Monday, 21 December 2015

Michael Begg - Spem in Alium

In 1570, when Renaissance composer Thomas Tallis wrote his astonishing forty-voice motet, Spem in Alium (Hope in any other), , he probably didn't foresee the piece's transcendent propensities being co-opted by novelist E.L. James for her best-selling twenty-first century 'erotic romance', Fifty Shades of Grey. While such mass acceptance mercifully failed to dim the composition's splendour in the way Ravel's Bolero was kitschified following its use in Blake Edwards' 1979 rom-com, 10, it nevertheless saw recordings of Spem in Alium shoot to the top of the classical charts.

If Tallis was turning in his grave during the Fifty Shades hoo-har, he can rest more than easy regarding Michael Begg's infinitely more seasonal sounding 'arrangement and erosion' of an already majestic work. Rather than use voices, Begg utilises slowed-down strings and sepulchral sounding drones for a treatment that enhances the beauty of Tallis' original, even as it subverts it.

For those unfamiliar with his oeuvre, Begg is one half of electronic duo, Human Greed. He is also one of the driving forces behind vocalist Clodagh Simmonds' Fovea Hex project, who are set to release new material in 2016. Past attendees of Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations may also know Begg's output from Fragile Pitches, a sound installation performed at St Giles' Cathedral in 2009 alongside Nurse With Wound mainstay Colin Potter, in which the pair took natural sounds recorded locally, before distorting them over a five-hour electronic collage.

Originally released on Begg's Omnempathy label in 2013, and intended as a bonus disc to accompany Human Greed's World Fair album, Begg's thirty-minute take on Spem in Alium has now been re-released as a free download for December 2015 only. Begg himself has described the piece as an aural Christmas card. With the last date for posting physical missives now passed, this exquisite piece of fractured classicism is a glorious accompaniment to end of year meditations to cherish while it lasts.

http://omnempathy.bandcamp.com/album/spem-in-alium

Product, December 2015


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