PHILIPPE PETIT: Off To Titan: A Rework Of Gustav Mahler’s Symphonic Poem (Karlrecords)


Posted on Jul 6th 2011 12:34 am

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Philippe Petit: Off To Titan: A Rework Of Gustav Mahler’s Symphonic Poem

Off To Titan: A Rework Of Gustav Mahler’s Symphonic Poem
Karlrecords 2010
03 Tracks. 59mins34secs

Amazon UK: CD | DLD US: DLD Norman Records: CD

Philipe Petit’s Off To Titan is based on Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, often referred to as Titan, a piece he composed toward the end of the 1880s when he was in his mid twenties. The work was originally deemed a failure as it showcased some unconventional forms for the time, a view shared by Petit who sees it as a precursor to contemporary music. His reworking of Mahler’s symphony retains much of the original’s orchestral grandeur, but places it in a very different context, and highlights its cosmic perspective with added electronics. Working from a recording of the piece which he re-edits, distorts, stretches to alter its path, Petit applies various brush intensity throughout, at times seemingly restraining his interventions to let the music follow its natural course, at other more openly layering entire sections, adding electronic touches or distorting the source recording to create new musical components.

As usual, Petit doesn’t work alone here. Following a first editing process, he sent the result to Jono Podmore, who added theremin and electronics wherever he felt he could enhance or distort the piece, and improvised new sections. This then came back to Petit who set out to fuse the original source and processed works and continued the process.

Unlike Mahler’s symphony, which is articulated around four movements, Petit’s version is split into three, the first and last stretching over twenty-five minutes each, the second being much shorter. The overall works though are roughly of the same length. Of the three movements, the first is perhaps the most contrasted, its orchestral depth resonating sharply through the various passages, quiet or expressive, carved by Petit. Opening with a crashing gong and effects, which the melody slowly infiltrates, it is instantly subjected to a radical re-organisation, but Petit is careful not to annihilate his source piece. While the electronic components remain mostly fairly discreet, Petit’s superimposition of the piece instantly gives it a much more distorted appearance. The space becomes at time so cluttered that the melody is drowned in layers of instruments. Of the original though only remains an overall textural aspect and occasional themes, the rest is merely a set of parts for him to rearrange at will.

The additional components brought by Podmore become more prominent in the second movement, and again in the third, as if the pair were moving further and further away from Mahler’s work to reshape it according to their own rules. While electronics still remain for the most part relatively discreet in the second movement, the recurring emergence of a static hum or the grain of a particular sound are indication of their underlying work, and it becomes even stronger on the third movement. Early on, a dissonant theremin drone slowly rises to the surface, only to be shredded into pieces shortly after, and, all the way through, electronics come and go, at times so prominent that the orchestral section is slightly undermined, at others retiring so far in the distance that they become mere specs in the overall scheme of the piece. Petit’s obsessive multi-tracking reaches its psychedelic paroxysm here and gives the original recording such magnitude that, confronted with so much conflicting information on melody, instrumentation and reverb, it is increasingly difficult to focus on any one point in the work.

Although Philippe Petit’s work is continuously opening up to new grounds, this is a project that stands out by its audacious approach. The result may not be to the taste of purists, but there is no denying the impressive feat of rendering Mahler’s original in such a psychedelic fashion while maintaining much of the original’s integrity.


Philippe Petit | Philippe Petit (MySpace) | Karlrecords
Amazon UK: CD | DLD US: DLD Norman Records: CD

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