P&C interview: R Beny by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Norqvist

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Austin Cairns, based in California, is the musician behind the electronic ambient project R Beny, through which he has self-released two albums and just recently released a third album via Dauw. Saudade, which is a Portuguese word for a melancholic state of mind, is filled with glittering synth and airy droning, tracks with a slow-burning build up and cascades of warmth. Austin is indeed a master of modular synthesis, and the emotion and passion he feels for the music he creates resonate clearly in every track he produces.


Austin, how were you introduced to music? Did you ever study it?

Music has been a part of my life for a very long time. I grew up with musicians in my family; my grandparents were bluegrass multi-instrumentalists and my mother played the piano. Despite my close proximity to music growing up, I didn’t truly start my own journey with music until I picked up a guitar at age 13. I took lessons for a little while, but beyond that, I am self-taught with no music theory training.

When did you start creating your own music? How did you come to explore ambient modular music?

A major reason for wanting to start playing the guitar was to play with my friends. So, from the beginning, we were creating our own compositions… for better or worse! I would also dabble with ambient guitar music from time to time, using loopers and other guitar pedals. I played guitar in many bands throughout my teens and early twenties, up until a few years ago. I was struggling with depression and anxiety and hit a major creative wall. I quit the bands I was playing in and sold off most of my music gear.

After about a year of no musical output, a friend of mine showed me a synthesizer he bought and we spent an afternoon jamming on it. I was hooked! I bought a similar cheap synthesizer for fun, but quickly realized the synthesizer’s creative potential. It didn’t take long for me to accrue a small studio’s worth of electronic instruments and to start making music again. A few months into my synthesizer journey, I started seeing demo videos on YouTube of modular synths and didn’t exactly understand what I was hearing or seeing, except that it sounded beautiful and beyond this world. I wanted to be a part of that.

Getting into modular was a revelation. For the first time, I felt like I was making music that I had always wanted to make and I was working within a creative process that allowed me to express myself.

Could you describe your creating process for me? Has it changed over time?

My creative process is not exactly set in stone. It may vary from project to project, it’s constantly evolving and changing. For recording projects, the creative process from idea to recording is very much tied together.

I usually have a general idea of a direction I’d like to go in, or at least a jumping off point. For example, I will feel inspired by something – this may be an experience, a memory, a feeling, a place, a person, a song, etc., and I will start by slowly patching and searching for a sound or texture to match from one of my synthesizers, running it through different filters and effects. Once I have something I like, I usually play around with melodies until something stands out to me.

I will record that part for a lengthy period of time and that creates the skeleton of the song. From there, everything is about building up other parts around that initial part. Searching for sounds that fit. The writing and recording process happens at the same time.

What or who is your biggest inspiration when composing?

I’m inspired by nature and emotion.

What can you tell me about Saudade?

Saudade came together very quickly, but also took a while to get to. Pieter of Dauw and I started talking after I had self-released my first album Full Blossom of the Evening in 2016. I think I initially hesitated to say yes to do a release for Dauw, mostly because I had a very positive experience self-releasing and I like having creative control over every little detail. I don’t think it took long to agree to do a release. Dauw’s pedigree as a label, as well as their true love for the music and art they put out, made it an easy choice.

It took quite a while to finally get a release together. I had an extremely busy year and ended up deciding to self-release my second album Cascade Symmetry. Saudade was recorded and worked on around the same time as Cascade. As the year was coming to a close, Dauw asked if they could release something early in the year and Saudade was the result.

In a way, the two albums are sister albums. Cascade Symmetry is about looking forward and moving on. Saudade is about yearning for the past and sifting through old memories.

What were the main differences in self-releasing and releasing through Dauw? What were your thoughts and expectations throughout the whole process?

Not as much work, haha!! Okay, that’s definitely not true, it has just been distributed differently.

In self-releasing, finishing the recording of the album is just the beginning. From there, it’s contacting and communicating with the mastering engineer for the masters, contacting and setting everything up with the manufacturers of any physical product, creating and getting the artwork ready for print, selling and shipping the physical product, sending the album out for review and press, promoting the album on social media. It’s a lot for one person to do.

With Dauw, it’s been nice to have some of those responsibilities lifted. In that, I was able to focus on the music a little more, knowing I’d have some support once I finished recording.

