Pequeñas Melodías by Federico Durand by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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Most of us can agree that any art form can be heightened with the help of another: we often connect, consciously or not, images to sound and vice versa. The vision behind initiative IIKKI is just that – a carefully calibrated combination of musical and visual artists are encouraged to work together, their dialog eventually resulting in two physical imprints – a book and a disc (CD or vinyl). We’ve previously spoken with IIKKI’s founder, Mathias Van Eecloo, back in June when the label was releasing their sixth edition – and they’re keeping busy, as they’ve just recently released IIKKI 007, Pequeñas Melodías.

The visual part of the project is made by the collaborative duo Albarrán Cabrera: the photographers Anna Cabrera and Angel Albarrán, working together in Barcelona, constantly seeking to portray and perhaps expand the line between real and unreal. Using multiple tools, materials and processes to reach a new platform of expression, the duo’s work has been shown in multiple galleries from all over the world. Having truly found a perfect mixture of pleasant while still thought-provoking, Albarrán Cabrera’s half of the project is a breath-taking book of photographs that touch on autumnal nature, double-exposure, darkness and light – with generously earthy tones and soft themes, the book is an absolute delight to look through, and it helps me linger in this quickly passing autumn, as frost starts clinging to my balcony windows.

The other half of the project is held by Federico Durand, an Argentina-based musician who has been releasing several albums via an array of labels, such as Spekk, Home Normal and 12k. A deeply poetic soul, Durand’s previous albums have touched on several different themes, but the core of his music always leans towards warmth and intimacy – simple yet eloquent melodies; expression through minimalism. The music for Pequeñas Melodías was recorded in La Cumbre, Argentina, on tape loops and cassettes, and just like his project counterparts, Durand utilized several tools and instruments to acquire the vibe he was after – with music boxes, synthesizer, acoustic guitar and a modular sampler, to only name a few, the album he has crafted is intense in sound while still maintaining that dignified simplicity to his pieces.

The first track on the album introduces clearly the overall theme of warm crackling and peripheral noise to the point where the melody is almost secondary; it is followed by the innocent bells of El Jardín de Rosas Antiguas, its delightful melody all but given a face – it seems to echo with a vibrating sense of life, and I am led through a rose garden, drawn by the sound of dew drops on petals, mesmerized and engulfed. Las Estrellas Giran en el Pinar teases me with a beat that never comes, the noise from the equipment hinting at a drop: and so the loop becomes hypnotizing, never losing its grip on my attention – though slightly frustrated I am mostly impressed by the feat.

The acoustic guitar gets the main role for a few minutes, and accompanied by a circular rustling, the intimacy of Los Juguetes De Minka Podhájská is palpable. The love that Duran puts into these small, unassuming melodies cannot be mistaken – it can be found so clearly in the warmth of Anís, like the early sunrays through a dusty window; or in the childish curiosity of Canción del Reloj Cucú, the unhindered exploration bringing me back to Duran’s earlier project Pavel, his musical portrayal of traditional children’s stories – “innocent and eerie at the same time”.

While IIKKI encourages both music and book to be enjoyed separately, there is no mistaking the fact that the project is no mere coincidence – there is time and effort put into every step of the collaboration, and it shows clearly when the music gets to backdrop the photography. Without taking away attention from one another, the music and the visuals complement each other to the point where I could hardly have imagined them alone – and I’d like to think that that’s one of the main goals with this entire initiative.

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Solitary High by Lavalu by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

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Dutch musician Marielle Woltring, aka. Lavalu, released her solo album Solitary High on October 5th this year. Woltring has a lot of experience performing her music live, and has years of touring under her belt. Composing under the artist name Lavalu since 2004, she has studied and played the piano since the age of three, getting well acquainted with all of the bigger names of the piano repertoire. On Solitary High, she makes the shift from performing with a band to being on her own with her voice and the piano.

Lavalu draws some of her inspiration from artists such as Radiohead, Roisin Murphy, Fiona Apple and Björk – this is audible in her style of singing and is guaranteed to please those who keep a special place in their hearts for alternative 90’s music. Considering all that, a good way to enjoy Solitary High is spending an hour lying down, listening to it with good headphones and the lyrics printed in hand (no digital distractions!), as many of us would and still might spend time with our 90’s musical heroes.

The first track, Waiting, has received a considerable amount of attention around the web; it has a beautiful flow to it, the melody and accompaniment nicely divert between contrasting and finding each other. This is a main element of Lavalu’s compositions, but she makes a point of keeping the accompaniment classical and the vocals pop.

The lyrics on the album are nice and poetic. In general, they are not too literal and not ambiguous either, apart from the final track, Too Much, which differs from the rest not only for the fact that it is a cappella but because the lyrics seem to be a separate poem, a direct break-up letter. Other notable tracks are Bare, with its peculiar melody and minimal left-hand background. Longest Dawn has a more dramatic feel to it and a nice 6/8 rhythm, making it stand out. Milk and Swaying are the tracks that perhaps give most of the 90’s nostalgia – something about them reminds me of the likes of Massive Attack. In fact, there is a resemblance with the dark, beautifully sad tone of Elizabeth Fraser’s voice throughout the album; a vibe that has so often been attempted to imitate, but rarely paralleled as naturally and effortlessly as with Lavalu. A real treat.

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Fragments of Scattered Whispers by Endless Melancholy by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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With several releases, both self-made and via labels such as 1631 Recordings and Hidden Vibes, Oleksiy Sakevych’s solo project, descriptively named Endless Melancholy, teamed up with Dronarivm and released his latest album, Fragments of Scattered Whispers, on the 9th of November. Coupled with impeccable cover art by one of our favourites, Gregory Euclide, and mastered by Krzysztof Sujata, the musician behind Valiska, the album is a beautifully crafted inward look, gently tugging at the listener’s deeply hidden memories – filled with remarkable transitions and movement of style and sensation.

After a shuddering intro to the album, with soft cries in what seems like a war zone, the album’s heavy-weight is introduced without hesitation between the tracks – Postcards is immediate and ever-present, with an unpretentious lightness contrasting the heavy, slow backdrop. The gentle melody swings securely back and forth, offering a sense of assuredness, lulling us into the second part of the track. An elaboration of the same confident kindness, I feel almost as if the track asks to take me with it – it’s a perfect melodic embodiment of “PS – I wish you were here”, and the underlying, subtle melancholic tendency grasps unforgivingly at the pit in my stomach, as the track ends on a slightly more disheartened path, as if the journey indeed took a turn, and the postcards stopped arriving.

The album moves steadily between themes: after the noisy nature of Will You Be There, we are taken in by the softly nervous embrace of In Transition From Anxiety To Acceptance – Sakevych truly shows the power of a fitting title – where the build-up of the restless looping is finally replaced by one slow, deep breath, and I am engulfed in the warm rush of rumbling droning. It is most apparent here how the artist has grown from his previous releases – a sense of caution can be sensed throughout his first works, a slight hesitation in expression, but this has been thoroughly replaced by a fearless method of “laying it on thick”: allowing for the contrasts to tell the story. The noise and the grit is there for a reason, and must be allowed proper space as well, something Sakevych has certainly embraced.

