I'm on Sigur Ros' mailing list and news of this concert certainly got my attention. Even the band admitted to being a bit nervous.
The full concert features a one hour set with a huge LA orchestra, and a second one hour set with just the band. It was streamed live worldwide and can be viewed here. But I almost always find that these band + orchestra in a classical music setting collaborations never live up to their promise. Any band that aspires to this kind of performance already has a cinematic majesty to their music, and adding the orchestra then fails to amplify the magic that is present in the bulk of their recordings. That's essentially the case with this performance. Sigur Ros fans will certainly want to check it out, but there's hardly anything resembling a definitive version of these songs.
I enjoyed the second half of the show more, because it was my first time seriously checking out the stripped down, three piece version of Sigur Ros -- with no backing musicians, and no backing tapes (none that I could see). When a band loses an multi-instrumentalist/keyboardist, the bass becomes more of a lead instrument to fill the space, but in this case it can't come close to filling it completely, nor does the band even try. What's left over is raw, airy (well, more so than before) and sparse, like the home demo recordings version of Sigur Ros. Nobody gets to hide behind a wall of feedback or a string loop, and for me it's a refreshing change to see this severely stripped down version of the band.
And then there's Carl Craig's "Versus". This isn't Jeff Mills banging out techno with real strings instead of synthesized ones. It may be Carl Craig's best album. It's undoubtedly his most challenging one.
"Versus" is uncategorizable, because nobody's pulled off a techno/classical hybrid quite like this before. This is the furthest thing from a techno album with added strings to give it extra flair for the dramatic. It's also not a classical music score that attempts to capture the rhythmic pulse of the clubs (which reads like a horrible idea anyway). Carl Craig deconstructed his most famous tracks and remixes and has rebuilt them from scratch. The pacing, instrumentation, and mood of each track has been completely re-envisioned. The border between acoustic and electronic elements has been erased, thanks to nine years of painstaking effort in the studio to meld everything together just right.
Many contemporary artists see the orchestra an opportunity to lend sophistication to their comparatively simple compositions. Carl Craig and Francesco Tristano looked at each other's respective domains and see a vast space into which they can expand their palate of sounds. If it was as simple as it sounds, everyone would already be doing it. But Craig and Tristano have basically claimed an entire genre for themselves. If the genre lives and dies with them because they're the only ones capable of pulling it off, more power to them.