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Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, July 2009

When I requested this CD for review, I mistakenly assumed the Olsen in the headnote was Otto Olsson (1879–1964), a Swedish composer who wrote in a late-Romantic style, and whose Requiem and Te Deum I’ve much enjoyed. When the CD arrived in the mail, I realized my mistake. Morten Olsen (b. 1961) isn’t Swedish; he’s Danish. And his music is of a persuasion I do my best to avoid, which is to say a seemingly random (to me) cacophony of splats, smacks, squeaks, squawks, belches, and whoopee-cushion effects.

That said, and admitting that these pieces make no musical sense to me whatsoever, I will say that as this sort of thing goes, Olsen does seem to exhibit flair for the colorful and for using his instruments in combinations that produce some strikingly original and even fleetingly beautiful sounds. His instrumental ensemble is made up of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn, piano, percussion, two violins, viola, cello, double bass, accordion, and electric guitar, though the instruments frequently interact in ways that “bend” their acoustic properties to the point of causing the results to sound electronically generated. One example of this begins at 8:37 in the work titled In a Silent Way.

Much to my own surprise, I found myself actually being drawn into and liking some of Olsen’s music. I use the term “music” cautiously, however, for all of these pieces are essentially studies in sound effects. The waves and pulsations that wash over you can be highly evocative of various mental and emotional states—indeed, there are moments of hypnotic beauty—but in the end it all seems ephemeral and more accidental than planned.

As I said, Olsen has an ear for color, and these pieces can be quite mesmerizing, as in the second section of Oryq, which is almost tonal, with passing conventional sounding chord progressions; but the question remains—to paraphrase wording from one of our counterparts in that other publication across the pond—“Can it sell CDs or put derrieres in seats?” If listening to sine waves of varying frequency, amplitude, intensity, and velocity for over an hour is your cup of tea, then the answer is “yes.” I do think Olsen merits hearing and more attention than I’ve given to others of similar avant-garde persuasion in the past.

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