The transition to Her Fragrant Beauty passes almost unnoticeable, but the track is quickly scaled back into rustic, distorted piano, lending a paradoxical sense of eerie familiarity; like seeing a stranger in one’s most sacred place – not intruding but not entirely welcome, either, as the curious but gentle hands touch your photographs, your memories, wiping off the dust and bringing them back into the light.

The album moves gently towards its end, with the achingly slow unfolding of Slumber Waves – a track that isn’t hesitating, per se, but is truly contemplating each step; this allows for an unforced grace, the dignity of a voice that needn’t shout to be heard. Washed Away By Slow Currents brings it all together then, the shuddering ambient wails swinging into each other with that same unquestionable grace, and I find myself in the rare instance where the music conjures no words at all – I am washed over by feelings that I truly can’t find a way to describe, only a warmth in my chest and an emptiness behind my eyes. My whole being is encumbered in the soft grasp of the ending notes, as the lingering, light-hearted melody bids me farewell with twinges of corruption hinting at a sub-layer of melancholy – the same melancholy that appropriately seems to simmer around the edges of any and all of Sakevych’s magnificent art. Managing to hold such sombre themes without letting the music become something cold and disheartening is a true feat, and one that Endless Melancholy has undoubtedly come to master.

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P&C interview: Jonas Hain by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist.

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After shifting from the path of a techno-DJ to the modern-classical world, Berlin-based Jonas Hain released his debut album Solopiano earlier this year – a collection of eight gloriously melancholic tracks, inspiring the listener to become fully enamored with the piano and its many-sided possibilities. In the middle of October, Hain released a brand new single, accompanied by an engulfing, positively entrancing video, called MMXV – and he lent us some of his time to tell us all about the project.

You’ve previously spoken about how your initial interest in music tended more towards the techno genre – what can you tell me about the transition into classical music and composition? Did you bring any experiences from the techno world into the classical one?

It was a gradual process. During my studies I noticed that I was starting to develop issues with my electronic music workflow. I was so focused on the technical aspects of the composition that I just got stuck after a certain point.

When I started to compose exclusively for the piano it really felt like a fresh start. I knew that the technical possibilities are limited, and I was well aware of the fact that I wanted to avoid the mistakes I made in the past. This mindset helped me to contain my perfectionism, I just started writing music.

Do you work with any labels?

No.

Why not?

After recording ‘Solopiano’, I definitely considered presenting my debut to a few labels. However, I decided to walk the first steps on my own. When I look back at the events of the last 6 months, I feel that I've gained lots of valuable insights. I can very well imagine working with a label for ‘Solopiano II’.

Could you walk me through your creation process?

For me, the most important aspect of music is melody. In the case of my music, I can't really explain how the melodies develop. Probably that's why this process fascinates me most about composing.

From time to time I am lucky to find a melody or a musical idea that triggers something in me. If this is the case, I lay the musical sketch aside and let it rest for a while, sometimes even for months. When I come back to it after a while, I'll see if it passes the test of time. If it still affects me emotionally, I'll pick it up again to finalize the composition.

What can you tell me about MMXV?

I wrote the piece in 2015, when a friend of mine who is a director asked me if I could write a score for a segment of a film he was working on at the time. There was an imminent deadline, and the fact that the birds right outside my studio were tweeting loudly, made any recording impossible. So I waited until 4 a.m. and recorded something – anything – more or less spontaneously. The birds started singing again at around 5 a.m., and I was still lacking the counter movement. So I just quickly sampled something and underlayed it with a bassline. That is how the synth-part came together. Now, three years later, it felt like it's the right time to publish it.

Did you create the video for the track yourself?

I work together with the highly talented editor Leopold Schulenburg. He helps me develop my ideas, and he also contributes his own ideas.

Where did the idea for the video come from?

It just happened. I was on the train on my way to Berlin, listening to MMXV. I just started filming out of the window of the train with my phone.

You’ve worked with some visual media previously – where did that desire stem from?

We live in very visually driven times. Personally, I don't want the videos accompanying the music to tell a complex story; I want them to support the composition with an appropriate mood.

Any particular moment in your history with composing music that stands out to you the most?

Right now is the most exciting time for me, actually.

 

Homes by Shida Shahabi by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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After spending a lot of time and energy on a variety of projects, Swedish-Iranian composer Shida Shahabi felt fed up with the complexity and technicality of the music she had been involved with, and ventured on a path, to her, untraveled – a more honest, less produced way of composing. This led Shahabi to her debut solo production, built entirely around the piano, situated in the most intimate of settings – ones’ own home. Appropriately named, Homes is an album where depth and substance trumps ambition and technology; “These little pieces are really just about playing the way you play things and letting them sound the way they sound”, says Shahabi, “Accepting limitations and allowing yourself to create the musical states and ideas that you have without over-thinking, commenting and criticizing too much.”

This simple but utterly self-exposing way of composing culminated in a glorious collection of tracks. Jumping right into the thick of things, Abisme starts off without ado, an undeterred elegancy in the flow of the movements. The highly individual footprint of the composer is immediately introduced – it’s like a language, completely owned by Shahabi, lending the music a sort of soul or personality, instantly evident and utterly apprehensible. The piece softly wanes and settles onto a darker path, the one monotonous tone in the background growing subtly and increasing the uneasy sensation. Alone, in my own home, I should feel perfectly safe – and yet I’m overcome with an urge to call out, not knowing if I want an answer or not.

The eerie feeling is not long-lived, as the romantically simplistic swell of Smygkatt settles around me instead – a blissful loneliness takes hold of me now, as I imagine some distant stranger, dancing a lonesome waltz in their own kitchen, perfectly at ease. After the intelligently jolly Petula, a track that stands out with its vintage vibes, comes one of the major attention-grabbers; with a playful sense of running up and down the walls, Pretty In Plums has an intricate pattern looped and gently built upon, with no sense of rush or obligation. The piece stands boldly and securely, knowing the attention won’t be turned elsewhere – and truly, it’s impossible to look away. The piece perfectly symbolizes the unpretentious simplicity Shahabi was going for.

Later in the album we hear a glittering intro leading into a heavy handed, heavy hearted piece, as Vassen elaborates slowly and cautiously: like someone laying their arms out, asking to be seen. Every step seems carefully calculated and there’s a fearlessness in the trembling – with every minute the confidence grows and I am mesmerized, fully captivated, by the raw honesty of having someone lay their soul bare, with no impersonal glorifications, no attempts at grandiosity.

After the range of emotion throughout the album, the Afterword sums it up quite well, sounding like someone trying to convince themselves; going this and that way, doubt landing like a feather only to be blown into the air, and slowly settling once more. Homes certainly seems like a glimpse into someone’s everyday life – the simple sways of emotion, the day-to-day, small but noticeable differences in feeling and expression – and I can only say that I am grateful to have been allowed a peek into Shahabi’s home and mind, and hopeful for whatever she will go on to do next.

