Paul Whitehead – “The Borg Symphony” CD Review 2006

By Lorraine Kay

Written, produced and performed by artist Paul Whitehead, best known for his album covers for Genesis, this CD is an experience in more than electronic music. It is a musical symphony. Not merely tracks of music.

The musical is a special blend of electronic music, theatrics and science fiction performed by a Performance Art Group based in Los Angeles. A huge science fiction fan, Whitehead was intrigued by one question, “What kind of music would Cyborgs create?” This became the starting point for the ensemble and its subsequent creations. Combining futuristic visuals, sci-fi costumes and masks, electronic and machine tones with assimilated sound textures from live musicians, a Borg performance is – by its nature – highly idiosyncratic, yet remains accessible.

The Borg Symphony is a basic unit of four, including a Borg storyteller or narrator, with a variety of additional contributors. They tell the story of one special Borg, Tixay, a warrior and a hero. The symphony centers on his struggle for oneness and humanity. Having been killed in battle The Collective brings him back to the hive to put him back together and bring him back to life. But it doesn’t stop there. Every time he is injured they replace another part until he is barely there at all anymore. The other downside of this recreated life is that each body part comes with residual memory that continues to play in his mind. Tormented by all he sees and hears he wishes to die, but The Collective won’t let him. Instead they attempt to reprogram him.

In spite of being performed almost entirely on electronic keyboards and computers this CD approaches electronic music in an entirely new way. A first outing for Whitehead as a musical composer, the Borg Symphony is a fun experience with lots of different musical textures and punches.

The Battle of Shantanou

 Track-by-Track review

1. This first track opens the symphony with a soft foreboding violin solo setting up the mood for the rest of the story to come.

2. The next track opens with a cello solo that evolves with industrial machinery sounds and an interesting back beat of machine percussion mixed with drums. It is all very dark and brooding projecting a feeling of doom built on layers of electronic sounds.

3. The narration starts in the story of Tixay. Incidental ambient electronic music plays as the narrator tell the story of the Battle of Shantanou and while the Borg rally and shout their war cries.

4. Gritty, dark industrial instrumentation with machinery sounds with undertones that seem to imply the sound of marching. A major contrast is created by a piccolo solo on top creating enforces a haunting parade of marching soldiers – almost a Yankee Doodle Dandy.

5. Quite obviously the sounds of war – guns, planes, and bombs set-up for the next track.

6. This one starts out light enough with a light synth solo on top of an industrial percussive track. It’s actually a happy sounding instrumental, a real contrast from the preceding tracks, but the lightheartedness does not last long as a lonely horn emerges from the mix and begins to darken and slow the rest down. A struggle for the lighter percussive rhythm ensues until it is taken over by a still darker deeper synth solo on the next rack.

7. The fluttering sounds of the hive are presented by a dark, ambient instrumental, which  lies beneath the grilling by the Borg Queen of an unappreciative Tixay. In anger she sends him away to be re-programmed

8. To the sounds of electric drills and other machinery we can picture Tixay being assembled and reassembled until the queen once again makes an appearance. This time she proceeds to brainwash Tixay to forget his life and accept the new programming. The Borg queen makes a proclamation about Tixay over the fluttering incidental music of the hive. She is accompanied by a synth choir in background over an ominous symphony of strings accented by the sound of an occasional power drill.

9. This track is a disturbing barrage of images created by the replaying of newscasts of our worst moments in history – wars, assassinations, terrorists, technological disasters, etc. and a few of our more memorable moments like the first moon landing. All the while ambient music attempts to set a new scene. Near the end we hear Darth Vader breathing, is he watching us?

10. A chorus of voices emerges out the gate and then backs out with an ambient chorus of strings lingers until about two and a half minutes into the song when Tixay finally speaks up for himself and begins to question his position and resentment of being a “prisoner of the Hive.

11. This entire track is a piano solo. A beautiful mood piece – it seems to be emanating the feeling of fall and change

12. Somewhere a jet takes off and leaves a brooding chorus of deep horns and strings to deal with the closing scene.

13. This track seems blank but after seven minutes of nothing two minutes of some dark instrumentation complete with drums, bass and synths jumps in there to make a last statement.