Remember Enigma? If you don’t, chances are you were born in the late 1980s or early 1990s. For the rest of us, Enigma will always remind us of Gregorian chanting over an electro beat, thanks mainly to 1990 single ‘Sadeness Part I’. So, combining ancient religious music with modern rhythms is not a new phenomenon.
Forss is the pseudonym of Eric Wahlforss, musician and co-founder of SoundCloud. So So Gay has covered him as part of our Introducing… series, and this week sees the eagerly anticipated release of his album Ecclesia. The album has been preceded by an impressive iPad app featuring each track from the album, accompanied by a beautifully designed, manipulatable visual.
Allow us to lay our cards on the table right now; this album is stunning. From the moment your ears are assaulted (in a pleasurable sense) by 90 seconds of deep, chiming church bells on opening track ‘Introitus’ to the joyous climax of ‘Lux Aeterna’, Ecclesia is as close to an out-of-body experience as you are likely to achieve this side of the apocalypse. The chief contributing factor in this album’s success is its flawless blend of cathedral choirs singing ancient hymns with the kind of ambient rhythms which would not seem out of place on the best chill-out compilations.
However, perhaps the most outstanding aspect of Ecclesia is the fact that Forss succeeds in transporting you to the very heart of monastic life on the album. Despite the heavily manipulated vocals and modern beats, there are moments where you can literally hear the shuffling of people in the cathedral. This is particularly apparent on the wonderful ‘Somnio Somnium’, which begins with the muffled sound of a tolling bell and the rattling of keys before we are treated to an awe-inspiring dubstep-infused ecclesiastical aria. The effect is spine-tingling.
‘Lux Aeterna’ continues this trend – the opening ten seconds contain the everyday sounds of a religious community, before eerily realistic running footsteps lead us into a mindblowing six-minute crescendo of multi-layered hymnal vocals over a skipping beat. The dominant vocoder-processed chanting is supported to stirring effect by a near-constant rising swirl of a dreamy choir. It provides the perfect climax to an outstanding musical achievement.
Ecclesia will certainly not be to everyone’s taste. That said, Forss has played a clever game on the album, in that for those who find the notion of bare Gregorian chant a musical equivalent to waterboarding, there are the addictive beats to placate them. Equally, classical purists are more likely to ‘tolerate’ the 21st-Century interpretation of ancient music thanks to the fact that Forss has struck an impressive balance between manipulating the vocal recordings to fit the production without entirely deconstructing them.
As enjoyable through good earphones while sitting on a train as it is through surround sound speakers in the comfort of your living room, Ecclesia is a joy to behold; a gem of considerately experimental, finely-balanced musical art which we cannot recommend highly enough.
Go Get It: ‘Somnio Somnium’; ‘Lux Aeterna’
Forget It: ‘Dictum’
The whole album can also be heard on Forss’ website.