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Orwellian Overtones: An Interview with Composer Peter Xifaras on “Dystopian World”

In this interview, classical composer Peter Xifaras discusses the intricate themes behind his latest album, “Dystopian World.” Inspired by George Orwell’s 1984, Xifaras confronts modern issues such as surveillance, freedom of speech, and information manipulation through his music. His work blends traditional orchestration with contemporary recording techniques, creating a soundscape that speaks to today’s societal challenges. The album makes a powerful artistic statement while encouraging listeners to reflect on the pressing issues of our time, highlighting the relevance of classical music in contemporary discourse.

Peter Xifaras, it’s a pleasure to sit down with you to discuss your upcoming classical album, Dystopian World. The title gives plenty of clues to the underpinning themes of the album, but we’d love to know the motivation that drove you to compose such a viscerally heartrending release.

It isn’t all too common for classical composers to tackle themes of social change in their work. In your opinion, why is classical music a good means for opening an existential dialogue and spreading awareness that we’re effectively sleepwalking into obsoletion? 

The reason I chose this medium for the project is two-fold:

The album deals with dystopian themes infiltrating society that are of significant relevance today, especially with young people given recent events around the globe.  Hence, by messaging these thought-provoking concepts via classical music, it presents a unique opportunity to expose this genre to a younger audience who may have never thought of giving this style of music any consideration.

Secondly, I think when most people think of classical music, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart immediately come to mind. However, there are composers in the ‘classical’ field that incorporate modern recording techniques such as electronics & loops with a traditional orchestra that have emerged in recent years. Dystopian World does incorporate some of these modern techniques, in addition, the compositions are presented in bite-size chunks in 2 to 4-minute tracks to keep the audience engaged – sort of how rock & pop music is presented on a playlist or album.

How does the album fit in with your day-to-day worldview? 

My day-to-day world view is changing day-to-day! And I’m probably not the only one. In my opinion, George Orwell’s fictional work, 1984, has become a reality in the dystopian state of our current world thru surveillance technology, freedom of speech, information manipulation, censorship, redefining language, privacy erosion, propaganda, individuality, groupthink, and the value of truth.

A Google search revealed many of the talking points below from which writings from these sources are presented as follows:

SURVEILLANCE: The proliferation of surveillance technology has surpassed anything Orwell could have imagined. As people become more reliant on technology, the potential for abuse grows with the ability to track individuals’ movements, behaviors, and even conversations, both online and offline (think Amazon Echo, Google Home, Siri, Smart TV’s that listen, Apple air tags). This invasive surveillance infrastructure evokes the omnipresent “Big Brother”. Although AI technology holds great promise for societal progress, it also comes with significant risks that echo the Orwellian themes

FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Another critical aspect of Orwell’s “1984” is the suppression of freedom of speech. There is a pattern of increasing censorship on social media platforms, with dissenting voices silenced and marginalized. This chilling trend leads to narrowing public discourse, creating an environment where independent thought becomes increasingly rare. In some cases, governments and corporations wield their power to silence critics and whistleblowers, while in others, individuals self-censor out of fear of social backlash. This stifling atmosphere resonates with the oppressive regime portrayed in “1984”.

INFORMATION MANIPULATION: In “1984,” the government manipulated information to control the populace. Today, we face a similar challenge with the spread of misinformation and disinformation online. Social media algorithms prioritize sensational content, contributing to a distorted perception of reality and undermining trust in institutions. Deliberate campaigns to sow confusion and doubt further exacerbate this issue as malicious actors exploit the digital landscape to advance their agendas. This manipulation of information echoes the actions of Orwell’s fictional government, which rewrites history and fabricates facts to maintain its grip on power. AI technology is also being employed to monitor and control online information flow. Algorithms can automatically detect and remove inappropriate or offensive content, potentially suppressing free speech. While this technology is often used with good intentions, such as combating hate speech and misinformation, powerful entities can also abuse it to silence dissenting voices and manipulate public opinion.

PRIVACY EROSION: As individuals lose control over their digital footprint, the potential for manipulation and coercion increases. Invasive data collection practices and weak privacy protections have left individuals vulnerable to identity theft, targeted advertising, and government surveillance. This loss of privacy mirrors the intrusive monitoring of citizens in “1984,” where every aspect of life was subject to scrutiny and control.

