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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:

Interview by Amelia Vandergast

Taking Back Tomorrow have made their supersonic orchestral indie rock debut, In This Moment

If anyone ordered the male version of The Last Dinner Party, judging by the cinematically theatrical flair of their orchestrally cut debut single, In This Moment, they’ve arrived in the form of Taking Back Tomorrow.

Exhilarating from the first augmented rock-licked breath, the symphonic pop-rock mash-up exudes the charisma of Queen, slick indie style in the same vein as Editors, and orchestral layers intense enough to bring Vangelis to climax.

The synergy exhibited between the instrumentals as they spark electricity and work their way towards Blockbuster OST-esque crescendos and within the euphonically layered harmonies is unparalleled. Pour into that mix the sticky sweet extolling of mindfulness and living for the moment and you’ve got a track that transcends your ordinary earworm; there isn’t a part of your anatomy that Taking Back Tomorrow will leave unaltered.

The first thing you’ll think after having your face melted by the debut is how long has the Stoke-on-Trent 5-piece been sitting on their virtuosic talent; the second is when are they releasing their sophomore single. If any newcomer in 2024 is capable of a sure-fire trajectory straight to the top of the charts, it is Taking Back Tomorrow. Watch this space; if they can come in this strong with their debut, there’s no telling what they will do next.

In This Moment was officially released on May 4th; 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

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

ZERONIRVANA unleashed the alt-pop debut of the year with her arcanely affecting triumph, Lucid Drama

The orchestral alt-pop priestess, ZERONIRVANA has made her affectingly arcane debut with her single, Lucid Drama. The striking statement of artistic identity from the Bangalore-born, Boston-based artist defies the conventional boundaries of alt-pop.

The track opens with a haunting piano melody, each minor key striking a chord of introspective depth. The orchestral strings, sharp and poignant, weave through the layers of turbulent electronica, crafting a soundscape that cuts to the core of the melancholic themes explored. It’s in this complex musical terrain that ZERONIRVANA’s voice finds its home – a voice that carries the weight of classical training yet resonates with the relatable essence of a modern pop icon.

Lyrically, ‘Lucid Drama’ is a poignant exploration of resilience in the face of relational adversity. ZERONIRVANA navigates the nuances of emotional strength and vulnerability with a deft hand, her words offering both a mirror and a map for listeners grappling with similar struggles. The song becomes a beacon of empowerment, encouraging a steadfast hold on one’s ground amidst the tempests of life.

ZERONIRVANA’s artistic vision, as showcased in ‘Lucid Drama’, transcends mere musical performance. Her commitment to creating a therapeutic, almost theatrical experience for her audience is palpable. This track is a journey through the avenues of mental health and personal growth, set against a backdrop of captivating visuals and storytelling that ZERONIRVANA masterfully curates across her digital platforms.

In ‘Lucid Drama’, ZERONIRVANA doesn’t just launch her career; she invites us into a world where music is a catalyst for self-discovery and empowerment.

Lucid Drama was officially released on February 18th; stream the single on Spotify.

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

Chamber strings go pop in Philadelphia String Quartet’s latest score, Oh My God

Living by their motto, ‘Think Outside the Bach’s’, the classically trained artists of which the Philadelphia String Quartet comprises know no bounds when scoring their pieces and comply to even fewer.

Their recently released piece, Oh My God, is a baroque folk fantasyscape, which wouldn’t be out of place in the prelude in a progressive folk metal track, in the OST of lore lore-filled series akin to The Witcher, or any other setting that calls for the romanticism of chamber strings pulling together in complete coalescent quintessence.

Since forming in 2009, the quartet has been immensely in demand as a wedding band; the performers even go as far as to curate custom playlists for couples. If Oh My God is anything to go by, the airwaves should be equally as inclined to champion the quartet’s quasi-classic spin on pop.

Stream Oh My God on Spotify, and follow the four-piece to ensure you’re the first to know when their live-recorded upcoming album drops!

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Fabian Jeller took his listeners ‘From Zero to Infinity’ in his latest composition

The classically trained pianist, electronic music producer and composer, Fabian Jeller used every modicum of his training and talent honing to mark his evolution towards a more viscerally stylistic, organic, and colourful tonal palette in his most seminal single to date, From Zero to Infinity.

The synthesis of classical instruments in the electronic soundscape embodies the vivaciousness of a full symphony orchestra to take you on a journey of vibrant transcendence via the arrangement of the synths and strings, which work in absolute synergy to ensure you sonically arrive at the destination the Italian virtuoso intended.

Blissful, rejuvenating, and deeply evocative in inexplicable equal measure, From Zero to Infinity captures the momentum of life, and all the stratospherically colossal twists and turns it leaves us with no option to traverse. As Bill Hicks once famously said, it’s just a ride. Jeller proved the intrinsic beauty in that ride. Strap yourselves in and surrender yourself to it.

From Zero to Infinity arrived on the airwaves on September 16; stream it on SoundCloud.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Peter Xifaras paid an impassioned ode to an icon with ‘While My Guitar Weeps for Mehdi Rajabian’

While My Guitar Weeps for Mehdi Rajabian, performed by Peter Xifaras and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, pays homage to the bravery and tenacity of an Iranian artist imprisoned for working with female dancers and musicians, something which has been banned since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

After a three-minute trial, he was convicted and tortured during his sentence, but that wasn’t enough to break his indomitable spirit that inspired this jazzy composition, which orchestrally berates the indignity and senseless oppression; it carries the quintessence of the Iranian protesters throwing away their headscarves in a bid to retaliate against regimented oppression.

While Les Pauls don’t often take the lead in orchestral arrangements, on this wild and jazzy contemporary ride, the sonorous sustain lends itself effortlessly to the instrumental piece as Peter Xifaras demonstrates his prowess as a guitarist, composer, and producer.

Stream the official music video for While My Guitar Weeps for Mehdi Rajabian via YouTube.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Michael Carson emanated ephemeral grace in his classical score, The Elusive Ballerina`

For his latest orchestral score and music video, the fan-revered and critically acclaimed composer Michael Carson captured the ephemeral grace of The Elusive Ballerina.

The evocative beauty of the masterpiece wouldn’t leave the score out of place in a performance of Swan Lake. With the pirouetting orchestral melodies which ebb and flow in mellifluous rhythm, your rhythmic pulses will be efficaciously awoken to the tune of Carson’s contemporary classical narrative that will capture your attention and flood catharsis into your senses.

On the basis of The Elusive Ballerina, and all of the pieces that have preceded it, it is only a matter of time before Carson’s name is one of the biggest in the classical realm.

Stream the music video for The Elusive Ballerina which premiered on August 12th via YouTube.

Review by Amelia Vandergast