There is a natural desire to treat William Ørbit's Pieces in a Modern Style, a collection of classical compositions synthed up and reinterpreted for modern ambient audiences, with some degree of critical seriousness. After all, the British producer -- who has created popular dance remixes for the likes of Prince, Peter Gabriel, the Cure, Seal, Sting, and others, and whose pop smarts revived Madonna's sagging career with Ray of Light -- is at the peak of his profession, the music industry's flavor du jour. With his critically acclaimed "Strange Cargo" series of the late '80s and early '90s, which featured moody, multilayered instrumental tracks (not to mention the then-unknown Beth Orton), a solo ambient effort by Ørbit seemed like a natural, and even welcome, progression.
It would be natural, too, to want to make comparisons to the works of past and present ambient masters, from the revelatory simplicity of Eno to the rich, shadowy textures of Aphex Twin. But Ørbit's album simply doesn't merit that sort of critical discussion. Pieces is a randomly chosen hodgepodge of classical tracks ranging in style from the Baroque majesty of Handel to the cerebral experiments of Cage to the modern mysticism of Gorecki, all somehow magically distilled down to the point at which they sound more or less the same -- an impressive feat, indeed. (Caveat emptor: There is nothing remotely like Ferry Corsten's popular U.K. club remix of Barber's Adagio for Strings on this album, though that version, along with another by ATB, has been mercifully packaged with Pieces on a second CD.) Lacking in both subtlety and substance -- two ingredients irrefutably necessary to successful ambient music -- Pieces in a Modern Style is as empty and pretentious a gesture as the Danish-style slash that Ørbit's recently added to the "O" in his handpicked name.
For ambient fans, this album is pure tedium; for classical aficionados, it's downright disrespectful. Further, it's a reissue of a 1995 album that was quickly withdrawn for using two Arvo Part tracks without permission. As Ørbit eloquently put it in a recent interview with Rolling Stone: "The majesty of classical music? Oh, fuck that." If it weren't for gal-pal Madonna and her Maverick label, Ørbit's self-indulgent pet project of uninspired mall Muzak might never have gotten rereleased -- which would have been better for everyone. In that same Rolling Stone interview, Ørbit unself-consciously admitted that "much pop-classical stuff is vile." He should have heeded his own words.