A Long Day’s Ninth

I wrote about Leif Inge’s 9 Beet Stretch in my Village Voice column this week, and you should read that, but I have more to say about the piece than I have space for there. Briefly, what Norwegian composer Inge has done is stretch out, via digital software, a recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to last 24 hours without changing the pitch – and since the unstretched Ninth lasts about an hour, that means it’s 24 times as slow as normal. The whole 24 hours is coming out next month on a two-DVD set from Table of the Elements, but you can download the whole thing here, sliced into convenient 83-minute chunks. (Or maybe not so convenient, since that’s slightly too long a segment to burn to CD.)

Some of my friends, told about the project, ventured an opinion that Inge has too much time on his hands, but I find it fascinating listening. First of all, if you know the Ninth Symphony (and how many people who don’t would be reading me?), you feel like an ant in Manhattan – you can usually sort of tell where you are, but the spaces are so vast! That horribly dissonant, seven-note chord just before the tenor comes in in the fourth movement (which for some reason Inge labels the fifth) – it just goes on forever, sustaining its rage beyond reason. Melody notes glissando into each other, overlapping because you can hear the microseconds of reverb. Timpani blows rumble like tremolos. The screech of sopranos rasps slowly against your ear drum. Every oboe tone is put under a microscope, not always with beautiful results, but you learn a lot about the infinitesimal realities of sound production. My favorite movement is the Adagio (third); its dissonances last many, many seconds before finally resolving, like the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony conducted by Furtwangler, only much, much slower. The simple chords of the classical language become a metaphor for eternity. Beethoven’s powerhouse of a musical philosophy lesson becomes ambient music, featureless at times and changing too slowly to follow. Time truly comes to a halt.

Whose recording is this? Would anyone be able to tell? I can’t wait to have 12 hours of it on a DVD, so I can play it all night and wake up in the middle. It reminds me of what Stravinsky said about Schubert: asked didn’t Schubert’s music put him to sleep, Igor replied, “What does it matter if I fall asleep, so long as when I awake I think I’m in paradise?” You should check out everything from Table of the Elements, who are to the 21st century what CRI was to the 1960s and Lovely Music to the 1980s – fearless purveyors of the wildest stuff around.

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