William Brittelle & ACME: Loving the Chambered Nautilus

On paper, the union of '80s synths and chamber strings may sound like a laughable or even nightmarish listen. But Loving the Chambered Nautilus takes both of them and produces New Amsterdam's strongest release of the year thus far.

William Brittelle & ACME

Loving the Chambered Nautilus

Label: New Amsterdam
US Release Date: 2012-06-26
UK Release Date: Import

With an ever-growing amount of art music being released into the world, a pertinent question immediately springs up: what does it take, exactly, to make a 21st century classic? During the three periods of art music – Baroque, Classical, and Romantic – it was easier to pinpoint who the premier composers were, and, as a result, even today we're able to identify the essentials. But now, with a broad base of genres and greater ability to distribute music, the proliferation of art music is unlike anything history has ever seen. Sure, we do have composers with noteworthy stature – Philip Glass and Steve Reich come to mind – but those two's emphasis on minimalism involves them not always in the tradition of art music writ large but rather one of its variants. If I told a casual fan of Glass that I loved his Metamorphosis suite for solo piano, it'd be a lot different than saying to a casual fan of classical that Moonlight Sonata is a masterpiece. There's a strange difficulty in creating a contemporary standard, even in the case of the genre's highly regarded musicians.

Now, I'm no expert on art music, so I say what I'm about to say with some trepidation. But if there exists a canon of contemporary classical, I'd venture to say that William Brittelle's "Future Shock", a piece for string quartet and synthesizer in three parts, ought to be on it. Some might take this suggestion as extreme not just because I, a small voice amidst a massive ocean of critical opinion, am making it; at a conceptual level, "Future Shock" sounds like the subject of parody or ridicule. The piece features two sonics that some would consider diametrically opposed: intimate chamber strings and ‘80s synth and drum programming. Attempts to unify modern genres with basic classical arrangements have happened before, many of them put out by the New Amsterdam label, where Loving the Chambered Nautilus finds its home. These experiments are often tenuously executed, usually because the composer's skill leans too far in one direction. Even in the best-case scenarios, such as the Metropole Orchestra of Holland's collaborations with Elvis Costello and Steve Vai, moments tend to happen where the orchestra gives way to some extended guitar work that clashes with the main arrangements.

Where Loving the Chambered Nautilus masterfully finds its balance is in the skill of Brittelle himself, who excels both at synthesizer music and string arrangements (which are played here by the American Contemporary Music Ensemble, or ACME). A young composer from Brooklyn, Brittelle has already made quite a splash with his small but potent discography. Television Landscape, his 2010 release for the label, was a true beauty. It took traditional song structures and re-interpreted them with a classically-minded composer's ear, producing tracks that both ground Brittelle as a true contemporary visionary and demonstrated his sophistication as an honest-to-God composer. Television Landscape wasn't a "classical" album by any metric, but its brand of art rock deserves just as much pomp and circumstance as an orchestral piece ought to.

"Future Shock" is the best thing here, both in its three-movement and cello iterations. The former is the most successful of the two; over the course of its 15-minute run, it tracks several different genres and moods, despite the overt "eightiesness" of the synth textures. The first movement begins in a bit of sprightly string interplay, only to drop into a low bass drum beat halfway through. There are some interesting sonic choices made that threaten to derail the mood; while synthesizers and strings aren't natural enemies, the occasional video game synth that bleeps its way through the back-and-forth of the violins could have been done away with. Fortunately, these intermittent sounds instead add a playful quality to the proceedings. Things take a turn for the dreamy in the second movement, where texture comes to the forefront. The notes and melodies are more drawn out, a nice respite from the punch packed by the opening movement. This reverie doesn't last long, however; with the third movement, Brittelle and ACME are at their most propulsive, turning out a Liquid Tension Experiment-styled prog jam that concludes this small chamber piece with gusto.

The other pieces here, while good, take a backseat to the thrill of "Future Shock," though they provide excellent contrasts to it. The brief "Acid Rain on the Mirrordome" is a lovely ambient interlude reminiscent of early No-Man, a welcome breather after the powerful third movement of "Future Shock." And, in a move that's both hilarious and somehow brilliant, Brittelle concludes Loving the Chambered Nautilus with the title track, a near-troll moment that rivals Bon Iver's "Beth/Rest" in unadulterated ‘80s cheese. The song somehow manages to mix a kitschy falsetto vocal (that at times sounds like Justin Vernon), layers of synth, strings, and a banjo into a fitting conclusion to this sonic mishmash. Even if you aren't keen to synthesizer music, or to modern classical at the edge of its form, you have to give Brittelle props for the sheer audacity of this project. But make no mistake: this isn't a case of admirable ambition unable to live up to its lofty standards. Loving the Chambered Nautilus surmounts a lofty conceptual obstacle and becomes New Amsterdam's strongest release of 2012, as well as growing proof that the so-called "indie classical" movement is truly making strides.


From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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