I could not be happier with how the whole process has gone down. Dauw has been immensely supportive. Ian Hawgood did a fantastic job on the master. Femke Strijbol’s artwork fit so well with the music, I got chills the first time I saw it. Charlotte Lybaert made a lovely, hypnotic video for the title track that absolutely nailed some of the feeling I was trying to convey with the album.

Lastly, any particular moment in your history with composing/experiencing music that stands out to you the most?

I’ve been fortunate enough to experience quite a few highlights. I think the best thing to me has been getting to know the online synth and modular community and getting to meet and share the stage with other artists who continually inspire.

If I had to distill it down to one moment, it would be getting to play the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco last year. I grew up going to shows there and have seen so many of my favorite bands and artists play there. It’s long been my favorite live music venue and is a place near and dear to me. I was lucky enough to be asked to open for a band playing there and the whole experience was beyond surreal. 

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Skylight by Elskavon by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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Skylight by Elskavon in an immersive and captivating listen from beginning to end. Every track is bursting with character and color, and the sonic layers of detail go too deep to fully appreciate with one play through, giving the album distinct replay value. The album’s tone is set beautifully with the opening track, Harvest, which tremors from glistening high guitar notes and skips down to a lower register, giving space for a voice drenched in reverb to sing haunting vowels. Progressing in this way, the track adds more textures from piano both bright and mellow in sound, and perhaps other stringed instruments besides electric and acoustic guitar. Altogether the track forms an immaculate quilt of wandering phrases which alone would be quite plain but together illustrate the accomplished hand of Chris Bartels, the man behind Elskavon.

As Syna follows, more aggressive and booming bass frequencies are confidently explored, though only for a moment, offering a glimpse of a perhaps darker side of the compositions in Skylight. However, after a brief respite to the treble timbre, high fidelity strings and echoing vocals, the bass re-enters the song’s motif in an altogether major and bright tonal voice. Alongside picked guitar chords – a more tangible mechanic of music than we’ve heard from guitars so far in the album – Syna declares that the possibilities within Skylight are not solely passive and ambient. 

This same statement is repeated throughout the album every time a track might float too far in the direction of ambience, whether by a clear and driven piano melody, assertive orchestral strings holding a bowed note, or synthesized drums chopping out a determined rhythm. The beauty of this album lies in how delicately it skirts the line between the ambient genre and more active types of music. With an opener such as Harvest, one might be encouraged to lay back and perhaps even nap along to the tunes. But with the energetic atmospheres that lie ahead in the album, one might find this to be more of a challenge than expected.

Elskavon has been creating music for years and has in the past generated three separate albums within three years’ time. Concerning Skylight, however, Bartels chose to spend more time with the music before sending it into the world. As he himself has called it, the album is “a labor of love” whose resulting quality of detail and composition is astounding. 

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While the sonic atmospheres and purposeful drives of Skylight are noteworthy, the title track best exhibits another wonderful characteristic of the album – the power of storytelling through music. The track begins with a lighter section of the same ambience, though punctuated by clear vocals and quiet but persistent rhythmic synth chords. The song pauses midway, then blurs into a dramatic second section full of lush pianos, deep bass drum booms, and a more focal singing voice. Within the arc of this song can be felt the ache of love for family or a romantic partner, the sorrow of loved ones lost, the drive to accomplish personal goals or the striving to better ourselves for the good of those around us. The song is a gorgeous exploration of these intense emotions, all without directly implying any of them.

Skylight by Elskavon is a true work of art in the medium of sound, and Bartels’ patience and loving labor have paid off more so than he may realize. We can only hope that the next installment in Elskavon’s discography will be equally grandiose, but until then, it will be more than enough to relish every minute of Skylight as we wait.

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Purchase and stream Skylight on your prefered platform

 

Premiere: Illuminine unveils video for Dualisms #2 (Studnitzky rework) by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

Soon to be released, #2 Reworks is a collection of several artists’ reworks of the Belgian artist Illuminine’s album #2, and as true believers in collaboration, we here at Piano & Coffee Co. couldn’t be more thrilled to see the release of an album celebrating the magic that inevitably comes from helping each other out. The first single off the album, Dualisms #2, re-interpreted by Studnitzky, is accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful video made by Melina Rathjen, filmed entirely on Iceland.