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P&C interview: Josh Alexander by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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On the 2nd of November, Bristol-based musician Josh Alexander released his debut full-length album, Hiraeth – an imaginative delve into a world of carefully weighed organic piano, analogue synthesizers and spacious ambience. With a track record of writing film scores and producing his own EP’s, Alexander ultimately decided to lock himself inside a house in Wales, with one goal – to compose an album. The project proved extremely fruitful as the musician ended up with a glorious collection of tracks, ranging from bubbly and dreamy, to sensible and thoughtful; a generous light in the dark winter slowly creeping up on us.

Let’s start from the beginning. How were you introduced to music?

I grew up in a house that always had music playing, where it would range from early 20th century classical music to Miles Davis to Brian Eno and a lot in between. There were thousands of records in the household for me to listen to – not so much a big deal now with Spotify etc, but it was pretty amazing back then to have that many records readily available. It’s had such a big impact on my own tastes, both in listening to and making music.

When did you start creating your own?

As soon as I could! I would lock myself in my bedroom for hours as a teenager, producing music on whatever instrument I could find – either a crappy casio keyboard, cheap xylophones or borrowed guitar. Anything I made would go online and I would share it as much as I could – it could be terrible music but I found that every time I shared anything it would open doors; either a conversation with other musicians or other new opportunities that would in turn lead on to something else.

Eventually, this lead me to creating various EPs under different monikers, as well as composing soundtracks for film... and now this album!

Did you ever study music?

I was classically trained in the clarinet at school, but then my musical interests veered in many different directions. I'm not a virtuoso in any particular instrument, but can just about scrape a melody out on a fair few.

What can you tell me about Hiraeth? 

I decided to give myself a project and a deadline, in which I would write and record some music in a week while I stayed in an old barn in the middle of Wales. It was freezing cold and raining a lot of the time, so it was the perfect reason to stay inside and make music! I had half a track written before I arrived, but I ended up writing a lot more than I thought I would and managed to put together the best part of an album while I was there.

Getting in touch with Moderna Records was a real shot in the dark. I'd never spoken to them before but thought I would try my luck, so it was amazing to find an email back from them the following morning saying they wanted to release the album. It's been great working with them too – they bring a keen eye for detail and a lot of passion, which I think has had a big positive impact on the album and how I work.

Could you describe your creating process for me?

It typically starts with an idea that usually comes to me while I'm walking or when I should be thinking about something else. This idea usually gets fleshed out on the piano, and then maybe I try playing these ideas out on my synths or any other instruments if I feel like it could work. I try to keep things flexible or experimental when creating, which means a lot of what I make is from 'happy accidents' that occur when I'm just playing around.

For Hiraeth I wanted to create a very intimate sound on the piano, so I placed layers of thick felt in between the hammers and strings. This allowed me to put the microphones really close to the piano, which then picks up all the nice sounds from the piano keys and other mechanical parts. I would spend a lot of time trying to pair the recorded piano with the right synth sound – I wanted to make sure the two elements complimented each other and no juxtaposition.

When Moderna were involved they helped arrange for it to be mastered by Taylor Deupree at 12k, who did a fantastic job and really brought the record to life.

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What is your biggest inspiration when composing?

With Hiraeth I wanted the album to convey the moods and feelings associated with where it was recorded – primarily the welsh countryside. You could step outside during the last light of day and see the starling murmurations, and then an hour later it would be pitch black and suddenly everything sounds a lot louder and more intense. There’s a real range of moods with the place, and I wanted to try and get that across. I approached it as a soundtrack for a building.

How does it feel to be releasing your debut album? What were your thoughts and expectations throughout the whole process?

I'm really excited to be able to share it with everyone. Over the last few months the album has changed from being a personal project to something quite different, so my expectations for it haven’t really caught up! I'm just looking forward to getting it out there.

The promotional/social media part of the album release is something that I've been quite unfamiliar with before, so that’s been a learning process for me... but thankfully the guys at Moderna have been very patient with me, haha!

Is there a particular time in your history of composing that stands out to you the most?

Composing the music for the film Pixelschatten was a big highlight for me because of how it pushed me to collaborate with everyone on the project. Making music is usually a solitary activity for me, so it was really rewarding to challenge myself in that aspect. I would have long conversations with the director about specific moods and themes, which I would then try to boil down and compose bits of music to take to the other musicians on the project. There were five of us recording the music and we would swap a lot of ideas throughout the whole process – it was great fun!

 

Los efímeros by Ulises Conti by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

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Ulises Conti is an Argentinian composer and sound artist. He has a track record of much interdisciplinary work and musically does not stay within one genre. He has produced music in the style of IDM, ambient and field recordings as well as solo piano pieces –not to mention his soundwalks and concerts for an audience of one. Los efímeros, or The Ephemeral Ones is a classical, tonal style composition for a chamber group of 15 musicians; violin, viola, cello, contrabass, French horn, trombone, trumpet, bassoon, harp and timpani. It consists of 10 small movements, recorded in the auditorium of the Usina del Arte in Buenos Aires. The work was composed on the occasion of actress/director Mariana Obersztern’s theatrical work Oberek.

Oberek is a piece for a piano, woman, audience and orchestra. It revolves around a woman lost in time wanting to find herself. She interrogates herself about her past and future – in short the work is about her introspection and reflections on the “circularity of time and creation.”

The album’s ten movements bear names in the style of classical music; starting with an overture and finishing with an elegy. The word “ephemeral” seems like an oxymoron to the topic of “classical”, but that might be a mere coincidence. Another interesting angle on the album concept is the cover, a page of sheet music titled Los Efímeros by Ulisses Conti but the music written on it is not the one on the album.

Obertura is a pensive, 3 minute introduction to the piece; it’s eerie and has an ongoing theme of a major 2nd, shifting between the strings and being expanded to the rest of the group. This is an intriguing and, well, a non-beautiful movement that makes very subtle changes of the colour of the sound. Preludio sounds born out of the same soundscape of the previous movement and then ascends in volume and intensity towards its end.

After the first two movements, Virelay wraps you into a warm blanket. The title origins from a French verse form, and here we have long phrases that vary between icy, harmonic violin strokes and a “reply” with a more romantic, warm sound to it, all answered to by the winds and accompanied in a minimal way by the harp, which frames it all in. This is one of the best album tracks and could easily touch many listeners with its breath-like phrasing.

Next we have Lied (a German form of song), performed beautifully by a solo French horn. It really is written and performed like a song for voice, it is just very pleasant in all terms. Interludio, string pizzicato accompanies winds. There are bouncy syncopations, a low profile but dramatic. This has most likely been a great fit for the theatrical work.

Divertimento by definition is originally meant to be “for amusement” as it was played at social occasions but there is nothing funny about this one. It covers a little more than a minute and a half, a “spooky carousel”-waltz with an anxious atmosphere, accompanied by some human whispering on playback. Soloists take turns carrying the main motif between them until it withers into the air.

