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Pop Music Review : A Recording Comes Alive At Wiltern

November 22, 1986|DON HECKMAN

The first question about Thursday night's program at the Wiltern Theatre was simple enough: Who, or what, is Mannheim Steamroller?

While the technical answer has something to do with an esoteric 18th-Century school of German composition, the practical reply--made clear almost immediately at the concert--is that Mannheim Steamroller is a group of five musicians who dart madly around the stage playing everything from lutes, harpsichords and recorders to synthesizers, electronic percussion and digital samplers.

The second question was whether or not the surprise success of Mannheim Steamroller's "Fresh Aire" recordings, with their highly personal blend of rock, pop, classical and Muzak, could effectively be reproduced on stage.

And this answer was equally apparent. Composer/producer Chip Davis' clockwork-precise production worked very well, indeed--a virtual recording come to life (despite the replacement of the London Symphony Orchestra by a small ensemble of studio musicians).

Davis even elaborated on the recorded sound by including smoke effects, a few sight gags (a toy piano descending from the overhead flies) and three video projection screens.

Since his pieces lean toward a kind of eclectic, but very specific impressionism--with titles like "Sunset," "Crystal," "Africa" and "Midnight on a Full Moon"--the free-floating series of related visual images provided effective illustrations of Davis' musical intentions.

The engagement continues through Sunday.

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