The video is a compilation of clips from nature, where the ocean – just as in the video for the original track – seems to have the main role. Birds soar in slow-motion, chirping in the background, as soft techno beats blend with the gentle, ambient neo-classical of Illuminine. The chugging up-tempo lends an intriguing feel to the otherwise striking melancholy of Dualisms #2 and creates a beautiful mix of soft and rough, as mirrored in the video – the rough of sharp rocks; the softness of ocean waves rolling gently across even the most jagged of surfaces. Two sides in perfect harmony, portrayed even more clearly as industrial clips are thrown in, alongside a slightly more aggressive sound, breaking the natural surroundings without actually changing the mood.

A perfect example of how new sides to any artwork can provoke new thoughts and emotions, Dualisms #2 has our expectations high for the coming album, and we can’t wait for its release – but until then, this Studnitzky rework will be playing on repeat.

 

Light-House by Marta Cascales Alimbau by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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Using her experience in composing music for dance, theatre and audiovisuals, Barcelona-based pianist Marta Cascales Alimbau recently released her debut EP Light-house, after gaining inspiration from her stay on board of an old houseboat in California. A mix of both new and renewed tracks, the EP holds six pieces for piano, violin and cello, beautifully influenced by Bach, Debussy and Arvo Pärt, alongside the natural sounds and senses from the environment in which she actualized her EP.

Light-house begins with Pärt, a Spartan track, with violin and cello like two voices in a conversation, and there is something so engaging about the minimalism of airy strings, two bodies in a dance, singing in a language you’re not sure when you learned. Soon after comes House, instilling instant nostalgia, as I find myself looking out the window of a moving train, melancholy keeping the outside world firmly away – I hear and feel nothing but the gentle tugging of the beautiful track, the dancing melody telling of things I’ve done and things I’ve yet to do. The warmth of the tender piano is like two hands holding mine, reassuring me that things will work out.

We waltz into madness as Pleut takes the lead – eerie, unkempt melodies that suddenly burst into bouts of clarity, only to be overtaken by the darkness creeping ever closer. Then follows the magnificent Tide, with whispering waves rolling in the background, as strings lend an unyielding elegance to the sound while gorgeously waving from sober lightness to dread and sorrow. With such a humble mix of paces and emotion, and Marta expertly braiding the transitions together, this track, on its own, seems like a whole life story compressed into five minutes of blissful immersion.

A whole new side to the pianist is introduced as the intrigue of Bachiana entails, with variations of the same melody and subtle nuances in the hints of eastern themes. The EP ends on a softer note, with the unpredictable Arvo, its grand, slow melody like something rising out of the ocean. This track rings with the sense of a slow improvisation, every note feels like hanging off a ledge, not sure where it’s taking us next. Like the unheard musings of some quiet prodigy, Arvo is a lonely voice telling of phenomenal things to the endless sea, and a beautiful ending to this stunning EP that takes me right to that old houseboat by the San Francisco Bay. 

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Purchase Light-house on Bandcamp and stream it on Spotify.

 

Left by the Sail Road by Mark Deeks by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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Left by the Sail Road, a recent full-length album by pianist Mark Deeks, pays homage to the English coast of Northumberland. The music quickly speaks for itself that this album was inspired by landscapes of grassy hills, rocky shores, and the constant waves of the North Sea. Within the first tracks, this imagery and more is delivered in musical form, along with a familiarity and friendliness that can only be felt towards something one considers a past home.

While Deeks has previously released the album Lightburst, which also credits inspiration from his home of Northumberland, Left by the Sail Road is distinctly more driven by the theme of setting. Approaching directly the role of water in the coastline of Northumberland, Left by the Sail Road has a clear influence of water as an element of division and of unity, and as an element of empathy and of apathy. From track to track and even within the songs themselves, musical direction can shift as swiftly as the currents of the sea, creating a characteristic unpredictability unique to oceans and seas alone.

The album floats peacefully from track to track, from progression to progression, with ease. Musically, little of the album commands the listener’s attention, and this observation is meant as praise. Many musical homages try (and often struggle) to convey specific, gripping tales of joy, heartbreak, love, and loss. All of these themes are present in Deeks’ album if the listener pays close attention,however they are there within the music to be taken or left; all the music of Left by the Sail Road asks is that you consider the setting of these stories.