Fantasía is the high dramatic piece here. Perhaps it fitted well to Oberek, but as a stand-alone piece this is not the album’s best. It lasts long, with the tension and volume staying quite similar apart from the very end, same is to say about the slow vibrato of the strings. It would have been intriguing to see what would have become of this one with a more nuanced and less pressured sound. The harmony and melody as written are naturally dramatic, so the challenge here would have been to make said nuances out of it. But, perhaps, that was the statement.


Promenade is a perfect follow up, minimalistic horn solo, introspective and beautifully played. A stunning melody – to call it Promenade might hint at the composer’s known Walk and Listen tours or “soundwalks”, where a group of participants go on a silent walk through a city, focusing only on the surrounding sounds.

Impromptu is a very interesting movement, with an angelic soundscape of the harp and the strings that switch between harmonics and subtle, welcoming tones and some extra hissing sounds which then accompany a wind’s melody that might have come straight out of an 18th century Italian opera. This is just brilliant.

Elegía is moody and beautifully performed by the lower strings in particular, the balanced sound between the players and the composition itself are absolutely rich with colours. As the title suggests, this is a sorrowful piece. The beginning carries a feel even of Schönberg’s Verklärte Nacht or Shostakovich’s 9th string quartet (II. mvt) but the phrases are swelled out, extended, pulled apart, the agony buried in the ground. It intensifies towards the end and finishes off with a bang.

In some cases, artists who do what Conti does, i.e. change styles between albums, seem to do so in order to make some kind of a self-approving statement; to be unpredictable. In other words, it is often an effort of mere gymnastics to keep the audience curious. In Conti’s case it seems more likely that he just genuinely wanted to compose a classical-styled piece and so he did. The compositions and personal projects speak volumes, there is no space left for a made-up artist/brand identity. There is skill and there is experience, there is a fresh, artistically thinking mind and this is obvious.

Los Efímeros is a study on musical depth, where Conti explores with great appetite the different dimensions of the chamber orchestra form. The composition flows nicely between movements. One of the best releases of 2018.

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Saint Octave by Steven Doman by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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American composer Steven Doman’s new release Saint Octave is a selection of instrumental, ambient textures spread across nine tracks that are beautifully subtle and calming. The seeds of inspiration for this music were planted in 2016 during a road trip, in which Doman left his home in Los Angeles bound for Québec, Canada, finally settling in a small seaside town called Rivière-du-Loup. Here, the composer was able to reconnect with nature, while studying French and diving into learning analogue synthesis. Over 2017-2018, this produced a fruitful creative output, creating music for Grace Singh’s documentary film “Le Dernier Souffle” and the Netflix documentary “Wild Wild Country” which forms the basis of this album.

Beginning with Afloat, sounds gently and gracefully leap from one moment to the next, as if dancing across lily pads in a lake of tone colour. Synths pulse, awash with colour as harmonies drift by, bright but slightly moody. Cédrière leads on with an old, clunky piano taking the lead, sounding almost as if the strings are being struck with soft brushes, rather than felt hammers. There is a delicacy to this sound which gives great character and depth to the timbre of the piano, shaded with distant harmonic frequencies. The steady rhythm of the piano mingles with synth that sounds somewhere between tenor flute and saxophone, with glimmers of melody stitched throughout. Next, Sun Dog opens with slowly bowed cello that is buzzy and brooding. Chunky chords ring out across the harmonic spectrum with the cello taking the lead over rippling sustained chord textures of blended synth, piano and strings.

Moving into the middle of the album, Frame features another piano sound with a personality all its own, with the metallic, brassy nature of the strings adding a subtle tinge. This track is soft, gentle, delicate and haunting, augmented with mellow bass synth and sound texture composed of resonant, spacious, reverberant creaking sounds. In contrast, the piano in the following track Snow Buntings is a much more delicate, fluttering texture, very much like falling snow. Listening closer, the delicate filaments of piano texture seem to sound like crystals as they coalesce into snowflakes. Following on with Gale, a slightly melancholic little tune, we find ourselves in a daydream with layers of sound and a beautiful depth of synth pads.

Perrennial features piano with a much more creaky sound to it, though its tune is pleasant, with a warm tone and a twinkling glimmer. Meanwhile, Moss is an experience of heightened senses amongst a feeling of lonely stillness. The solitude of this track is felt through delicate noises that leap to the fore, with a slow and brooding character in its haunting, echoed delay. Finally, La Grève leads the final sonic gesture beginning with a distant synth glimmer with the brightness of stars streaking by at light speed. Alto musings of viola meander among the grounding quality of piano chords which ring out beneath. 

One of the most satisfying aspects of this album is the way the composer is able to create a sense of variety between the tracks while still using common elements between them. The timbre of the piano especially varies from track to track, with each song having a piano bearing its own sonic signature. Paired with sound elements reminiscent of varied woodwinds and delicate synth, the album expertly walks the line between unity and variety.

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Palm House by Amparo by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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Amparo’s recent release, Palm House, opens with one of the few moments in music where I have been attracted (and extremely so) to an out-of-tune guitar line. The first moments of “Hounds” give a nostalgic tickle to the soul, and instantly brought a smile to my face. The sounds of Palm House recall the wonderful electric guitar and string layers for which Explosions in the Sky or Yvette Young are known, with a hint of the album Morning Shore (Eon Ilse) by Bath’s side project Geotic, a release composed entirely of guitar sounds taking the role of a variety of other instruments in ambient music. With a dapple of whimsy, summer glow, and misty mountain haze, the tonal elements of Amparo’s guitar and the compositional growth across a track make this album a delight to listen to while studying, driving, or lounging with loved ones.

While self-described as an ambient musician, Amparo’s creations on Palm House give a distinct impression of post-rock genre influence. Many of the tracks on the album develop in an unhurried linear way as with many ambient song structures, but the textures and sounds present in the core foundation of the music beg for a deeper consideration that the pigeonhole in which ambient music can often find itself.

Many of the songs offer clear visions of rocky landscapes and mountainous horizons, wet with morning dew – an impression well fit for the musician who is based in southern Arizona, USA. The songs, at the same time that they create these images, bleed together the way a landscape does when viewed out a car window. Much of the music can suck the listener in until they lose sense of time, and are left with the feeling that it has passed both slowly as ever, and quite fast all at once. As jarring as that may sound, it is a beautiful ride to take – one that should not be missed by enthusiasts of ambient soundscapes and mellow post-rock alike.

 

Finding Stillness by Music Within by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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Music Within’s latest release, ‘Finding Stillness’ lives up to its title, with a collection of gentle sound worlds that create a feeling of peace and stasis across fifteen tracks. Each of these songs lingers on, staying with us just long enough to get completely lost over a fifteen track journey. Additionally, there are five ‘Soft Mix’ tracks and four ‘Piano Solo’ tracks that revisit certain tunes to offer a different perspective. Self assured in their subtlety, these songs need not make any grand statement; rather they take the listener gently by the hand beckoning to access that quiet part that lies deep inside.

