Maria Le Pitruzelluca Celeste XVII (which I'll be calling MLPC for the sake of convenience) continues the trend of uniqueness that Espers brings to the table.
MLPC fades in with a piano sequence, chimes, and an atmospheric bass synth. The piano sequence is interesting in that it isn't a fulfilling sound, it just builds up and down each sequence, resetting every 4-5 seconds. The chimes are really just an atmospheric addition as they aren't constant, but do frequent in order to add to the atmosphere. The atmospheric bass synth fades through notes, coming in softly and subtly joined by new notes at 0:05. At 0:09 there's a fresh wave of chimes, this time joined by some atmospheric wind effects (this album is wrecking havoc on my ability to name sounds). The wind effects at 0:14 are a different tone, adding to the atmosphere of the atmospheric bass synth that has now grown into a church organ-ish sound holding down a chord. The volume fade in becomes very apparent now as the sound reaches its peak. At 0:19 there's another round of chimes, symbolizing the beginning of another measure and a repeat of the previous sequence sans volume. The volume increase makes the lower range sounds of the atmospheric effects more prevalent in the repeat, adding a nice touch by eliminating the feeling of complete repetition. At 0:28-0:29 the cycle resets once again with the chimes. This sequence (which lasts until 0:38) features less wind atmosphere action, leaning more toward the growing intensity of the atmospheric bass organ synth and its constant chord. At 0:38 the piano sequence becomes subtly more intricate with the addition of some octave coverage of certain notes as well as chords formed by the additional notes. 0:43 adds some light and high bell tones to the mix, forming more layers on top of the ever-present piano repetition which has been cycling since the opening of the track. These bells also go on to serve like the chimes, introducing each new cycle, although they also subdivide the cycle on their own. The wind atmosphere effects also become a little more distinctive in this cycle, in that they start to lean towards a particular sequence of events that's more able to be anticipated than the previous movements. The next cycle opens at 0:48 with the introduction of choir voices. These voices, like the bells, build on top of the repetitive piano sequence through more elongated notes, similar in technique to what has been shown in the rest of the album. The voices themselves drift like the atmosphere of the track, making note changes very subtle and atmospherically. The next cycle goes at 0:57 and mainly serves to continue the changing notes of the voices. There's also some sick atmospheric backwash at 1:03 which is either the addition of new atmospheric elements or the interplay of previous elements with the voices (I believe it's a result of additional instrumentation that's too hard for me to pin down although it could just be additional synth voices). Either way, it has a searing quality to it, adding to the mystery of the piece. This searing quality continues with the next cycle at 1:07 now accompanied by more apparent low register aspects of the atmospheric wind. 1:16-1:17 ushers in the next cycle which is mainly just another loop with atmospheric experimentation. The subtleties of the changes of sound become so increasingly hard to track that I hesitate to say anything definite about what's going on at this point. 1:26 is the next cycle and it's marked by changes in the piano through the addition of certain notes (after going through this a few times, it seems as if just a few notes were altered for the sake of introduction, otherwise the sequence remains the same--this is also apparent at 0:38). The dominating overtones of the atmospheric bass and choir have faded into the background somewhat by this time with the atmospheric wind supplying the most apparent low register sounds (the searing backwash is gone). In general, the 1:20s section appears to let the growing energy of the piece dissipate somewhat before building it back with the following sections. 1:36 is the next cycle and while it fails to contribute anything noticeably new at its conception, a new sweep-up effect comes into play at 1:42, born out of the atmosphere of the choir and bass. The cycle continues with 1:46 and now its apparent that the sweep-up birthed some more orchestra related sounds (strings). This whole piece is awash with sounds now as the choir voice backwash continues for the next cycle at 1:55. This new cycle has the altered piano intro (at least I think so, at this point I could be making stuff up because of all the ambient sounds). This goes until, finally, at 2:04, the sounds burst with a transition roll bringing some definitively new changes (I must say, this section took me by surprise after carefully listening to and trying to find every intricate aspect of the first 2 minutes). However, the changes aren't as sudden as they first appear. While the piano sequence does change notes from 2:04-2:14, a sequence that repeats twice still exists and the notes quickly change to a more familiar setting at the next cycle (2:14). The dominant elements of all aspects have dissolved except for