Such is the particular approach for which Deeks deserves recognition most: while beckoning the listener down a narrative path, the music never insists it. Rather, the listener can explore the music at will, floating from one aspect of the auditory landscape to the next at their own pace, or if desired take the full plunge into the emotional journey offered by Left by the Sail Road. For these reasons and more, Deeks’ most recent album is an admirable addition to his growing discography.

 

 

Forgotten Fields by Forgotten Fields by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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Forgotten Fields’ self-titled album weaves slow, meditative notes with occasional upbeat atmospheres to form a tapestry mirroring the poetic verses that go hand in hand with the album. It explores various instrumentations but a reoccurring voice is that of gentle strings which are present in the background of most tracks. While the album’s sound is composed largely of computer-generated acoustic instruments, this element offers a sort of comfort and familiarity; rather than utilizing a soundscape of grandeur with live orchestral pieces and booming drums, the album is more approachable and less intimidating in this fact.

The themes of Forgotten Fields deal with memory as an emotional catalyst. The very namesake of the album is that of a place once important in life which is forgotten, only to be rediscovered later when life is much different. This theme is likely relatable for many listeners – I can at least confirm that for myself – as physical spaces can relate directly to periods of time and memories of the adventures, relationships, and dreams of that time. Places, in memory, often even evoke a specific emotional response subconsciously, before our conscious mind can catch up to the emotion and rationalize it.

Far away and left untrodden
Under summer skies
Lie the fields I had forgotten
Where the swallow flies!

While listening to the tracks, or “verses” of the album, as they correspond to the verses of the parallel poem, the topic of memories is one toward which the mind wanders quite naturally. Memories themselves are a distinctly double-edged sword: when you might desire more than anything to recall something specific, it often evades your grasp, yet when you least expect it you can be inexplicably struck with the most fully detailed and complete vision of a time some years ago, without reason or warning. These happenings can bring about strong yet confusing emotions which escape explanation. Fortunately, art – written, visual, or musical – volunteers to explain what tongue cannot. As such, the metered lilt of Forgotten Fields invites us to surrender our language for what is a mellow and welcoming musical experience.

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Purchase Forgotten Fields on Bandcamp and stream it on Spotify.

 

Artist spotlight: Shreya Gupta by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Sergio Díaz De Rojas

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After four years of working as an IT engineer, Shreya Gupta quit her job in India and moved to New York to pursue her dream of becoming an artist. A graduate of School of Visual Arts, she is now working with Google, The New York Times, Fast Company, and many other relevant companies. This is the fascinating story of an incredibly talented and hard-working artist.

Her illustrations contain patterns of lines and abstract elements that are always narrating a story – from how women in science are coming forward to confront sexual harassment to the tale of a magician fighting zombies while traveling dangerous lands. There are so many details in each picture that you can spend several minutes observing them without losing a spark of interest. Personally, I find captivating the usage of color in each of her works.

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Shreya says that her stylistic approach isn’t hugely affected by her Indian upbringing, and that is evident. I would even dare to say that her work is somehow influenced by Japanese art – Yuko Shimizu, for example.

She has created visual stories for books, magazines, newspapers, as well as for packagings, and has recently signed with a literary agent with plans to start working on her own children’s book. It is impossible to know what the future holds for this artist, but whatever it is, I am sure it will be as brilliant and beautiful as her work. 

I would love to finish this article by sharing the answer Shreya gave in an interview to Make - Nice when they asked her if there is a maxim that she lives and works by. 

If someone else can do it, so can I
— Inspiring words told to a very young me by my grandpa, that I always held on to.
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Find more of Shreya's work on her website and Instagram.

 

Human Values Disappear by Pepo Galán by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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In the beginning of November of last year, Spanish composer and multi-instrumentalist Pepo Galán released a new ambient experimental album called Human Values Disappear. The album is a strong commentary on the daily struggles we find ourselves in – the loss of decency and mutual respect, leading to a society where we’re too busy focusing on our own shortcomings that we forget or neglect to see what goes on all around us: a world in chaos, painted by distrust and dishonesty. With the help of Lee Yi and David Cordero, Galán has created this album in an effort to portray the haunting road we’ve begun travelling, and it is as poignant as it is disquieting.