We begin this long form journey with ‘Dream State’ and its gentle waves of sound lapping up against the shore with strings playing open harmonies which appear gracefully as if out of nowhere. Bass eventually joins as this song slowly unfolds, set against a lustrous sheen of timbre shaded with hints of shimmering frequencies. Next, seamlessly floating on to mellow piano patiently circling is the title track, in which we are met with bittersweet chords and a soft synth doubling; gentle and uncomplicated.

Following with ‘REM’ and its glimmering warm synth and a ripple of electric guitar, the sound is comforting like cashmere, with a velvety floating melody that turns pirouettes above, as if weightless. ‘By The Sea’ begins with effervescent sounds in the background like tiny bursting bubbles of sound. A carpet of chords laid out by strings gently rolls on with a lonely cello at the fore amongst a haze of strings, voice and swells of synth noise.

‘Weightless’ begins with muffled piano, as if felt has been dropped between the hammers and the strings, joined by electric guitar and building warm synth. This track slowly evolves as it builds around a simple repeated figure. In ‘Goddess of the Sea’ an otherworldly organ sound creates a gritty glow that is sustained and grows in intensity. Like a soothing lullaby, this backdrop of sound is layered with the gentle singing of a male and female voice, doubling each other and occasionally diverging into harmonies.

Synths hinting at breathy woodwinds set the mood in ‘Quiet Mind’ with a glassy, reverberant melody of arpeggios that occasionally rises to the surface. Piano meanders as if taking a slow walk through a garden in quiet contemplation, while glacial strings ring out slowly and seamlessly, seemingly without an end. ‘Daydreams’ is a bright apparition of gleaming drone sounds of brilliant treble, juxtaposed against a bottom end of strings that bring a melancholy tinge.

‘Alpha’ waves is murky with piano played over a constant sustain pedal, allowing all the notes to ring out, holding on until they eventually die away. As the sounds bleed together in this sonic watercolour, the sounds gain subtle depth and personality with a judicious touch of synth shading. Next, with breathy, windy, hollow timbres, ‘Light Years’ builds on a harmony that widens as the strings become more mixed, and somehow these sounds feel almost like a spiritual encounter.

Back to piano, with slow moving chords, ‘Worlds Apart’ is bold and starkly spaced out, each chord like a slow step forward. ‘Floating’ follows with its sombre broken chords and mournful sustained strings. This track combines sounds in a painterly way and creates a feeling of drifting and floating, as its name suggests. Next, ‘Restore’ is like a ray of light shining through clouds on a rainy day with its long, held sonorities mingling with the sound of gentle wind and raindrops.

Leading into the final moments of the album, penultimate track ‘Calm Surrender’ gleams with a glassy, bell-like sound, with gently rolling waves of sustained synth punctuated with gentle xylophone. Finally, ‘Look Within’ rounds out this album with jangling synth textures and a sensation of being drunken, disoriented and dazed.

Overall, the effect of this album is very meditative, calming, and at times brings us closer to those elusive inner, spiritual spaces. In the right frame of mind, this music flows through the bedrock of a calm stream of consciousness. Walking the line between sound forms and light, this music is bright and leaves the listener feeling lighter. As a whole, with its long individual tracks and generous track listing, this album can occasionally be a little challenging to patiently absorb as a whole, though on the whole is a rewarding, subtle listening experience.

 

Strange Parentheses by Pepo Galán by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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Having already set himself up for quite the challenge in following up the gut-punch that was Human Values Disappear – his heart-wrenching, unbearably memorable album from last year – Spanish composer Pepo Galán decided not only to one-up himself, but to smash down the doors into yet another dimension of his own talent. Throughout his latest release, Strange Parentheses, Galán is challenging our expectations of ambient drone albums, seeming completely at ease in this newly unearthed space, as the listeners get to relish in the same tangible universe of emotion from before, with the added element of silky, delicate vocals.

After the introducing Harmony Fields Reverse, a bursting cascade of sound throwing me every which way, the gently familiar S A M O A follows, instantly establishing itself as one of the strongest points of the album with its soft sense of home. Pleasantly mixed with the warmth and care of the piano (by Sergio Díaz de Rojas), Sita Ostheimer sings with a voice like Katie Melua, so close and surrounding, I feel as though it comes from within. There’s a paradoxically grounded airiness to the whole track, painting the music a lofty, smooth golden, waving like a silken sheet in the wind. The track is well-crafted and perfectly executed, building to a non-imposing grandiosity that leaves me humbled, and aching for more.

The album takes a much colder, more industrial turn with the urban soundscape of Dead Fish On The Shore, with the sound of something shattering in slow motion, the incessant fluttering of a helicopter, much too close above you, a deafening force. The theme continues with In A Straight Line; a surreptitious clamor, at first glance just a noisy street, but I feel myself straining to hear something specific through the noise, knowing there’s something there I need, no, must understand. I feel it slip away from my grasp as the noise is slowly canceled out, replaced by a watery tumult, and I am forced to let it go – an easy feat, as the glittering sea engulfs me, allowing me only glances of the city, suddenly so very far away.

The title track ropes me into a surreal landscape, with gravelly noises, grit and aggression; I see something fighting to get out – I see movements as if from within a skintight tomb, struggling to break free. Not human, not inhuman, something in between. The intensity makes me want to avert my eyes but I fight the urge – there is something raw in the insanity, something calm in the chaos, and I need to absorb it all. I get my reward as the struggle turns inwards and a growth takes its place, as the ringing intensifies subtly, climbing higher and higher, and when it finds a delicately hopeful tune it sighs deeply and retreats back into a soft slumber.

The second half of the album allows for even more variation in sound and texture, with the naked honesty of Barco Amor (Naufragio) and Bleeding Eyes, and two tracks that were both written in 2015: High Seas Tempest offering a more aggressive approach with heavier influences and bigger turns and curves; it’s one of the more extravagant tracks with a delicately vintage foundation made modern with the droning and the experimentation with (un)natural sounds. Respectively, Almost Alone In This Life reminds me most of Galán’s previous flagship album, perhaps mostly because of its thought provoking title and truly lonesome sound.

Ending with U Broke Me, an intense urgency in the airy, pained vocals surrounded by ripples and whirring, Galán shows once more of his ability to explore his own sound without painting too much outside the lines – the album never loses its direction but still offers a wide range of emotion and nuance. I can’t say I’m surprised the album was so immensely enjoyable, but I’m delighted to say that this latest release can truly stand proud next to its predecessor.

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We Share Phenomena by Lambert x Dekker by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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We Share Phenomena by Lambert x Dekker at first strikes as simple but evocative, playful though often with more somber meanings hidden beneath. Vocal doubling, abstract percussive elements, and semi-pitch singing movements inspire almost haunted undertones over a driving musical palette. All the while, each artist stays true to their own style though the mixture produces something unique and enticing.

Many tracks from the very beginning appropriately give a feeling of being pulled or forced forward in a bleak but beautiful musical atmosphere. Throughout, the style of timing which becomes characteristic of the album is first heard – where the phrasing of musical ideas across bars is not the standard 4/4, and has the feeling of run-on sentences or the sensation of talking to oneself. Here, and lyrically elsewhere, darker themes begin to pervade the subconscious of the listener. While these themes never overpower the cold beauty of the music, they are a near constant in the album and add a wonderful layer to the sound.

