Prophesying a specific date for the end of times is a sure-fire way to ensure international ridicule (please do check out the comic wormhole that is the broadcast oeuvre of Harold Camping), but memorialize that date with a piece as delirious and trance-inducing as The Edge of Forever, and the entire enterprise takes on a far more potent, mystic hue.
The story of The Edge of Forever will undoubtedly be the fact that it was performed and recorded once — tied to a single date — but thankfully for all of us, this is not a Wu-Tang-Clan-Once-Upon-a-Time-in-Shaolin-style release. Five hundred copies of the LP are available of this sonic consideration of the Mayan Long Count Calendar, which predicted Dec. 21, 2012 as the end of existence.
Los Angeles-based chamber opera insurgents from The Industry pair up with new music daredevils in wild Up (conducted by Christopher Rountree) for Lewis Pesacov’s portentous score, and this particular ritual opens with unison chant, sending the mind spinning back toward more ancient times. The purity of the vocal delivery here is doubly stirring given that much of the record was captured from the single, live performance at L.A.’s Philosophical Research Society.
As the first of five scenes, “Procession of Scribes: ‘Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth’” effectively dislocates the listener from her present time, agitates with pirouetting falling-fourths in the female voices, and finally quakes into a kind of Purcell’s King Arthur, “What-art-thou”-bout of rhythmic shivering. Pesacov doesn’t perch for long in the sounds of the single-digit centuries, though, instead hurling librettist Elizabeth Cline’s cosmic text into a bewildering dimension of bells and sine waves before introducing a mushrooming smear of string glissandi. For the moments when the music does settle back on terra firma, as with the seductive cello solo, soprano sax and English horn ghosting, and perpetually melting toms in “Scene II: Entr’acte,” delivered here with luster and acute sensitivity.
The fever-pitch bleating of winds and frantically vibrating strings in the second half of The Edge of Forever are balanced by the assured, entrancing voice of tenor Ashley Faatoalia, who somehow even guides the listener blissfully past the composition’s one questionable element: sax trills that live more comfortably on the proggy intro track of an album by men with perms and mustaches. On this marvelous and imaginatively-conceived album, it’s only a minor concern, and hey — we all raptured on 12/21/12 anyway, right?
- Doyle Armbrust