The title track, featuring Lee Yi, is a gripping one, sorrow painted intensely across each long note – the droning and clattering perfectly explain both inner and outer turmoil of any human being in today’s world. The wind screeches, waves are crashing and the track ventures into a melodic ringing where unpredictable smattering paints pictures of forest fires being drenched by flighty showers of rain – I hear the horns like warning signs to stay inside, close the doors and the windows, forget you were ever here.

Following this intense track is another cacophony of ringing, as We Are All Welcome Here featuring David Cordero sets off. It starts off gentle but climbs fast into a whirlwind of sound, like a thousand birds shattering through the painted glass windows of a church, and everything moves so slowly. The ringing intensifies in perpetuity it seems, and the changes are slow and fastidious, nothing is left to chance. As the ringing drifts off it is replaced by the eerie Old Testament, a low dissonance accompanied by small bursts of input – like communicating with something that’s not quite real, but utterly calming none the less; a sense of something neither good nor bad, but alive and inquisitive.

After a short intermission with the mesmerizing melody of Half Moon, another collaboration with Lee Yi follows, as Almost Alone In This Life tells of that connection with something eternally far away, the distant memory of the values we once had, trying desperately to recall and re-establish. There’s chugging like that of a train on a railroad, telling of a movement ever forward; there’s gritty, hungry noise of mayhem as constant distractions from this goal – but we have to power through, we have to reach that place where we can find each other again. Sacred Autumn comes next, with a powerful ignition of ominous and emotive strings, building steadily towards that intense ringing – the sounds move straight through you, like the wind pressing on your chest when you stand on a cliff with your arms outstretched – it’s terrifying but you feel so awake.

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Then we find a healthy familiarity in Few Dollar More, with hopeful scribbling, chirping and rustling, accompanied by the gently grand droning telling of this urgent decay of our world going under. With this track, the album comes to its conclusion, and though it is a petrifying tale, that eternal grain of hope is always on the outskirts of your mind, soothing the worst of the angst. Galán’s creation is as beautiful as it is important, and I can only hope it will be the reminder many of us need, to take a second to actually look at the lives we are living and the choices we are making.

 

Sketches by Various Artists by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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The album Sketches, collaboratively created by Sjors Mans, Harrison Mountan, Dominique Charpentier, Joakim Alfvén, and Klangriket, is a diverse journey through a variety of musical voices. Each artist offers exactly two tracks to Sketches, and the composition of each individual song, as well as the album as a whole, provides a truly pleasant listening experience.

Being a pianist myself, the words of Harrison Mountan about the album strike me as particularly true – “There is nothing quite like sitting down at the piano and playing. Just playing. There is this weird place you get to where the magic starts to happen.” I am lucky to say that I have personally experienced that magic, and it is a beautiful and enigmatic thing. However, what Sketches challenges us to consider is that this particular moment of magic – this weird place that is attainable through music – must be slightly different from person to person. It is this very idea that makes Sketches the gorgeous work of musical art that it is.

Ask any musician, and they’ll likely tell you about the powerful effects that are produced by communing with other musicians. The opportunity to expand oneself creatively by spending time with other musicians is a distinct and wonderful feeling, and one that requires humility, vulnerability, and open-mindedness. When Sketches was in its first stages, many of the artists didn’t know each other. Nevertheless, by the end of the process it is sure they gained new friendships and new musical partners in each other.

Sketches, when listening to it as a complete work of art rather than a sectioned collection, evokes a succinct yet colorful emotion of humanity; that is to say it is at once relatable and complex, flawed and beautiful, and altogether honest. The tracks of course differ greatly, but in so doing create an otherwise impossible story for a single artist to tell. Thus, the endeavors of Sketches are refreshing, nuanced, and worth every moment of listening. 

 

P&C interview: Otto Totland by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

In a follow-up to Pinô, his spectacular debut solo album released 2014, Otto A. Totland has released another quietly beautiful album, produced by the legendary Nils Frahm. Ultimately an expansion of his debut album, the Lost tells stories of an escape from everyday life where genuine connection is lost in the overwhelming quantity of interaction. The Norwegian composer has an infallible way of utilizing every single aspect of the gorgeously vintage recording technique, where warmth and intimacy is key; to further portray the lingering hope to his pieces.