We Share Phenomena is an interesting album in its ability to skirt between the sound of popular and classical genres with similar instrumentation. This continuity within the album’s sound is only more impressive when taking into account that the two musicians have never spent a moment of time in the same studio space. Lambert met Dekker as a part of Rue Royal, for which he was an opening act many years ago; since, the two have traded musical ideas digitally and have thus produced an album purely of blind creativity. What a success for such a vulnerable method to be employed between two artists and end with a beautiful yet chilling album.

 

Premiere: Jakob Lindhagen unveils video for The Tipping Point by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Sergio Díaz De Rojas

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Sweden-based composer, music producer and multi-instrumentalist Jakob Lindhagen has vast experience transforming visual elements into beautiful sounds. Some of the most notable examples of this are his film scores for the critically acclaimed Skörheten and Palme d’Or nominee Push It. However, the idea of doing the opposite never crossed his mind… until now.

Lindhagen teamed up with director and screenwriter Gabriel Schock to bring to life the music video for The Tipping Point, one of the most beautiful tracks from his latest album Paces, which we reviewed last year. Filled with experimental resources, nordic landscapes, and a few city shots, the video seems quite introspective, communicating fear and anxiety at times but mainly solitude and a longing for answers. Answers that will arrive naturally as the protagonist understands that it is necessary to go along with the current of life, even if that means going back to where all started.

Maybe that is what these visuals are about, maybe it is just my subconsciousness talking through it. Either way, this captivating work of art combines perfectly with the music of Lindhagen, and marks the ideal visual debut for an artist that has always been able to introduce you into his own world even with your eyes closed.

 

Oscillate EP by Neil Athale by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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British-Indian multi-instrumentalist composer, producer and songwriter Neil Athale makes his solo debut with his EP ‘Oscillate’. Featuring four instrumental tracks, this EP is a collection based upon the artist’s work as a film composer. These carpets of sound are very cinematic, simple but effective and are based on piano, strings, electronics blended with heavy beats and found percussive elements.

‘Fabric’ is friendly and inviting, with a melodic piano line that meanders and loops with a quality of clarity and simplicity. With a gentle glowing synth background, the piano develops with each repetition. This track is tender, as it slowly builds with a string section and woody percussion.

A pensive, slow piano melody opens up with a radiating organ timbre in the following track, ‘ This Is Home.’ Ripples of electric guitar and a tight string arrangement emerge, punctuated with brushed percussion. This track conjures up feelings of adolescence and nostalgia, as if it belongs in a coming-of-age film.

Next is ‘Fracture’ which is melancholy and contemplative with its sad, slow piano and synth melody. A contrapuntal cello joins in followed by tentative electric guitar plucks. Finally, urgent strings build to a climax in this song that cycles and builds and then decays.

Finally, ‘Blue to Red’ takes things up a notch with its heavier percussive elements. Beginning with a murmuring backdrop of noise, there is a synth sheen paired with layered strings and a clack of percussion. As the sounds all come into focus, the beat gets more emphatic with a stomping swell of foursquare percussion.

From moment to moment, these tracks flow coherently and sound slick as they exude understated emotion with a deft touch of craftsmanship. Overall this is a pleasant collection of songs though perhaps not compelling enough to be listened to by themselves without a film to accompany. They are no doubt evocative and well executed; they would indeed add great depth and drama to a movie, but fall a little flat as standalone music.

 

 

Sosiranu Piano by repair by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

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Japanese artists Yuka Taniguchi and Akira Kusaka, also known as repair, do not have much accessible information about themselves on the web in English. Neither is their music to be found on the bigger streaming platforms. This is rare in an online landscape where there is an overwhelming flow of interesting and talented artists that pour their information into the web, respectively, in hopes that it will be noticed. Sosiranu Piano was not hard to find though, but the composer behind it more so (at least for a non-Japanese reader), beyond a name.

Taniguchi plays the piano at a high level, which can be noticed both in minimal and the more dramatic passages. Trombone is performed by Kusaka which is also responsible for the charming artwork and illustrations for Repair. The duo has existed for some years now, releasing Pianoscream in 2013 and IANOS in 2015.

“Sosiranu” can’t really be translated into one English word. It can have a negative meaning, as in the manner of feigned ignorance to avoid blame. In this context, however, Sosiranu is meant to be positive. Taniguchi played the piano as a child, then after a few years of break came back to it and found that it was like revisiting the kind of friendships where it feels as not a single day has gone by. The piano was a friend who didn’t hold a grudge, as if in a silent agreement of asking no questions and pretending that it hadn’t been left out for a while –water under the bridge. This is repair’s positive “Sosiranu”. The experience was a source of inspiration for the composer, the gentle “manner” of the piano and the feeling of travelling in time while playing it again, with the tones pressed connecting past and present.

Most of the tracks show an influence here and there from the classical piano repertoire, there is a trace of Beethoven and there is an obvious nod to Eric Satie but only for a hint and then the music goes back to its own domain, a made up world supported with Kusaka’s artwork. The piano and trombone combination is more than enough for this music. There is a whimsical element to it all, the sort you would find in a Michel Gondry movie with artificial clouds around, there is playfulness, and then there is high drama where the listener can’t really tell if it’s supposed to be satirical or not. The piano playing in general is sensitive, articulate and technically very good in detail.

All in all a very pleasant discovery. Taniguchi’s concept is portrayed in an honest and convincing way, it is audible that she approaches every key of the piano in the aforementioned partnership with the instrument. The album is never too serious and never pretentious.

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光 by Ian Hagwood by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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‘光’ by Ian Hagwood is a patient, contemplative work of art. After over six years of musical hiatus, Hagwood has returned with gorgeous, lush textures that draw the listener into a world he has created. At times purely nostalgic and carefree, at others darkly pensive and even oddly upsetting, the album is crafted masterfully across the nine tracks to form a deep, complex emotional landscape.

‘光’ was written and recorded on the very piano Hagwood knew from his childhood, which may offer some explanation for the wistful and gently playful themes in the album’s composition. Hours of music were recorded onto reel-to-reel tapes, and carefully deliberate selections were made from these to appear on the album. Both the medium of recording and the creative process of amassing excess, then trimming down, result in distinct characteristics of sound within ‘光’. The warmth and even occasional pitch-modulation or echo effect can be heard sporadically from the reels, and the meandering both melodically and in arrangement – sometimes including wisps of synthesizer pads behind the piano, other times amorphous elements of audio tonal and not – give the feeling that the listener is offered a limited, but dramatically vulnerable, window into Hagwood’s own adolescence with each track.

The album was released in June of this year on Eilean Records, and a special vinyl edition designed by Rutger Zuydervelt includes 90 minutes of additional audio from the countless reels of music not featured on the album’s nine tracks. Whether in need of respite from life’s jaded, sharp negatives; desiring to escape to one’s own childhood memories for a short time; or simply seeking a beautiful collection of “auditory minimalism” as Hagwood himself puts it: the music of ‘光’ will captivate, relax, and allow creativity and contemplation to flow freely within any listener.

