Richard Horowitz
& Sussan Deyhim,
(Sony Music, 1997)

It sometimes seems that the objective music review has become a thoroughly discredited concept. Some would say that it's impossible to evaluate music in a vacuum while downplaying one's own listening experience, since (as extrapolated from Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle) the listener's subjective experience plays a critical if not defining role in the perceptual existence of music. If a tree falls in the forest and no one reviews it, did the event ever happen? Still, such philosophic trifles generate their own natural challenges. Take as an example the 1997 work by Richard Horowitz and Sussan Deyim, titled Majoun.

Primarily a deep collaboration between Deyim's strong, nuanced Middle Eastern vocals and Horowitz's atmospheric keyboards and multi-instrumental soundscapes, Majoun also features a variety of other talented musicians, including the Moroccan National Radio and Television Orchestra String Section. The result is distinctly Middle Eastern, simultaneously respectful to the source cultures but more than willing to experiment with "modern" techniques such as the electronically deconstructed vocals on the title track. Along the way, the music varies from rhythmic percussion based pieces to near-ambient soundtracks.

Unaccompanied or multitracked, unadorned or electronically modified by Horowitz, Deyim's many voices often dominate these recordings, sometimes overwhelming the delicate instrumental accompaniment. Majoun is reminiscent of some of the later works of Sheila Chandra, in terms of featuring vocal ornamentation almost for its own sake. However, Majoun never inserts conventional songs into its array of Middle Eastern experiments.

The title track moves from obviously deconstructed vocals to more naturalistic massed voices, then proceeds to integrate the two approaches. The lengthy "Whorl on the Mount of the Moon" is in turn restrained, atmospheric, elegant and ominous. Conversely, the solid bass line of "Coldest Day" propels the piece forward with a measured cadence, contrasting with the leisurely vocal lines. The later "Murmur Mutanta" builds into a swirling Deyim-driven vocal soundscape that seems to completely envelope the listener.

However, the philosophical challenge for this listener arrives once the music ends. For while Majoun is technically excellent, meticulously crafted, perfectly performed and excellently grounded in its cultural roots, I remain primarily unmoved by it, even after concerted effort and repeated listening. Given the seeming objective perfection of Majoun and my own speculative tastes, I feel oddly as if I should appreciate these works more than I actually do. Still, can one really state, "This work is poor because I'm unable to connect with it," thus rating the entire work based on a purely subjective and perhaps unexplainable value judgment?

For me, the answer is that I cannot, for no matter how well executed their work, no artist can reach everyone. A signal well transmitted does not automatically equal a message properly received, and despite the undeniable value of the subjective, it cannot be the singular arbiter of value. While Horowitz and Deyim's Majoun does not quite resonate with me, it remains a finely assembled and performed work of niche perfection, occupying a fluid zone between modern sonic treatments and ancient Middle Eastern atmospheres. If these descriptions intrigue you, then try Majoun for yourself, and see just how you'll connect with this noble and elegant work.

[ by Ken Fasimpaur ]
Rambles: 6 April 2002