for by the sheer amount of exuberant music packed into its thirty-six minutes.