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Crossworlds by Joshua Van Tassel by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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Canadian composer and producer Joshua Van Tassel creates a detailed and colourful sonic drama in his fourth solo release ‘Crossworlds.’ It boldly stands alone but is also part of a greater whole, accompanied by a novella penned by Van Tassel in collaboration with Jordan Crute, with illustrations by Geordan Moore. This concept album, told in nine chapters and built on a richly orchestrated electro-acoustic blend tells the tale of an old woman who is left to defend her small island from a force not of this world. This maritime story with a science fiction twist combines submarine field recordings, orchestral strings and brand new instruments created at the National Music Centre in Calgary.  

Beginning with ‘Rebirth’ we are greeted with a low, groaning drone and a shimmering twinkle in the treble leaving us transfixed in a sense of wonderment, wide-eyed with this song’s sweeping sense of vastness. Xylophone layered with glassy synths chime out an alien melody, building with doubled strings as the grandeur swells. This brightness, awash with sampled textures taken  from underwater in Newfoundland then slowly disintegrates, yielding to something dark and menacing, leaving a sense of uneasiness.

We are introduced to the protagonist in the following track, ‘The Old Woman,’ which features acoustic guitar and a jaunty bass line, which lies beneath a lamenting synth melody. Soft drums build with orchestral strings, harmonisation and countermelody thickening as the tapestry expands. Imagining all the elements of the orchestration as different nuanced facets of this character, there is a sense of playfulness spiked with a hint of melancholy, and a lingering feeling that this person is someone familiar.

‘The Infirmary’ begins with a distant, far-off piano figure dancing in a thick, hazy mirage of synth as the atmosphere develops, and then xylophone rings out brightly above with a spacey reverberation. The motif builds and then this slow dream state is spliced with a contrasting sound world as programmed drums slice in: a dramatic recapitulation with a hint of indie rock’n’roll. As the crescendo builds to dizzying heights, the sound is scintillating, with oscillating harmonies brilliantly shining, soaring up to a frenzied dissolution of jagged white noise, before being sucked into silent oblivion.

As these tracks follow on one after the other with a sense of linear flow, we next arrive at ‘Legacy’ in which xylophone pensively rings out its melody over a substrate of electronic sound. A chordal piano accompaniment joins in with a synth that is almost camouflaged as an accordion amongst thel strings that surround. The dramaturgic feel to this music gleams like distinct rays of theatre spotlights, shining through the dust and onto an empty stage. Snare drum rolls build as the strings become denser in a brief climax, before a moment of suspense is broken by the quiet whispering of this wistful tune once more.

Seductive and beguiling, ‘Passenger’ swoons and sways in a gritty, unsettling sonic texture, and sounds almost as if an orchestra has crashed an underground party in some dark warehouse. This is a sound world inhabited by alien whirs, with slipping, sliding strings that swerve around a distant, thudding kick drum, creating a slowly materialising visceral sensation and gritty pulsating rhythm. Exploding into a gravelly, meteoric dream beat, this track kicks into overdrive over buzzing, brassy sustained bass, then drops away to dewy piano and a glint of sound samples.

In ‘A Turning Tide,’ wildly thrashing tentacles of sound and a howling melody give way to waves of fragmented repetition. Atop a rapidly pulsating texture, piano and xylophone double a melody with sparse acoustic guitar strumming. As epic drums build beneath, the bleeping synth texture develops a distorted, almost psychedelic tinge. While the beat accumulates and grows with urgency to a crescendo of heightened dynamics and texture, the cyclical sense of development spirals in tighter and tighter, before finally the sound flickers and dies away. 

Following on with ‘Sacrificed,’ the pace drops right back, with slowly falling synth pulses, eventually joined by a lonely piano melody with growing, flittering, fluctuating synth and hints of strings. As the sound intensifies with heavily slammed percussion, emphatic and insistent, the string melody thickens and the sound radiates with incandescent brilliance. Suddenly, the mood changes to something far more menacing, with an aggressive, sinister surge of sound that roars four times with incredible intensity, like the last dying breaths of an angered behemoth.

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With an uneasy piano melody swaying between semitones, ‘Failure’ is angular and becomes manic as it progresses, with queasy strings that smear around in wide vibrato. Then suddenly, an interjection of maddening pizzicato and plucky synth texture takes over, before being joined by drums that build into a percussion breakdown. The ensemble slowly joins in reaching for a yet higher climax, before abruptly dropping off.

‘The Ferry’ is the final chapter of this sonic narrative journey, ushered in with rolling snare drum and distorted piano and is like looking through frosted glass. A lyrical violin melody navigates its way through the fog, and is then bolstered with a piano doubling. Slow trills of wavering strings come in and out, and a painterly blur of choir, strings and synth build a warm glow that envelopes the growing arrangement. Broken piano chords in rising arpeggios reach upwards, concluding on a mysterious harmony that leads off into the distance, disappearing into the faint whirs of synth.

There is immediate dimensionality to the way this album unfolds, expertly arranged with a theatrical sensibility that makes you feel completely enveloped. With a fantastical aura seeping into the orchestration, these songs feel like music theatre without words, replete with developing motifs and a strong sense of character. We are drawn into a story that builds around us like a moment of clarity and deep mindfulness, as these songs deftly morph and blend between a breadth of sounds that are disparate but unified.

 

Premiere: Vicissitude by Cameron Brooks by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Sergio Díaz De Rojas

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In a world where so many self-proclaimed artists publish exceedingly unimaginative and shallow piano-based albums almost every week with no apparent interest about anything but Spotify streams, it is always a pleasure to come across record labels like Subtempo, so carefully curated, and that understand the necessity to take some time to find the right artist and release.

Cameron Brook, their most recent signing, is only 21 years old but already composes music able to touch the deepest corners of our souls, easily compared to the beautiful works of Daigo Hanada, Zinovia Arvanitidi or even Keaton Henson’s highly acclaimed Romantic Works. His upcoming EP, Vicissitude, is a very innocent but nevertheless profound, intimate and, most importantly, sincere collection of pieces revolving around the piano, also including violin, viola, and violoncello, that were brought to life while he was recovering from depression.

Vicissitude, the title of the EP, is the main idea behind this record: change and unforeseen circumstances, it speaks to the passage from darkness into the light and the ongoing journey to get there. The music was born from a dark place and the compositions and the instruments brought light to a much needed time of personal struggle. The result is a deep and piercing emotive sound.

The opening track is an over-six-minutes-long journey of solo piano that gets more interesting as minutes pass thanks to Brook’s skillful ways to introduce new elements. There are a few performance mistakes that would normally break the illation of music but that, on this very particular case, add a raw feeling to the piece and don’t bother me at all. To Glimpse and Hope, the second and third track respectively, count with the participation of Brook’s friends on the strings, appearing at the right moments in the right ways, offering us the most optimistic moments in the whole EP, as the titles imply. The closing track, Final Solace, goes back to solo piano and invite us to a more melancholic and nostalgic world, but not in a sad way. On the contrary, it is about the good kind of memories, the ones you keep in your heart forever.

