What’s hidden about Hidden City? These instrumental composers write works with subtle and kind melodies that make for expansive meditations that are both emotional and physical.
The quartet’s cosmopolitanism is similar to Arthur Russell’s, the 1980s composer from New York City, because Hidden City’s music searches for emotional resonance.
Their works also resemble instrumental segments from Dave Matthews Band with the use of saxophones and violins to illustrate calm happiness.
But Hidden City has connotations of impressionist music that resemble 19th century’s Claude Debussy’s work, sometimes in more ways than one. In Debussy’s masterpiece, “The Sunken Cathedral,” the artist titles the piece after a cathedral subsumed in water, but he uses musical imagery—the impressions from impressionist music—in order to instrumentally speak about more subtle emotions of gratitude and loss.
Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that all great art is fundamentally about gratitude, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s novel Werther, itself based on an opera, has a chapter where the main character Werther can’t write a love song because he has left it behind.
It’s the feelings of gratitude and ultimately non-self that exists in Hidden City’s compositions, especially their song titled “Being in Love Part Two.”
The quiet sweeps of melodies and interactions between piano and woodwinds sidestep feelings of sadness for a deeper form of inspiration. This particular composition isn’t hung up on sadness about lost love so much as eagerness to deliver the message.
Hidden City’s consideration of love and impressionism resembles that of Russian-French artist, Marc Chagall and his piece, “Chagall’s Window.”
Contemporary Pablo Picasso said Chagall was a painter who really understood color. His paintings are fabulous surreal scenes where the artist uses dark blues, greens and loud bright yellows to describe an idealized love.
In the same way, Hidden City’s portrait of the artist is ruminative and thoughtful, but not sad. In fact, these composers aren’t afraid of a little humor.
“Adrian’s War” sounds like a tuning-session jam from a classical orchestra or the Grateful Dead. Adrian fought a war, but it sounds like the subject didn’t really launch any bombs or kill anyone. Adrian must have complained in stark terms, yet Hidden City isn’t content to leave their character at that.
The end of the song has a clear and organized comment to Adrian that might come from a mentor or a teacher who’s telling him not to let his emotions get the best of him.
Humor in “Celtic Contraption” has Hidden City playing with 21st century notions of Celtic music as quaint. “Celtic Contraption” uses a march beat that references to war music—think of the violent R-rated Mel Gibson movie Braveheart and the Scottish soldiers—but listeners might be more familiar with a family-friendly version of Celtic music more likely to be found at Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films.
A similar irony appears in The White Stripes concert DVD, Under Great White Northern Lights, where the band’s introduction music is Scottish bagpipes’ war music.
Hidden City are excellent composers with a lot on their minds, but like a good friend, their music is conversational and witty.
“Dancing Mastodons” plays with ancient Chinese music by using flutes that punctuate long sweeps with short accented notes. By exploring world music and 19th-century impressionism, Hidden City’s music has the feeling of a pick-me-up starting point.
It may be that this is what’s “hidden” in Hidden City: The artists want to invite their listeners into exploration and wonder without being overbearing.
Cover Photo: hiddencityorchestra.com