the atmospheric organ bass. The lack of atmosphere is supplemented by a crash (think long attack and release in keeping with the theme) at 2:09. At 2:14 the setting becomes recognizable very quickly with the piano playing the same sequence it started with, albeit at the next lowest octave. This sense of growing familiarity is also helped by the beginnings of the wind atmosphere sequence that became apparent in the previous section. Thankfully, things do develop differently with a more defined role being played by the light bells in the next cycle at 2:24. It seems this time the bells are more affected by the atmosphere of the piece, with a lot of additional overtones being created by the mingling of sounds. The melody of the bells is unique as well and although it takes breaks, doesn't reset with the piano sequence. They cycle at 2:33 doesn't add anything other than growing atmosphere and the continually evolving melody of the bells. One of the most memorable moments of the bells during this section (at least for me) comes in the build up and build down from 2:37-2:43 that seems to parallel what the piano does with different notes and sounds. This might also be a little more memorable because the bells are absent with the sequence at 2:43, leaving the wind and bass atmospheres to dominate. These atmospheres soon fade through the next cycle at 2:53, setting the track up for a bit of a piano solo (I might've also missed some choir voices that showed up in this section without backwash). This solo really only occurs as a result of fade outs that take place in the latter 2:50s. The solo also sets up the reintroduction of certain elements at 3:02. For once the introduction of this cycle is not marked by chimes, rather a lower choir voice that is soon joined by counterparts in a juxtaposition with the piano. The next cycle is also not marked by chimes (now assume all future measures are not marked by chimes until stated otherwise) and begins at 3:11 with a pickup melody by the light bells. Now the atmosphere is mostly gone from the bells and they stand out as a distinctive element playing a melody on top of the piano and voices. At 3:20-3:21 some more atmospheric laced elements of the bells rapidly alternate two notes continuing the "pickup" nature of the bell melody in this section. The cycle at 3:21 leaves out the bells though, with just the piano and choir voices to work until 3:31. 3:31 is distinctive in that the repetitive piano cycle that has been going since the beginning drops down yet another octave, leaving it two full octaves beneath what it was at the start of the track. The choir voices are also either down an octave, or altered slightly with lower register sounds. There's a single note at 3:38 that sounds similar to sounds of what I believed backwash from intensive choir sections earlier in the track (such as the searing at 1:03). There's also some pickup action that happens from 3:39-3:40 in the form of indistinctive non-choir voice. The new cycle at 3:40 is now introduced by chimes (although this is an isolated incident). The new cycle also includes more orchestral elements in the form of strings among other sounds. The indistinctive non-choir voice(s) will continue to be a part of the atmosphere from this point on until 4:08. At 3:50, the cycle repeats more subtly than ever before, continuing with the orchestral string (organ maybe) cycle that echoes the wind atmosphere cycles heard previously (in notes). The cycle beginning at 4:00 initiates a somewhat rapid fade out of all musical elements in play, bringing us to complete silence at 4:08. Ending the track at 4:08 seems a little weird, but not to worry, Meteo Xavier brings music back at 4:10, disregarding many previous established parameters in the track. 4:10 opens with a 4 note bass sequence from a mid-range harp that is quickly joined by an accompanying flute melody (both of these elements are introduced for the first time at this point). It's not a complete change of theme though, despite the new instruments and melody, it radiates with the same "touch" as the first half of the track, slowly building in volume around a central element (instead of the piano it's the harp). However, the harp plays a much more traditional supporting role as opposed to the repeating build up, build down style of the piano. 4:24 is another cycle repeat with nothing significant other than the increasing volume making the sound of the flute melody in particular become more apparent. 4:38 is the next cycle which throws in another flute (at 4:42) to join the main melody on occasional notes (similar to what we saw with the piano earlier) until the end of the cycle (it also seems like the volume reaches its normal level during this time as well). 4:51-4:52 begins the next cycle with nothing significant (although it is nice to just enjoy the 4 key rotation of the harp). It's also important to note that the flute melody never truly repeats until after these first 4 cycles. 