Vicissitude is the ideal introduction into a music scene that loudly begs for more honest and genuine artists, and here at piano and coffee we can only thank Subtempo and Cameron for this touching release.

 Picture by Ben Brooke

Picture by Ben Brooke

 

Periphery by Danny Clay by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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Slaapwel Records, the Belgian label specialized in releasing music to fall asleep to, recently collaborated with the US composer Danny Clay and produced Slaapwel xiv, Periphery. Clay has collaborated with several different labels, and has already worked together with Slaapwel curator Stijn Hüwels, so the decision to join forces for a “sleepy soundtrack” came naturally. The base for the four tracks is a simple tune Clay remembers from a childhood visit to his grandparents’ church, a tune he develops and unravels in four different but equally nuanced fashions, and the result is 45 minutes of lulling bliss. 

Periphery 1 introduces us to a soft, gentle spirit, with grand ambience and minimalistic piano, side by side with cello and flute. Their voices bloom out into the whooshing sensation of the shimmering background, and slowly succumb to their surroundings, the ever hovering ambience. There's a lovely, unbothered sensation to the track, as if anything could come next, so there's no need to think too hard about it - instead it allows a freedom to let the mind wander, accompanied by the absentminded tinkering on the piano, truly as if part of the shimmering periphery and not something we could see from straight on. 

The second track has a delicately soothing effect, though something slightly somber is shuddering just out of reach. I feel placed in an empty field, with nothing but a gentle breeze as company - cello like the earth rumbling beneath; flute like the odd bird calling out to her brethren; piano like a translator of my thoughts, portraying them so soundly - clear and full of purpose for just a moment at the time, and then fleeting again, floating away unspoken, unheard. Then, halfway through, the sun is setting and stars pop up, one, two, then all at once - the breeze, though warm, is slowing down and the flute tells me of the constellations, the cello speaks of night time cicadas, the piano whispers of the way the whole land just holds its breath in the moonlight.

Periphery 3 has more purpose in every movement, a thought to every nuance - there's an intoxicating awareness in the air. The track moves like a painter with millimeter precision, brush hovering, one perfect stroke at the time, never rushing. Again there's this perfect balance of piano, cello and flute, where no one is claiming too much space, yet none is left with more to say. 

In Periphery 4, now completely tucked in and with heavy eyelids, we relish in the unafraid fragility of the flute, the ultracalm, provident cello, and the piano with the curiosity to roam a little more freely. Truly like three sentient entities with three very different sounds and personalities, the instruments have been used to their each respective full potential, and perfectly weighed up by the surrounding ambience. The long tracks of the album allow for an unhurried pace, where every second can be appreciated to full extent, and the pauses are equally important. To listen to this ensemble of instruments in a slow, thoughtful conversation, one musing after the other, their voices one at the time or perfectly interblending, truly put my soul at ease, and if you ever find yourself with trouble sleeping, do yourself a favor and look to the Periphery. 

 

Variations Vol I by Jesse Woolston by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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New Zealand born, Los Angeles-based composer and visual artist Jesse Woolston returns with his second release of 2018, Variations Vol I which explores sound design and mood with a range of techniques. A collection of tracks that repurpose and re-interpret instruments in ways that are cinematic and compelling, this release is abstract yet accessible. The relationship between sight and sound seems inextricably linked for this artist whose visual work and sound work inform each other.

Like a modern revisitation of 1970s Spectralism, this project seems more focused on content than form, burrowing yet deeper into the sonic possibilities of the minutiae of sounds. Though these tracks begin and end with no sense of journey, we are nonetheless transported; a shift in sensation of both space and time. There is a deep analytical sensibility that comes across in the music, every detail carefully considered, and every idea rendered in high detail. The interplay between crispness and distortion lends a depth to the listening experience and a presence and immediacy to the sounds as they unfold.

Opener ‘Leaves of Grass’ is an eerie entrée with its complex timbres that deceive the mind, like an auditory illusion of sound that defies categorization. Droning, throaty tonalities glide between strings, winds, and hints of brass. The scene is set as a motif emerges: expressive and primal, sending ripples through time. As the hoarse, expressive texture builds and harmonizes with itself in echoed delay, this sound reaches deep inside, like an ancient memory of the collective unconscious.

‘Piano Form II’ pushes the familiar sonority of piano into unfamiliar territory, with a depth of sound foregrounded with plucked and struck piano strings set against a shifting backdrop of rippling, evolving texture; spikes of sound peeking through and wavering like sea anemone tentacles swirling in the tide. There is a great visual sense of photographic depth of field in the images this track conjures up: a shifting, sharp focus juxtaposed against a blurred background of whirling wind. Timbre is broken down into far-flung frequencies, as the singularity of sounds is exploded into its constituent parts.

Leading on from here, ‘What Once Was’ blurs boundaries between timbres, overlapping and shapeshifting in hybrid pulses of sound; a rippling mirage of organ, strings, winds, and horns, all at once, or perhaps none of these things. As we relinquish the need to define and categorize, allowing the sounds just to unfold in our ears, stillness emerges, the depth of experience revealed in observing this alien experience of an undulating surface of sound. Overwhelmingly, this piece seems to feel like time itself coming full circle, a beginning and an end: simultaneously of the primordial and of the last faint glimmers of a not so distant future.

Like a whale’s song, ‘The Meeting’ is a listening experience that is immersive and distorted, as if heard underwater. It is deep and dark, with a pervasive sense of distance, emptiness, and space. Otherworldy strings icily glide through dissonances, creating a comfortable tension with no yearning for resolution. Deep bass impulses and stark, buzzing, brassy tones increase this tension as we sink deeper into this sonic world, before our perception is oriented upwards to the glimmers of light rippling above on the surface as the sounds die away.

‘Entering The Prism’ continues on with this submarine sound texture, now boiling, bubbling and effervescent. Like vast wobbling pockets of air rushing for the surface, this track is oceanic, wrapped and layered with a thin atmosphere that encapsulates its core. Inside, there is a sense of restlessness in ricocheting sounds but there is a soft, warm, crystal glow that finds its way in from the outside.

The final track ‘Among The Living’ is a sparse, delicate conclusion; a chromatography of piano separated out into sound colors. Fragments of piano hammer impulses, split tonalities, and spaciousness create a delicate web of sounds. Our internalized concept of chords is obliterated by single notes becoming chords of their own; a heightened illumination of their harmonic series, shaded by the less tonal elements of this percussive instrument.

This collection of tracks feels alien yet intimate, distant but strangely familiar. The moods created by these closed circuits of sound seem to yearn for a visual accompaniment, be that of the imagination, or in a film. This music effortlessly casts shadows in the mind’s eye, teasing and tricking our perception in subtle yet startling ways. In every track there is just enough space between that each element takes on a multiplicitous presence, as a new dimensionality emerges; perception measured in an entirely different scale.