How were you introduced to music? When did you start creating your own?

I’ve always felt a natural pull towards creating music, since I was very young. I wasn’t immediately drawn to the piano – I started making music with computers and music software. It started with “trackers”, where you plot in the music note by note. Later I moved on to sequencers and MIDI keyboards – and that is where I started learning to play the keys.

I learned a lot from this. Recording bass-lines, drums, string chords and so on via MIDI to build my compositions. I tried piano lessons just a couple of times, but that really wasn’t anything for me – I wanted to explore the instrument on my own terms. It’s a slower process for sure, but I believe I developed my own characteristic going that path. The transition from working with computers, synths and sequencers to focusing more and more on the piano, has happened gradually over the years. These days, I mainly just play the piano.

You’ve previously explained how you have different approaches to composing, could you elaborate on that for me?

It is very hard for me to explain how a new composition is born, because it is very coincidental, different and almost never planned. When I sit down to play the piano, I never have any intention other than “I feel like playing the piano right now”. Sometimes I’m in “rehearsal mode” and other times I’m in “exploration mode”. Honestly, from there, things arise. Some pieces are formed as part of an improvisation, others from a specific new playing technique I try out or a set of chords I like. But then suddenly I get obsessed with a new idea or melody, and that often ends up being a new composition.

As an example: On ‘the Lost’, one of the compositions I spent a lot of time on is ‘Greiner’. I already had the melody I play with my right hand; I don’t remember when I first made that, because it came to me effortlessly. I decided that I wanted to create a melody for my left hand that complimented it, and that was the hard part. I built it note by note, spending many days working on it. Then I spent equally long learning to play them together. ‘Greiner’ was hard work to compose and to learn to play – other compositions like ‘fox’ came suddenly and effortlessly.

Has this approach changed over time?

My approach hasn’t changed, though I did learn a lot making ‘Pinô’, and that experience made me more determined and focused composing and preparing for ‘the Lost’. As a result there isn’t as much improvised material on ‘the Lost’. That may be the main difference between the two.

What or who is your biggest inspiration when composing? Do you do anything in particular to get in the right mood for composing?

I don’t have any particular routine. It’s like working out at the gym. You go in feeling tired and not in the mood for training; but when you start, you are surprised at the amount of energy you have that day – and vice versa. It’s this weird unpredictable thing. I have days I feel down and depressed, but then wonderful things happen playing the piano. Then I have periods where I’m very productive and periods where I can’t create anything. But one thing I’m sure of, it really motivates me to have a goal. As of right now, I don’t have any plans on doing a third piano album, so I’m not as productive.

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What can you tell me about the Lost?

The feedback I received after releasing ‘Pinô’ was so incredibly warm and loving. People understood and felt exactly what I wanted to express. I felt connected to them and their appreciation was so authentic.

After Pinô’s release, I didn’t plan on doing a follow-up. But when Nils told me he was willing to do another album with me, I knew I wanted that to happen as well. I spent the next one and a half years composing and preparing for the recording of ‘the Lost’. I didn’t want it to be just more of the same, but still similar to ‘Pinô’. We used three days recording and three days mixing and mastering ‘Pinô’. ‘the Lost’ was recorded in two days and mixed and mastered in one; half the time. I was better prepared this time, though. Still, it’s such an emotional experience. I didn’t touch a piano for weeks after that... it’s strange. I came out of it very satisfied but also completely creatively drained. I do believe other artists have similar experiences as me, when creating an album.

Were there any other differences to creating the Lost as opposed to Pinô?

The process of creating them was very similar. Both were made with Nils Frahm as producer in his Durton Studio (now moved to Funkhaus, Studio 3) in Berlin. Going in recording ‘Pinô’, I wasn’t prepared for what an emotional experience it would be. How different it is playing for an actual recording, compared to sitting alone at home playing the same piece. I had a more determined attitude the second time. ‘the Lost’ was played on a different piano and with different recording equipment. The process was exactly the same as well as releasing it on Monique’s Sonic Pieces. It’s a true follow-up in every way.

