CD: Music of the Extraordinary Voyages
Artist: larkenlyre (Matthew Labarge)

Music of the Extraordinary VoyagesAh, the lure of exotic adventures and far away lands… For Matthew Labarge, this calling has echoed throughout his life from his earliest years – first in books, and now in music. His latest album, Music of the Extraordinary Voyages, is in his words: “a collection of cinematic multi-layered sonic sketches inspired by the short stories and novels of Jules Verne, Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Each of the fourteen tracks is very different.  Hundreds of instruments, real and electronic, were used, as well as dozens of objects, instruments, and environments I recorded and sampled.  Each track is a unique sonic landscape unto itself, much like a great story.” He goes on to describe his fascination with fiction of this genre: “I was an avid reader when I was very young, and most of my early favorite books involved fantastic adventure in exotic places. The school librarians knew me by name, and knew what I wanted. Swiss Family Robinson, the Tarzan novels, Moby Dick, and stories by Rudyard Kipling, Jules Verne, and Jack London captivated me utterly, and took me to places far more exciting than day-to-day life. I think I was around ten when my mom packed my brothers and I into a station wagon to see The Jungle Book at the drive-in theater. I knew the story well, and went into it with great expectations. My expectations were far exceeded, thanks in part to the incredible incidental music by George Bruns. It didn’t just transport us to the land where the story took place, it oozed pure exoticness.” I must admit to having similar feelings, both as a child and as an adult, and can totally relate to Matthew’s sentiments.


It should be pointed out that Matthew chose to release this album under the name “larkenlyre” to avoid confusion among fans of his other releases, which include three CD’s of solo piano compositions, and are quite different than the music heard on this album. So how did he go from solo piano to such a wildly diverse project such as this? There is an Jules Verneinteresting story to this music’s evolution… Last year, Matthew was asked by a close friend and collaborator to create music for a Kickstarter campaign video (see below) to promote a new “steampunk” themed deck of cards based on Jules Verne’s Extraordinary Voyages novels. This project was right up his alley, and the music he created for this project was so enthusiastically received, that he felt encouraged to write more music along these lines. Although he was reluctant at first, once he got into it, he found himself writing new short pieces, each with an exotic sensibility and a strong sense of place. According to Matthew: “I was fairly well along into this process before I realized it was becoming an album.  I enjoyed listening to this set of pieces enough that I decided to send it out into the world.”


The soundtrack that Matthew composed for the Kickstarter campaign evolved into a piece called “i will create a machine,” and is the track that opens the album. As the song began with it’s metallic industrial sounds creating a percussive loop that pans across the stereo field, I had a brief déjà vu experience and tried to remember what it reminded me of. After a moment, I recalled the beginning of the Pink Floyd classic, “Money,” with the mechanical sounds of cash registers opening and closing, bells ringing, etc. that formed a backdrop for the music to play over. This is not to say that Matthew’s piece sounds just like that but it did bring up a remote association in my mind. From there, however, any similarities cease and Matthew’s composition creates its own unique identity. The music is densely layered with many instruments and is quite exotic. As mentioned above, the word “cinematic” is used to describe the tracks on the album, and I’ll have to refrain from over-using it, but that would certainly be easy to do given the vivid visual imagery that all of these soundscapes evoke. Switching gears on the next piece entitled “mistral wind,” (all his song titles are in lower case) the mood is more reflective, perhaps even a bit somber, with orchestral and classical music elements and some of the piano work that Matthew is best known for. With 14 tracks on the album, each being totally different, there isn’t space here to go into great detail on each one, but I’ll be happy to provide an overview and some highlights.


As can be expected on a song called “rainforest omens” the sounds of nature and the jungle are heard, along with powerful drumming. There is no melody on this piece, just a lush rhythmic soundscape creating an earthy ambience. The groove continues on “island trance.” On this one I particularly enjoyed the contrast of the warm woody marimba tones with light tinkling bells, punctuated occasionally by a resonant tubular bell sound. One of my favorite compositions was “northern lights,” which was built around a descending three-chord progression often found in rock music ballads, such as “All Along The Watchtower.” Matthew’s electric piano held down the foundation as electric guitar soared over it, adorned with ethereal instrumental accompaniment. Very cool! Incidentally, the guitar part on this track, as well as on four other songs, was exquisitely played by Chris Bocast.


Matthew LabargeOne of the most fascinating things about this album is hearing it for the first time and having absolutely no idea what the music will sound like from track to track. The next piece, “typhoon,” couldn’t be more different with its driving electronic beat, stormy atmosphere, and Eastern music influence. This was quite a contrast to the dreamy ambient track that followed, appropriately called “poppy fields,” and which for me, recalled a bit of the psychedelic air of The Beatles’ “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” On other compositions, such as the darker “kanchenjunga,” Matthew is not averse to using dissonance and tension to sculpt his musical vision. However, the clouds part and the sun shines again on the lively African-themed “kaarta market.” Opening with the sound of a kalimba (African thumb piano) and hand drums, the tune is later joined by flute and special guest Eden Macadam-Somer on violin, giving the piece an almost Celtic-like feel. Fans of the electric guitar (like me) will enjoy will enjoy some incendiary playing on “the orphan returns home,” accompanied by a simple piano melody, layers of synthesizers, and drumming. The album draws to a stunningly beautiful conclusion with a lavish production entitled “songbird in the morning,” this time highlighting the crystalline chiming of acoustic 12-string guitar played by Jimi Taft. As mentioned earlier, hundreds of instruments were used in the creation of this album. On this song, as well as on some others, the interesting and unusual combinations they are presented in can make it difficult to identify exactly what is what. But for me, that only added to mystery of the music. I have to give Matthew a lot of credit for stepping out from the relative security and safety of his solo piano music to take on a project of this scope, complexity, and vision – which included writing, performing, engineering, and producing most of the material on this ambitious album. Like the tales that intrigued him so much as a child, Matthew has created a musical adventure that is sure to spark the imagination and send the listener on extraordinary voyages of their own in their mind’s eye.





The Kickstarter video that Matthew Labarge created the soundtrack for: