The musical production of Miguel Kertsman, Time? What’s Time? reminds me of the expansive musical experimentation of the old radio show, Musical Starstreams, that born-in-the-’80s program featuring “space music” and later, trance music, trip hop, and all sorts of exotic music that had no category. (Much to my amazement, Starstreams and host Frank Forest are still around and available by streaming from his Internet site.)
But Kertsman is so much more than far-out noodling in space-time. The Brazilan-born artist has performed with orchestras all over the world and is at home with a grand pipe organ as he is with electronic instruments. In the lush and fantastic Time? What’s Time? I was expecting Philip Glass-like play with dynamics and time signatures, but that’s just a beginning for Kertsman. He’s all over the place, layering tribal sounds over a bed of ambient music, string ensembles, a full symphony, baroque singing, and even pop singing with lyrics. It could have been a mess, or just a head trip. And, well, sometimes it is. But mostly it works, sending the listener on fantastic flights of fancy that are best listened to at home and not in a moving environment such as a car. I’d hate to see the accident caused by listening to one of Kertsman’s involved and wound-up musical adventures. Talk about distracted driving!
I’m not at all sure the listener is going to get as much out of the album that Kertsman intends with his ambitious liner notes (If he indeed wrote them: no other credit is given.) They give a long, and fairly pretentious story of “the Masters of Vega” who live within the Universal Music. They somehow make themselves known. Gravity tunnels form and humans must choose which ones to take. (Why?) The ones who take the right tunnels prepare new worlds….blah…blah…blah. I can’t go on with this stuff. Nor could I follow it with the music.
But it didn’t detract from the artistry one bit. There was some very intensive musicianship on display including great jazzy piano work on “Promises, Lies, and Deception,” “The Drifter” just rocks out. I thoroughly enjoyed all the ethereal musical touches, whether they were electronic or orchestra, for Kertsman avoided that drifting-off-into-space sound. However, and I may just be idiosyncratic about this, I didn’t go for the vocal work. It seemed too hokey for a musical production of this magnitude. The “Masters of Vega” were operatic in sound and they grated on my nerves. Let’s keep opera in opera. I’ve never liked the sound of traditionally trained singers fighting off electric guitar or synthesized sound. It just doesn’t work.
On the whole this is an astounding work, full of musical genius, and brimming with ideas that may make your eyes pop. On the downside, Kertsman may have tried to pack too much into one album. He’s done plenty in his career, having produced Four Choruses & Lullabies, Amazonica, Rhythmic Fission and Gravity Tunnel, so another album is not out of the question. I’d have been happier without the vocals. As for the liner notes, if you can follow them, more luck to you. If not, I doubt the listener is missing anything.
For those with PCs, his Web site also offers a Conyclism game (for a limited time) on his Web site. There also are more videos on the site.