This coming Friday Sono Luminus will release Touch, the latest studio album from Peter Gregson, currently available for pre-order by Amazon.com. The home page for Gregson’s Web site describes him as “cellist & composer;” but on this recording he also performs on piano. The recording itself is very much a product of studio engineering, mixing tracks that Gregson created through his performances on both cello and piano along with those produced by a variety of analog synthesizers. Five of the nine selections on the album also include recordings of four violinists, two violists, one cellist, and one bass player from the INSCAPE Chamber Orchestra.
Gregson’s home page also cites The New Yorker describing him as “working at the forefront of the new music scene.” If this was written by the same New Yorker critic who, in his book The Rest is Noise (Alex Ross, for those who do not know the book), declared Richard Strauss’ opera “Salome” to mark the beginning of twentieth-century music, then it is hard to accept Ross as an authority on forefronts; and Touch goes a long way to validate that claim. Just about everything on the album can be traced back to pioneering compositions that appeared on the ten releases of Brian Eno’s Obscure Records label, the latest of which came out a little less than ten years before Gregson was born. (Gregson’s Wikipedia page has been marked for vague content and only gives his birth as the year 1987. His Web site is no more informative.)
The fact remains, however, that each selection on this album is an artifact resulting from skilled engineering techniques, rather than the “audio capture” of acts of making music. This in itself would not be problematic were it not for the fact that each composition on the album is basically a wheel that has been invented more times than can be enumerated. (Think also of Windham Hill Records, founded in 1976 after the first four releases from Obscure Records had gone into circulation.) Gregson’s notes for his album observes that music “has many lives and many meanings, none of them right, and none of them wrong;” but in this case the attentive listener is likely to be at a loss in deriving any life or meaning from the eight piece on Touch.
Of course originality is not the only issue when one listens to music. Much of the history of music involves composers taking influences from the past and refashioning them in ways that at least some of their listeners would take to be “better.” Unfortunately, while much has been done to advance the state of the art since Eno’s Obscure releases (some by the composers who participated in those releases, such as John Adams), too much of what Gregson has done amounts to little more than regressing to a time (which he did not personally experience) before any of those advances evolved. Such is the fate of those who ignore history.