PROPAGANDA: Today we see the pervasive influence of propaganda through advertising, political campaigns, and media manipulation. The advent of deep fake technology has introduced unprecedented sophistication to propaganda efforts, allowing for the creation of convincing but entirely fabricated audio and visual content. This manipulation of perception and reality parallels the tactics employed by Orwell’s fictional government, which uses propaganda to shape public opinion and suppress all dissent.

CONFORMIST SOCIETY: The pressures of social media and the expectation to conform to certain ideals can lead to the loss of individuality. People may feel compelled to present curated versions of themselves, stifling their authentic self-expression. As individuals strive to fit societal expectations, they risk losing their unique identities and perspectives. This suppression of individuality aligns with Orwell’s portrayal of a society where personal expression is discouraged and collective conformity is enforced.

GROUPTHINK: Today, the prevalence of echo chambers on social media platforms can also promote groupthink, leading to a polarized society where dissent is vilified and critical thinking is discouraged. This fragmentation of public discourse contributes to ideological bubbles, where individuals surround themselves with like-minded people and reinforce their existing beliefs. As a result, society becomes increasingly divided. AI can also influence individuality and groupthink in subtle ways. Personalized social media and search engine algorithms can create echo chambers, reinforcing individuals’ beliefs and biases. This can increase polarization and conformity, as people are less exposed to diverse perspectives and ideas. In this context, AI may inadvertently contribute to the suppression of individuality and the promotion of groupthink, similar to the dynamics in Orwell’s dystopian society.

VALUE OF TRUTH: Orwell’s “1984” portrays a world where objective truth is disregarded in favor of government-sanctioned narratives. Today, we face the challenge of distinguishing truth from falsehood amidst misinformation. As the value of truth diminishes, societies risk falling prey to manipulation and deception. The emergence of the term “post-truth” indicates this troubling trend, as it suggests that emotional appeals and personal beliefs have overtaken objective facts in shaping public opinion. In this era of alternative facts and fake news, the pursuit of truth becomes a daunting task, reminiscent of the constant struggle faced by the protagonist in “1984” to discern reality from fabrications.

Where and how was Dystopian World recorded? 

The main Orchestra was recorded in Prague by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Martinka, conductor. Living in the USA, I chose to attend the recording via a remote Zoom session as opposed to flying to Prague. This is all coordinated thru Musiversal who sets up the recording session, orchestra times, etc. For this session, I worked with Rita Tulha, Enrico Fallea, Alex Palmer, Jan Kotzmann & Vitek Kral – a great bunch of folks. The solo violin parts were recorded by Xander Nichting in Belgium at Violin-Tracks. Xander is a multi-talented artist who also performed on my previous jazz-fusion release on electric violin. After all the tracks were recorded, I edited, arranged & mixed them via my studio at Music With No Expiration®. The final phase of the process was to work with Michael Cuneo over at NeverNever Music Production in Los Angeles where the tracks were Mastered.

What was the most gratifying part of bringing this album to fruition?

I’m big on marrying music with video & film. I think when both are combined, the messaging then explodes. Each track on ‘Dystopian World’ has its own music video  – so for me, when this comes together, the end result is the pinnacle of gratification as all the pieces finally fit together that were once only a concept in my mind.

How would you like the album to be received? 

Hopefully, the music is received in a positive light, and the messaging received as a warning. As George Orwell stated, “Don’t let it happen, it is up to you”.

Focusing on your composition style, what sets you apart from your contemporaries? 

My last 3 albums have focused on ‘music for social change’. ‘Children Of Conflict’, an album also recorded by the CNSO, focused on children who daily are faced with simply trying to survive in the conflict zones of the world (i.e., Middle East, Ukraine, Afghanistan), children who have never had a choice and live under the consequences of decisions made by rogue governments and dictators. ‘Fusion’, is a jazz fusion album that features a song titled While My Guitar Weeps For Mehdi Rajabian. Mehdi was imprisoned in Iran for making music deemed unacceptable by the government where he was beaten & tortured and came close to death. The song was dedicated to him celebrating his bravery. Mehdi went on to become the first musician to win the United Nation’s international art contest for minority artists. Now with my current release, ‘Dystopian World’, I once again have an album that includes a  ‘music for social change’ element to it. Compositionally, the music of these albums are dramatic and all contain powerful social messaging – perhaps that is what sets the style apart from others.

