The Global Percussion Network is a group of musicians brought together by Swedish composer, vibraphone and marimba virtuoso Anders Еstrand. No stranger to ensemble works as a performer with Susan Francher and Mark Engebretson, Mattias Wager or the Like One trio (with Bjцrn Meyer and Martin Lцfgren), for the purposes of this recording Еstrand has brought together an equally esteemed group of artists.
Rolf Landberg, Daniel Saur, Martink Wilkstrцm and Cameron Britt join Еstrand in the percussive ranks, while Bengt Ernryd and Lennart Simonsson play flьgelhorn, trumpet, keyboards and grand piano.
As you can guess from the unusual line-up of instrumentalists, ‘Rauk’, named after a group of limestone formations on Gotland, Sweden’s largest island, is not a typical percussive album, all the pieces assembled for this work have obvious melodic leanings far beyond what one would usually expect from the genre. The disc was conceived as such and as a result encompasses mostly scored compositions, albeit with occasional elements of improvisation. The musical style is rather tricky to describe, but there are odd similarities to works by Debussy, particularly during passages of ‘Three Seconds to D’, the disc’s third track. There are light and airy phrases but also decidedly dark overtones, ‘Walking Mallets’ presenting the album’s most sombre mood.
For ‘Rauk’, Еstrand, together with co-producer, engineer and founder of Opus3 Records Jan-Eric Persson, also set about creating an album that would take full advantage of the enhanced realism afforded by multi-channel SACD. The performance was recorded in August 2001 as 2/2.0 – no centre or LFE – in the Ytterjдrna (Jдrna Concert Hall) using AKG and Thuresson microphones and a pure DSD signal path – Gennex GX8500 recorder and Sonoma editor – in such a way that the performers partly encircle the listening position, whilst the acoustic qualities of the hall itself are captured and conveyed primarily by the surround channels.
The approach works phenomenally well and I was enthralled by the result, specifically the real sense of a large, but not overly lively acoustic space. The placement of each instrumentalist is non-aggressive; they are spread equally apart in a 180° arc across the front of the room, each retaining his own distinct position within the soundstage. Yet more impressive is the three-dimensional layering of instruments, the marimba leads being more forward than the quieter, delicate conventional drums and cymbals.
‘Wedding March’, the disc’s first track, is a prime example of how all these elements come together. Gentle marimba and vibraphone are positioned front left, right and phantom centre, while behind them a tantalising marching drum provides the perfect foil. As the piece builds, the individual instruments combine into an intertwined whole which not only illustrates the validity of the recording method but also the skills of all those involved.
And so it is throughout the remainder of the disc; the creative possibilities of multi-channel being explored by the use of enveloping Thai-gongs, precisely positioned keyboards or the crotales – small tuned cymbals – of ‘Aurora Borealis’.
‘Rauk’ is also outstanding in terms of fidelity. The majority of the piece features quiet, precise sounds, all of which have been captured flawlessly by Jan-Eric Persson. Even the smallest nuances are present, to the point where it is possible to differentiate not only between drum and tom-tom tonality, but skin texture, tightness and the type of stick used. The decay of both marimba and vibraphone is smooth regardless of whatever else may be present in the mix while the attack of both instruments retains its sharp leading edge, particularly notable during the solo performance that is part of track six.
When both the tempo and volume are raised, specifically during the first movement of ‘Rauk’ itself, the dynamics of cymbal and drum combine to present what is an extraordinary and utterly convincing experience.
Although the music itself may be somewhat unusual and won’t appeal to your average Britney Spears fan, ‘Rauk’ is an outstanding disc for the thoughtful, educated listener. It is more than a match for anything I have heard from a major SACD label both in terms of surround presentation, creativity and fidelity and as such is highly recommended. ‘Rauk’ is priced at SEK189 (approximately $17.75) and can be ordered via the Opus3 website.