5:05-5:06 opens the door with some significant accompaniment being added to the mix. The cycle is kicked off with the chimes, low choir/bass, and bells. The low choir/bass plays the supporting note for the 4 key rotation of the harp and has some wonderful contrast to the rest of the piece, creating a surreal background for the elements in the foreground. The high bells from before are back with some occasional notes that support the main melody and then join in more rapidly starting at 5:12. This also contrasts very well with the surreal quality that seems to rise out of this sudden introduction of instruments. 5:19 is the next cycle as evident by the repeat in the previous cycle/measure. Beyond the repeat (excluding the flute of course) there's not much else going on (although it seems that the chimes will now mark each cycle/measure as seen previously). The cycles at 5:33 and 5:46-5:47 are just more of the same; repeating the flute melody that spanned the first 4 cycles, now with supporting elements. As we'd expect, the cycle at 6:00 is a significant change. It drops the flute melody, chimes, and choir, instead opting for the repeating harp now with piano support (which comes largely in the form of alternating notes of the supporting key for the first two chord sequences and arpeggiating a bit more of the last two chord sequences). The bass now comes in the form of a more orchestral sounding element, sounds like it could be a mix of string instruments and church organ. However, the bass still plays the same role, acting as a support for the chord progression key changes of the harp. All in all, it's still a seamless transition that while noticeable, doesn't significantly change the feel or mood of the piece. The cycle repeats without the chime introduction at 6:14. 6:28 is big though and is the second hardest hitting transition of the piece (the complete fade out and silence from 4:08 to 4:10 is the biggest). Now we're getting blasted by the high range choir (also note the chime introduction) joined by the church organ bass now playing higher notes. This grandiose change is also marked by some additional percussion hits that supplement each key change in the chord progression (with splash hits coming at 6:28, 6:31, 6:34, 6:38). The intensity increases midway through the cycle, with some additional atmosphere. 6:34-6:38 brings a sweep-up atmospheric effect similar to 1:42. It also seems like the church organ is particularly loud at 6:38, adding to the build effect. This cycle is repeated at 6:41-6:42 with the exception of the sweep-up atmospheric effect. 6:55 is the next cycle leaving us in the wake of the full choir and organ. The flute melody that began at 4:10 is back, but now it has some wicked offsetting backwash to go with it (this is a result of atmospheric injection, not reverb from the previous elements). In summary, 6:55 begins to wrap the track up as the only remaining elements are the flute lead, the supporting harp bass and its chord progression, and the "backwash" atmospheric injection that continues to work throughout for needed effect. 7:22 is the beginning of the fade out (marked by a particularly low range wind effect). The track ends on the fade out of the flute's completion of the 4 cycle melody at 7:43.
Pros: Huge abundance of excellently managed atmospheric effects that created beautiful offsetting contrasts really helped this piece. The high bells in particular mingled well with all the elements in play. The surreal atmosphere generated by the majority of elements working together and in contrast was greatly helped by the choice of instrumentation. It was also neat to see the repetition of themes in the "second half" (starting at 4:10) which remind the listener of the first half. The crescendos and decrescendos seemed to play a significant role as well and it was nice to see them work with the instrumentation fairly well, adding to the growing feeling of something surreal and otherworldly.
Cons: The build up, build down piano repetition that happens from the beginning to 4:08 (first half) starts to bother me despite the octave drops (although the drops do help). Despite the presence of some fantastic mystical atmosphere, MLPC often feels too simplistic. This is especially apparent with the continuous repetition of a single element (i.e. piano, chimes, harp). I know that for all intensive purposes, Espers is pretty much founded on the cycle of 4/4 time, but it really shows in this track. The other major thing that bothered me was the complete change at 4:08-4:10. While the repetition in theme is a redeeming quality, it seems that we're listening to an entirely different track by the same composer. It just doesn't seem to fit all that well with the progression of events in the rest of the tracks on Espers.
Overall: MLPC is one of the more simple tracks on Espers in my opinion. Thankfully, it's mystical contrasts and sounds are appealing enough that it doesn't sound like a repeat of Saelmeth without the percussion. The choir is definitely one of this tracks strong points as it adds some much needed support to many areas of the piece. The weakest point is the contrast of repetition and completely changing sounds midway through the track. It sort of degrades the beginning section when the second half sounds so unlike it. MLPC is a standout on Espers due to its change in sound halfway through, but it's still a strong track with good atmosphere and wonderful simultaneous contrasts and feelings.