Lastly, is there any particular moment in your history with composing/experiencing music that stands out to you the most?

I’ve had so many wonderful experiences with music; it’s hard to point out particulars. It has been very emotional discovering some of my own compositions. 

 

Mono by Simeon Walker by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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In the spring of 2016, with the release of his Preface EP, Simeon Walker’s solo career began after years of studying and playing music with several different bands and artists. On November 24th this year, the UK-based musician released his much anticipated full-length album, Mono, a beautiful collection of songs that Walker wrote in the winter of 2016/2017. With artwork made by the acclaimed American artist Gregory Euclide – creator of the Thesis Project and known for the cover of Bon Iver’s self-titled second record – the album is just as stunning visually as it is musically.

The palpable intimacy the album will showcase is instantly introduced, with the creaking of Walker’s surroundings setting an immediate scene, as the introducing Turn begins playing. The track is a leading light that starts off with trembling steps, slowly reaching a path to follow. Lightness and curiosity are adamant in the track, and ultimately telling of what is to come – and if I close my eyes I find myself sitting there, looking over Walker’s shoulder as he plays; such a friendly scenery for absolute strangers. The track ends by going back to the beginning – another telling theme – and is followed by Lull, true to its name: a swaying track, embalming you in warmth with a promise to protect, eternal loyalty and unwavering adoration portrayed in the sturdy melody.

The album moves on to explore new sensations as both Drift and Hush take me to some distant place – like coming back to the dark, silent rooms of one’s childhood home, the familiar calm is tinged with something bitter-sweet. Everything moves so slowly – you don’t want to disturb the air vibrating with memories, so you stand still and let it settle all around you. Froze follows, with a carefully increasing intensity, a curious sense of holding back and then slowly letting go of the self-control; finding a steady tempo and following where it takes you; blossoming into something grand and unpredictable.

The gentle, slightly cautious build-up of the beautiful Lilt is followed by the track that I believe perfectly embodies what Mono explores throughout – Breathe begins with an overall easy bliss, melody painted by a joyous lightness that slowly wanders off into moments of sobriety and self-searching. There are sophistication and elegance in this track, this whole album really, that seems to make up the foundation for Walker’s music. We once again revisit the beginning as Letters starts off quietly, timidly growing steadier and finding its rhythm and its voice – and with the temperate Coda, which curiously begins like an ending and ends with the promise of a new beginning, the beautifully crafted Mono comes to its conclusion, as Walker perfectly wraps up every unspoken thought explored throughout the album. 

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Cello Prayers by Mathieu Karsenti by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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In the second independent release by Mathieu Karsenti, Cello Prayers, each short form track closely resembles the creative arc of an artist in the act of painting. Songs begin with singular evocative melodies, and then pause to explore other melodies or instruments, almost as a painter would begin with a few brushstrokes of one color before changing brushes to add a different texture or pallet of colors. Much the same, the pieces of Cello Prayers evolve over the course of each one in such a way that by the end, a rich and emotionally full painting is completed from the individual parts.

Cello Prayers, though offering only six tracks and seldom few longer than three minutes, accomplishes what some albums struggle to do in dozen-track albums with songs well above the five-minute mark: immerse the listener in a sense of place. The vulnerable and crisp bowings of the cello mixed with the glittering atmospheric backdrop of the accompanying instruments and electronic musical touches plunge the listener into magical landscapes, dark and intimidating conflicts, raw emotional connections, and elated victories, all without the concrete substance of a storyline itself. Paired with any substantial story form, especially cinema, Karsenti’s works clearly elevate the existing drama. However, on its own the music of Cello Prayers leaves us with only the abstractions, begging for a story to be told alongside them. This in itself creates yet another element of richness within Karsenti’s music, though one much harder to define.

As an adventure into the possibilities of music perhaps meant for film but choosing to omit it, Cello Prayers succeeds in creating a movie all on its own, and further allows the stories that lie within to be bent – even sculpted entirely – by the listener themselves. It is sure, though, that the journey taken by those who have the privilege to hear Cello Prayers is anything but idle; indeed, the gentle strings and curious melodies invite and even implore listeners to come take part.