What’s next for Peter Xifaras?

I’m going to lighten it up a bit and release variations on a melody as timeless as time itself originally written in the 16th century. The work has already been recorded and I’ll begin work on editing, mixing & arranging probably in the Autumn. I’m also going to release some singles thru my symphoneX Orchestra® project that is cross-over in nature with some very cool guest artists participating.

Anyone interested in checking out ‘Dystopian World’ can go to this link: https://orcd.co/nq5bpoq

Interview by Amelia Vandergast

Move Over Amanda Palmer, Naomi Castellano is the New Girl Anachronism in Her Debut, Hide and Seek

Naomi Castellano’s debut single ‘Hide and Seek‘ reveals an artist who has been seemingly playing hide and seek with her own vast talents. Her debut resonates with the essence of Tom Waits, Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush, The Last Dinner Party, and Mitski, showcasing a high-fidelity cultivation of these influences that will leave listeners in awe. Castellano’s music, entrenched in a genre-fluid nostalgic reverence, promises to captivate this generation’s penchant for artful expressionism.

Her quirky anachronistic tendencies lend ‘Hide and Seek’ a timeless depth, where nothing feels antiquated—from the smoky jazz grooves that billow between the robust pillars of chamber pop swells, to her Joni Mitchell-esque vocal range comfortably sitting in the alto, and not to forget the baroque flourishes that tint her artistic sensibilities.

With a background in classical music and a love for jazz, indie, alternative, and folk-pop, Castellano’s songwriting echoes the influences of Ani DiFranco, Fiona Apple, Norah Jones, and Sia. Utilising strings and keys, she created hypnotic transportation into a daydream, making ‘Hide and Seek’ not just a song, but a sublime sonic journey.

Naomi Castellano is undeniably holding the future of alternative music in her deft hands, and with such a compelling start, it’s clear she has exactly what it takes to stand at the vanguard of a new era of musical innovation.

Hide and Seek was officially released on April 17th, stream the single on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Didier Recloux painted what it means to be human in an inhumane world in his cinematic score, First Walk

Didier Recloux’s single, First Walk, from the album Monsieur Linh and His Child, submerges listeners into a sombre, war-torn universe, showcasing humanity’s struggle against unimaginable atrocities. This profound composition, hailing from a Belgian-born composer with roots deeply embedded in a rich musical lineage, speaks to the resilience and spirit of the human condition.

A veteran of various musical influences—from the progressive rock echoes of Maurice Jarre to the iconic cinematic scores of Ennio Morricone—Recloux’s work reflects a diverse palette of sounds and emotions. Having mastered multiple instruments and the art of orchestration, his compositions carry a unique signature that resonates with the mind, body and soul.

First Walk itself is a poignant reminder of this versatility. The orchestral arrangement, carefully cultivated under the tutelage of experts across continents, delicately weaves a tapestry of humanistic progressions that evoke deep emotional responses. The dual essence of purity and torment reverberates through the very core of the release, engaging the listener in a deeply immersive cinematic experience.

The crescendos, striking in their clarity and impact, build a pensive atmosphere that transcends mere auditory experience; they demand contemplation of what it truly means to endure in an inhumane landscape.

Stream the official music video for First Walk on YouTube.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Brikcs shattered boundaries and entered innovation’s nirvana with ‘King’

Brikcs, a visionary from the ethereal edges of music’s evolving landscape, delivered a profound auditory experience in his latest single, King. With a foundation laid by a Mogwai-meets-Portishead neo-classic intro of eloquent keys and phantasmically distorted vocal notes, the track boldly transitions into the dark territories of trap. If you went down the rabbit hole and instead of finding wonderland you entered innovation’s nirvana and met your demons, your trip would come a close visceral second to hitting play on King.

