Thursday, October 6, 2016
Terje Winge's Organism on 2L Recordings
For many audiophiles, there's nothing like the sound of a big pipe organ in a big church. That's the traditional test for full range speakers--can they produce that famous 16 Hz tone from a 32' pipe? There's no other acoustic musical instrument that has that wide of a frequency response, or at least none I'm aware of, and there's no other instrument that can naturally produce such a huge sound field since the pipes take up so much physical space. It's quite an experience to sit in an old church and hear one of the world's great pipe organs create tones that seem to come at you from all directions. Recreating that immense space in a recording is one of those Holy Grails for high-end audio.
That said, I'm kind of indifferent about the pipe organ as a musical instrument. I have audiophile friends who absolutely adore it and I can totally understand why--it creates such a singularly impressive sound. It's a veritable goose-bump machine. And I get that--I have a few Virgil Fox LPs at home and I like to trot them out once in a while to wow my buddies. But for me, true pipe organ music tends to fit into two categories--the spooky and the sacred. In my opinion, that limits its appeal. For an instrument that such an enormous frequency response, it's a shame that I feel that way.
Leave it to 2L Recordings in Norway to change my mind. Their latest release on CD and Blu-ray audio, Organism, features three unique pipe organ pieces from composers Kjell Mork Karlsen, Trygve Madsen and Kjell Flem, all performed by Terje Winge--the Professor of Organ at the Norwegian Academy of Music. These composers have obviously been informed by the sacred side of the pipe organ canon, with specific references made to Gregorian chants and the Lutheran chorale traditions. And a significant portion of this album sounds like the type of pipe organ you would typically hear in a church, albeit a Scandinavian one (in this instance, the Alesund Church in Norway).
But there are moments, especially in the quieter passages, where the music launches on a secular tangent and starts evoking feelings and visuals far outside of the Christian liturgy. The air traveling through those pipes meander and crawl around the room and start to dig in with prying fingers--sadness, despair, unease and worry. These emotions aren't necessarily alien to the ideas behind the hymnal, but it's odd to let your mind wander in and out of these notes, out the door and into mysterious and troublesome landscapes where anything can happen.
That sounds a bit fanciful, but that's my reaction to this strange and haunting organ music. It took my mind to places where it hasn't been before and definitely engaged me in an unprecedented way. It's so easy to become lost in these gigantic sounds, to ride a roller coaster of dynamics and find yourself alternately soothed and excited by what you hear. I couldn't imagine being at a church service and hearing these pieces played. What the hell kind of church is this?
On top of all that, you have Morten Lindberg of 2L performing his magic. As I mentioned in my review of TrondheimSolistene's Reflections last week, 2L has upped the ante for recording techniques, using Dolby Atmos in conjunction with Auro-3D surround for the Blu-ray disc. In other words, the recording Organism will envelop you in exactly the same way as the actual recording in the church. If you're the type of audiophile who's looking for that big pipe organ recording to really wow your buddies, this is it. But if you're like me, looking for an emotional entry point into this fascinating musical instrument, you'll be really, really surprised by Organism.