Like its predecessor, Pieces in a Modern Style 2 is a collection of classical music “covers,” though given the original’s lukewarm reception and the decade that’s elapsed since its release, it’s hard to say why William Orbit felt a sequel was in order. Could be that the techno guru was hoping to hit the dance charts with a second leftfield smash after a Ferry Carston remix of the first volume’s “Adagio for Strings” landed unexpectedly in the U.K. Top 10. Or maybe Orbit was just looking for a way to remind electronic music snobs of his highbrow bona fides before taking the helm for Britney Spears’s forthcoming seventh album. According to Orbit himself, though, the project is just for kicks. He says in the liner notes: “Some people climb mountains, some people play Sudoku, but I get immense pleasure from doing these remixes.”
Unfortunately, Orbit’s remixes tend to be less like mountain climbing, more like Sudoku, which is fun if you’re the one playing but otherwise completely uninteresting. Whatever thrill Orbit finds in translating the likes of Bach and Tchaikovsky into an electronic idiom, he does a poor job of making it palpable for the listener. Where considerable liberties have been taken with the source material (Elgar’s “Nimrod,” Ralph Vaughan William’s “Lark”) the results are instrumentals that could fit easily on an album like Hello Waveforms. Elsewhere, familiar beeps and squiggles fail to enliven an ambient reading of Bellini’s “Sonnambula,” which sounds, appropriately enough, like the musical equivalent of Orbit sleepwalking. It’d be easier to appreciate his licentious treatments if only he were willing to be similarly transgressive with regard to his own aesthetic.
As such, the album is actually most engaging when Orbit hews more orthodox in his adaptations, though that’s not yet to say it’s better. His rendition of Grieg’s “Morning Mood”—the most familiar piece here, recognizable even for a listener as boorishly ignorant of classical music as myself—sounds like an especially ambitious score for an SNES game, ditto for his take on Bach’s “Clavier.” Lacking the richness of good old analog strings and woodwinds, the pieces sound flat and compressed, at times so awkwardly akin to MIDI music that you can imagine them streaming from your middle school band’s Geocities page.
What charm the album does possess owes chiefly to the strength of the source material, which is, to Orbit’s credit, well-chosen and a good mix of obvious and obscure pieces. Ostensibly motivated by both a love of classical music and an irreverent willingness to tool around with it, Orbit’s project would come across better if it were either more studied or more playful. I’m sure it was fun to make, but hopefully not enough so that Orbit feels compelled to release a Volume 3.