The artistic juxtaposition in King — between harsh, ensnaring bars and the enduring non-lexical harmonies that echo the transcendent terrain of Sigur Rós — crafts a captivating portal to an aural realm defined by authenticity. The single thrives on a blend of ornate classical notes and reverberating electronic effects, creating an installation of unparalleled emotional intensity.

The lyrical assertion of autonomy challenges listeners to disintegrate preconceived labels with every bar dropped. Acting as a nod to how the world attempts to shape us into archetypes, Brikcs resists them all, violently shaking them into the ether of this masterpiece.

Brikcs, an Icelandic multi-instrumentalist now based in Copenhagen, eschews easy classification, melding the raw energy of underground clubs with the refined grandeur of opera houses. King encapsulates his complex musical journey through haunting pianos, ethereal vocals, cerebral rap, and an electro-orchestral crescendo.

Accompanied by an experimental short film, directed by Vasco Alexandre and shot at ARKEN Museum of Modern Art, the track is not only a music release but a cinematic event, currently making waves in film festivals worldwide.

King was officially released on March 22nd; stream the single on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Ben Fuller reworked Sinatra’s ‘It Had to Be You’ in superlatively sincere style

Jazz crooner, Ben Fuller, opened his debut LP, Reset, with the heavy cinematic artillery in his heart-wrenchingly impassioned single, It Had to Be You. Hopeless romantics will greet their kryptonite when they hit play on the timelessly resounding reworking of the Frank Sinatra record.

As classic and sincere as Sinatra’s iteration, you’ll instantly succumb to the vibrato in Fuller’s naturally oscillating vocal notes which add warmth and fervent richness to his register as it sweeps across the ornate classical strings and jazz piano keys.

With Batu Sener’s instrumental arrangement delivering the gravitas of a 50s Hollywood score and Fuller adding contemporary touches through his vocal melodies that pull you into the heart of the song’s emotional underpinnings, It Had to Be You is almost too profound for words. By balancing the magic of the original with his own ineffable talent, Ben Fuller unleashed so much more than a cover, the creative interpretation almost unravelled as a divine sonic intervention.

It Had to Be You was officially released on April 5th; stream the single on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Stephen Waterhouse brought Broadway to the Airwaves with ‘Feeling Inside’

With hints of Bo Burnham’s INSIDE LP and serendipitously infectious lyricism, the debut intrinsically self-aware single, Feeling Inside, from Stephen Waterhouse is a testament to his cultivated songwriting stripes.

The balance of Lo-Fi bedroom pop intimacy and ornate orchestral elements allows the piano-driven single to unravel as an intensely distinctive musical theatre-adjacent triumph. Vulnerable enough to read as a diary entry, and striking enough to bring a touch of Broadway flair to the airwaves, the single is a revelation that leads to rapture when the orchestral crescendos swell in the soundscape and spill over into your soul.

Stephen Waterhouse’s vocals open a mesmerising juxtaposition within the production; rather than attempting to assimilate, he runs through with his earnestly sincere quasi-spoken word delivery which harmonises as the release builds in momentum.

The Royal Northern College of Music graduate, accomplished pianist and accompanist, and musical director may bring a classic touch to his work, but it doesn’t diminish the commercial cross-over appeal in Feeling Inside, which was released ahead of his 2024 EP which is being primed for a Spring/Summer release.

Feeling Inside was officially released on March 11th; stream the single on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

An aura of introspection resounds through Alexander Grenville’s neo-classic piano score, Fragile

Alexander Grenville echoed the beauty of fragility through his standout neo-classical composition, Fragile, which carries a touch of the introspective flair of Nils Frahm and the cinematic scope of Ramin Djawdi’s Westworld scores.

Known for the contemplative character of his evocative work, the English musician excels in allowing technically explorative pieces to resound as fragments of deeply personal reflections. In Fragile, the open space between the piano keys becomes an ethereal terrain as the brief quiescent interludes become as integral to the piece as the piano keys he strikes with gentle intuitive tenacity.

The synthesis of mournful repose and lively exploration culminates in a deeply profound aural experience which speaks of the composer’s close relationship with his muse. Drawing inspiration from Ludovico Einaudi, Ola Gjeilo, Erik Satie, and folk artists in the vein of Karine Polwart, Alexander Grenville’s sonic signature is more akin to an eloquent calligraphy; one that distinctively scribes through the mind delivering cathartic solace and inviting you to look at the world through a more introspective lens.

