New York-based French composer Daniel Wohl writes concert music that generally follows current trends: it’s notated for orchestral instruments but often enhanced by electronics. On his recordings, though, he pursues a more seamless marriage of acoustic and electronic elements. A couple years ago he knocked me out with his gorgeous album Corps Exquis (New Amsterdam), performed by New York chamber ensemble Transmit with help from So Percussion and singers Julia Holter and Aaron Roche. Postproduction elements announce themselves throughout: Wohl and his collaborators Andrew McKenna Lee and Ryan Streber expanded and manipulated the acoustic foundation in the studio to create something ineffably beautiful and lyrical.
Wohl has pushed that practice much further on his recent second album, Holographic (New Amsterdam), which not only ignores the structural expectations of contemporary classical music but also finds new ways to render the line between acoustic and electronic invisible. The pulsing long tone that opens the album sounds synthetic, but it was produced by close miking a resonating snare drum. Wohl enlisted some of New York’s most skilled and acclaimed musicians to bring his vision to life, including the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Iktus Percussion, Mantra Percussion, Mivos Quartet, and singers Olga Bell (ex-Dirty Projectors) and Caroline Shaw (Roomful of Teeth), but what they do here bears little superficial relation to their usual rigorous performances of challenging compositions. Los Angeles experimental-pop duo Lucky Dragons appear on and cowrote the album’s closing piece, “Shapes,” a partnership that helps illustrate where Wohl is coming from.
Holographic blissfully falls through the cracks between styles, colliding ambient, electronic, experimental, and pop to make a cogent, mesmerizing whole. There have been some recent performances of the album’s music, including elaborate video accompaniment, but to me this isn’t material meant to be performed live—the heavy lifting was clearly done in the studio, via processing, sampling, and mixing, after the other musicians went home. Wohl conjures a wide array of moods and attacks, including the madly careening prepared piano in “Progression,” which starts out suggesting a player piano rebelling against the rolls fed into it, and the ethereal richness of “Source,” where Shaw and Bell’s electronically altered voices are meticulously blended into a kaleidoscopic tapestry of lush electronics.
For today’s 12 O’Clock Track I’m sharing the moody, hypnotic “Formless,” a gorgeous slice of ambient drift that departs from the airiness of most such music via the deep, richly textured string timbres of Mivos Quartet.