Chris Newman

(b. 1958)

mode 271



mode 271  Chris NEWMAN: Ghosts – Symphony; Cologne (Chris Newman, voice); Ghosts; Ghost Symphony – Ensemble KNM/Steffen Tast

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Symphony (1981)   12:00

Cologne (1986-87)  10:28
Chris Newman, voice

Ghosts (1984)  19:51

Ghost Symphony (1998)  20:27

Ensemble KNM conducted by Steffen Tast


This CD collects four chamber works in Newman’s idiosyncratic, quirky style, performed by one of Berlin’s leading new music ensembles.

Newman appears a vocal soloist in the work Cologne. The texts are derived from a travel brochure about the city of Cologne which was filled with translation mistakes to a hilarious extent.

For Ghost Symphony, Newman writes: “the majority of the piece consists of my own five chords to which I applied the rhythmic values of the first movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, with the notable exceptions of the interpolations of Beethoven’s most structurally important chords which shine through.”

All first recordings.

Liner notes by the composer. The cover pictures one of Newman’s art installations.




Here are crisp performances of four chamber pieces representing nearly two decades of work by artist / composer Chris Newman. Some might have trouble actually hearing music. Newman’s style gives an impression of unschooled naïveté. The opening single-movement 12-minute Symphony declares Newman’s aims: Instruments tread in unison, generally contributing to one of two lines. The notes imply a “two-part counterpoint with itself” although traditional canonic activity is not immediately apparent. Indeed, harmony and structure are ignored, as if music notation was employed without being understood. The ear craves associations. Sometimes the aimless lines recall Satie or Wolff, although there is a hardness suggesting a short temper. The unison instruments (flute, clarinet, xylophone, piano, trumpet, trombone and double bass) imitate a synthesizer.

Newman provides Cologne’s speaking part, a cut-up text extracted from travel brochure mistranslations haphazardly tossed over instrumental accompaniment. Ghosts’ events were guided by the structure of Ibsen’s play in no immediately evident way. Any halting imitations of jazz are probably accidental. Ghost Symphony (20:28) startles with actual triads and chords, which are but ornaments here. The chords are actually Beethoven’s. Newman has appropriated the first movement of the Fifth, applying new notes to Beethoven’s rhythms. Even if in on the joke, Newman’s choices make it hard to follow, and not just because the tempo is slow.

— Grant Chu Covell, lafolia, January 2015


“angular, raw early works”

Discs of Chris Newman’s music only appear sporadically. Mode brought out its first disc of the British-born but Berlin-resident composer more than five years ago; that was a selection of Newman’s piano sonatas , but this follow-up concentrates on earlier pieces, two from the 80s, two from the 90s, and provides a good sample of the kind of angular, raw sound with which Newman, born in 1958, announced himself in the 80s. It’s naggingly memorable music in which the process by which the notes are generated – often an entirely non-musical one – has always mattered at least as much as the final aural result. So while the spiky rhythmic unisons of a work such as Symphony, from 1981, and the seamless series of musical snapshots in 1994’s Ghosts, which recycles ideas from earlier works, share a family resemblance, their starting points were very different. Rhythmic ideas from Beethoven’s Fifth provide one of the layers in the Ghost Symphony of 1998; in Cologne (1987), it’s the bad English translation of a German travel brochure that furnishes the text which appears towards the end, which Newman himself recites in his deadpan manner.

— Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 8 January 2015


NEWMAN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1, 4, 6 & 10 – Michael Finnissy, piano.  (mode 201)


Ensemble KNM

Steffen TAST