Fragile is available to stream on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

The Arcane Insignia opened an unholy doorway with their synthesis of classical instrumentation and prog rock volution, Vagrant’s Throne

The Arcane Insignia’s moniker couldn’t be more fitting following the unveiling of their latest orchestrally aligned acoustic prog rock single, Vagrant’s Throne. The New York City duo set a new benchmark in the genre with this 8-minute epic, released as part of their LP, A Violent Whisper.

The dark iteration of classical music still maintains its elegance and opulence as it grapples with the complex signatures of progressive rock’s audacious spirit and the chameleonic vocals which seamlessly shift from the histrionics of New Model Army to the rage and rancour which transcends the furore of Pantera.

Formed by Lodrö Nyima, The Arcane Insignia consists of Noah Heau on cello and Nyima handling vocals, percussion, acoustic guitar, and piano. Their music, a unique amalgamation of influences ranging from Tool and Steven Wilson to The Contortionist, allows the classical instrumentation to venture into darker territories than it is typically accustomed to, creating a scintillating new domain where the ornate, cutting classical strings meet cathartic aural oblivion. This fusion also opens an unholy doorway to a realm where anything is plausible and everything is cinematically striking.

Following in the footsteps of bands like Ne Obliviscaris, Vagrant’s Throne, which unravels as a compelling exposition on classism, proves The Arcane Insignia’s commitment to breaking down antiquated barriers.

Stream the single on all major platforms via this link.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Let your imagination breathe in the woodland lore in Supernova Goldfish’s composition, Mystic Forest

Few modern orchestral pieces resonate with the vivid imagery and emotional depth of Supernova Goldfish’sMystic Forest‘. This single, a masterful blend of neo-classical composition and ornate folk elements, invites listeners into a realm where material reality slips away and imagination breathes freely.

Alexis Walter Blaess, the Argentine-American composer behind Supernova Goldfish, draws inspiration from luminaries like George Winston and Olafur Arnalds. He has a unique ability to instil awe and wonder into his productions which find opulent balances between worldly and introspective qualities.

Mystic Forest unravels as a reflection of the composer’s respect for nature; it shifts from the serenity of a sun-dappled glade to the subtle trepidation of unknown paths while encapsulating facets of woodland lore. The interplay of light and dark, the dance of trepidation-tinged and playful tones, all coalesce into a cinematic score that engulfs the listener in aural fantasy.

The release is a reminder of the enchanting power of music to transport us to places unseen, to touch the intangible, and to reconnect us with the natural world’s mystique.

Mystic Forest was officially released on March 1st; stream the soundtrack on SoundCloud.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Supernova Goldfish narrated ‘Forgotten Love Stories’ in his orchestral score

Supernova Goldfish’s latest standout composition, Forgotten Love Stories, the opening single from the album Beautiful World, is a poignant exploration of the soul’s emotional depths. Alexis Walter Blaess, the Argentine-American composer behind the Supernova Goldfish moniker used the delicately compelling piece to capture experiences of Earth; not solely through a humanist view, but a deeply naturalistic one, by removing any sense of ego from the narrative.

The piece begins with tender piano keys, their softness mirrored by the gentle caress of orchestral strings. This introduction sets a tone of introspection, inviting listeners into a world where emotions are heard and felt. As the narrative unfolds, the tempo quickens, echoing the exhilaration and loss of inhibition which comes as a courtesy of affection.

Blaess, drawing inspiration from pianists like George Winston and film composers such as Dustin O’Halloran, crafted an intimately affecting composition through heart-stirring violins and a contemporary orchestra with an exotic vibe, adding layers of complexity to the piece.

The climax of the composition is a masterful depiction of the strife and wounds inherent in love and war. The music swells, capturing the intensity of these emotions before gradually resolving into a reflective calm, leaving listeners with a sense of catharsis. Blaess’s ability to convey moods and emotions through melodies is evident in every note.

Forgotten Love Stories will be available to stream on all major platforms from March 1st; stream it on SoundCloud first.

Review by Amelia Vandergast