Back in the 1990s, there was a revival of interest in some of the popular music of the 1950s and 1960s—the music the WWII generation enjoyed after they returned home and moved out to the suburbs to start families and careers. Comprising several genres—exotica, space-age pop, beautiful music–it was slightly jazzy, slightly smooth and surprisingly sophisticated and up-to-date. Call it music in the time of Mad Men. With The Exotica Album, Norwegian composer Ørvind Torvund revisits this music with both affection and sympathetic irony.
Torvund’s original compositions take some of the stylistic elements of the exotica genre and rearrange them through collage and other formal deformations. Yes, there are intimations of nostalgia—particularly for listeners of a certain age—but it’s thrown off balance by the intrusion of Torvund’s contemporary sensibility. Just as you’re about to have an involuntary recollection of your father’s 1964 Ford Falcon—the glint of the chrome, the warmth of the seat underneath you after the car had been sitting out in the summer sun, the last traces of the new-car smell—the music takes a contemporary lurch and brings you back to the present moment. What makes The Exotica Album more than a curiosity in this regard is the unique perspective Torvund carves out: he sees exotica from the point of view of the high modernist art music of the same period, specifically, the electronic experimentation that sprang up in radio laboratories and universities. He’s helped in this by Jørgen Træen’s modular synthesizer, which plays a crucial role within the larger, more conventional orchestra ably supplied by the fifteen-piece BIT20 Ensemble.