FIRST-YEAR UNIVERSITY students enrolled in English Literature 101 invariably read Wordsworth, Byron, and Keats, but the poetic work that likely lodges itself in memory most of all is Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'Kubla Khan, or a Vision in a Dream. A Fragment,' and not just because the author himself claimed it was inspired by an opium-induced dream. Written in 1797 and first published in 1816, the poem includes imagery so vivid it lends the work an hallucinatory quality that sets it apart from all other Romantic poetry, and the opening lines alone can entrance even the most resistant student:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
Some may recognize Xanadu from Orson Welles' 'Citizen Kane' as the name of the immense estate that Charles Foster Kane built for his second wife Susan Alexander (who came to regard it as nothing more than a fortress of solitude from which she had to escape). Needless to say, we at textura were captivated by the poem when we first read it all those years ago—so much so that when we decided to establish a textura label we immediately thought of Coleridge's poem and its rich potential as an inspirational midwife for musical work. And so it came to pass that four stylistically-diverse artists—Alexander Turnquist, The Retail Sectors, orchestramaxfieldparrish, and Ryan Francesconi & Lili De La Mora—contributed their abundant artistry to textura's premiere release in the form of unique interpretive responses to the poem.
Some of the artists drew upon the majestic spirit of Coleridge's poem while others used a particularly evocative passage as a conceptual springboard. The Retail Sectors bookends the hour-long recording with two epic samplings of Kentaro Togawa's signature instrumental rock. In the first, "Precarious Awakening," intricate guitar and bass lines unite for an elegant pas de deux as the piece moves through a series of ever-intensifying climaxes; the ponderous second, "The Ever-Changing Scene," brings the recording to a graceful close but not before exposing the listener once more to Togawa's smoldering attack. At the recording's center, Ryan Francesconi & Lili De La Mora present the wistful and alluring vocal ballad "Green To Red" while Ryan frames it with two lovely guitar meditations, "Parables" and "Deep Rivers Run Quiet." The first, the more uptempo of the two, spotlights the crystalline and rather harp-like sound of his deft acoustic picking; true to its title, the second adopts a more ruminative mien. In contrast to those song-structured pieces, Alexander Turnquist and orchestramaxfieldparrish (Mike Fazio) contribute long-form soundscapes that are simultaneously immersive and transportive. In the seventeen-minute "Fragments Vaulted Like Rebounding Hail," Turnquist uses 12-string acoustic guitar, toy xylophone, samplers, and laptop to produce an initially turbulent and ultimately peaceful galaxy of rustling static and flicker, while Fazio's heavily-processed pedal steel guitar creates a celestial realm of shimmering streams, slow-burning tones, and glistening waves in "Waning Moon Over Sunless Sea."
Despite the artists' stylistic differences, the admittedly disparate parts of 'Kubla Khan' coalesce to deliver a resplendent listening experience that feels immensely satisfying and whole.
released August 1, 2008
format: full-length CD (500 copies)
mastering: Mike Fazio
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