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Album review: Jocelyn Morlock’s poisonous, magnetic, and radioactive Cobalt

By Michael Vincent on March 19, 2014

Jocelyn Morlock, composer
Jocelyn Morlock, composer

In late January, Vancouver-based composer Jocelyn Morlock launched a kickstarter campaign to help cover the costs of recording Cobalt, a CD of orchestral music ten years in the making.

It began with a modest $5,000 goal, and was quickly attained. The fact that it now sits at almost $9,000 attests to the near-unanimous positive attention Morlock has garnered in the past.  Though the project was mostly prefunded, and also supplemented with Morlock’s own money, it is safe to say the campaign is a clear example of how well crowdfunding can work.

Tucked away over the Rockies, Vancouver has a long history of housing some of Canada’s finest composers. Jean Coulthard, Barbara Pentland, Jordan Nobles, Owen Underhill, Jeffrey Ryan, as well as up and comers like James O’Callaghan all come to mind. Of course there are many more to mention, but Jocelyn Morlock is perhaps the brightest rising star to shine from the west in a great long while.


Jocelyn Morlock, photo by Jan Gates.
Jocelyn Morlock, photo by Jan Gates.


The CD is essentially a greatest hits collection of Morlock’s favourite works, performed by some of Canada’s finest. The CD liner notes read like a who’s who of some of our country’s most forward-looking orchestras and musicians, including the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, National Arts Centre Orchestra, CBC Radio Orchestra (now defunct), Vancouver Symphony, Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Duo Convertante, Jonathan Crow, Karl Stobbe, Vernon Regehr, as well as violinist Mark Fewer, and cellist and conductor Zoltán Rozsnyai. For a largely independent effort (via the Centrediscs label), this is an impressive feat.

Enough gushing – let’s talk about the music.


The colour cobalt
The colour cobalt


The disc opens with Music of the Romantic Era, which pokes fun at the idea of reverence and dull notions surrounding the classical music canon. She notes, “I wanted to explore the humour, whimsy and energy of earlier music, and perhaps brush off a few cobwebs along the way.” The piece is a pastiche of classical tropes that collide on their way down sunlit paths towards the rose garden. It is a kind of self-referential look at “pastness” that works surprising well, and accounts for Morlock’s obvious interest in the “post modern”.

Another stand-out is Cobalt, which is brought to life by TSO violinist Jonathan Crow (also a BC native), and the NACO. The work is inspired by the night sky just before it becomes dark, with a distinctly cobalt hue. This is a lushly contrapuntal work that is somewhat neo-romantic in style, and relies upon melodic lines that are both lyrical and haunting.

Asylum, opens with a slow motion rendering of the first few notes of Schumann’s Mondnacht, from Liederkreis, Op. 39. In the liner notes, Morlock writes: “I am very interested in the emotional landscapes of Schumann’s music, and his dual characters Florestan and Eusebius.” The bipolar dichotomy is clearly felt as the music ebbs and flows from the angelic, to visions of devils that seem to prod and pull as if seeking reprieve.

The CD closes with Solace, which is an steadfast work inspired by Josquin’s Missa L’Homme. It embraces brief string motifs in the solo violin and cello, which speak over harmonic drones that move and shift like Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet. The work is similar in feel to Nico Muhly’s Drones which also explored the use of pedal tones held slow and steady under light figurative motifs. In no way derivative, it tends upon a similar energy of warmth and vulnerability.

All told this collection of works does not shy away from what music does better than any other art form. It is about the exploration of emotion. It delves into moments of humour, but also unease, and intelligent curiosity. This is the music of a composer on a path to explore a world that is at one moment a wondrous place, and in another moment a terrifying yet beautiful muddle. She writes: What sustains life can also destroy it; beauty is transient and fleeting.

Just wow.


You can listen to excerpts here:

Or purchase the disc here.


Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent
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