Composer and cellist Peter Gregson, whose work has been featured in such crowd-pleasers as The New Pope and Bridgerton, has been holed up in the Penthouse Suite at Abbey Road Studios, the cradle of so much fabled musical history, readying the next revolution. His fifth solo album has been composed and produced with the benefit of state of the art 4K surround sound technology and a system of nearly fifty speakers and he is just starting to tap into the potential that it offers.
If the opportunity to work with the world’s most advanced technology is changing the sonic landscape for composers, or even the very parameters of composition itself, then Patina is proof that it is restructuring the function of listening too. Gregson is developing a model whereby he can compose almost literally in three dimensional space; there is geography to the pieces on this album, with individual sound files manipulated and arranged on a sonic blueprint to assemble complete cathedrals of music. The sense of space, shape and movement is apparent even when listening through rudimentary equipment and the effect is almost of the listener becoming an interactive first-person player, moving through the album’s game.
Gregson has spoken about Patina as an exercise in removing melody from his work and with its heightened sense of place comes a revelatory ability to notice empty spaces too. Absences of activity are written into these tracks, as if to expose what remains. Patina reveals what lurks within Gregson’s writing, the defenceless underbelly. Opener ‘Hidden’ is typical, allowing melodies to suggest themselves over time, patiently unobtrusive, lilting and lapping against fibrous cello strains, inviting the listener in and allowing time for external stresses to untangle themselves and a clear picture to emerge.
Across the album, we hear the diegetic sounds of fingers on keyboards and bows scraping strings, ingredients as important as the compositions themselves. Here we are at the vanguard of contemporary technological breakthrough, learning once again that it is the organic and imperfectible human touch that renders such emotional resonance out of great art. The 4K wizardry’s greatest trick is to find a way for the medium itself to stand out of the way of the interface between creator and audience. More than had previously seemed possible, Gregson’s vision has survived the transition from his mind to the listener’s ear.
A patina is a glow that develops with age, or in this case with repeated listens. The rippling analogue synths on ‘Sense’ that seem to conceal extra-terrestrial messages and the muscular string swells towards the end of ‘Cluster’ are just examples of elements that become warmer with familiarity across an album from Peter Gregson that stands as a shining demonstration of where contemporary classical music stands in 2021.