 

P&C interview: Bruno Sanfilippo by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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There are few artists who manage to stay current within their respective musical scenes for so many years without losing originality and quality in their work. Such is the case of Bruno Sanfilippo, who with each new release gives us magisterial lessons of sonorous exquisiteness and compositional resources. It does not matter if the pieces were composed yesterday or if they are works that have been buried for several years - like the four pieces of their most recent release, Lost & Found - their works endure over time, go beyond any barrier, and never, but never, leave to surprise us. Here is our interview with Bruno Sanfilippo.

Hi Bruno. First of all, tell us a little about yourself. Where you come from? What do you do when you are not composing?

I was born on a rainy night in Buenos Aires in 1965. I grew up studying piano at the conservatory until I graduated in 1988. In the '90s I composed several works of chamber music and works for piano and other instruments. I also presented my first albums on CD, (some of them currently discontinued) such as Sons of the Light, The New Kingdom, Solemnis, and later Suite Patagonia. I have offered several concerts in Argentina presenting these works, until my final departure to Barcelona, Spain, in the year 2000.

When I'm not composing, I might be giving some concerts, working in my studio on recordings for third parties, or managing issues in our ad21 office. I also like to travel with my wife Ximena, play with my dogs or walk around the house in the mountain where I live, near Barcelona.

How was your approach to music? When did you start composing?

Well, there was an old vertical piano in my parents' house when I was born, and this became my first toy. When I was a child I used to improvise for hours and hours on it, and since then I loved it. I grew up with it the piano, I even put objects inside it to change its sonority, I also get to put tacks on the hammers ... Then later I was attracted by the electronic sound, and then I started to study synthesizer and samplers programming. Little by little I was enriching my home-studio. I had a Roland Juno 106, then a Kawai K5 additive synthesis, then I got some of the first rack samplers; the Mirage (which loaded the rudimentary library of sounds with a Diskette!), used to use a cassette portastudios, reel to reel machines ... very nice memories.

 

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Could you describe your creative process for us?

When I start a composition I do not think of anything particular, I do not have a conscious preconceived idea, I try to be unprejudiced and daring, like when I was a child ... sometimes improvising on the piano, and then I stop when I notice that there is something to develop there. Then it ends its development just when I want to abandon it, then I proceed to record it. However, sometimes an idea that is born, for example, on the piano, is transferred to strings or other instruments. I also believe that inner silence has a powerful creative source, as long as the inertia of having certainties does not interpose its fluidity. In any case, each artist must discover his own paths that lead him to create.

What or who is your greatest inspiration at the time of writing?

Possibly, part of the music comes from dreams, that inexhaustible and shameless source, but also from everything that I have lived and experience every day. Also, great artists emanate that breath of inspiration, their unique art and personality inspire me and surely anyone.

What can you tell me about Lost & Found? How did you decide to reinvent these ancient compositions? What was the selection process?

Lost & Found is an album where I present piano-based pieces that were scattered in different previous recordings, which for different reasons were no longer exposed. In addition, there is a piece "What I Dreamed" that was also added as a Bonus Track in the CD version, and that was abandoned on the hard drive of my computer. I just thought that it might be interesting to rescue those lost pieces and that is why we have presented it as a release through our ad21 personal stamp.

Is there any advice that you have been given that you always keep in mind?

Yes, there is, I remember that my teacher used to tell me: "When you're in front of a microphone or on stage; connect fully with your instrument or you will not connect with your listeners "Art is like that, it has that mystery that technique alone cannot offer, if it does not excite in some way, it does not make any sense

 

Erlebnis by Unsichtbar by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

Artwork by Gertjan Decock and Lore Deuninck

Artwork by Gertjan Decock and Lore Deuninck

A project sprung from a desire to create without over-thinking, Erlebnis is the captivating debut album of Unsichtbar, released through ACR on November 20th, and it’s an album that invites you to listen deeply without searching for explanations – simply enjoy the movement, the textures, and hear it for what it is. Starting off with Ouvertüre the listener is instantly told of what to expect – the experimental, distorted screeching tells of a new, slightly twisted side to the alter ego. The track is followed shortly by Tokio, and I fall deeper into this universe of quiet, uncomplicated enjoyment, as the track reminds me of all the things that come to us absentmindedly; I’m tapped into someone else’s dream, a hauntingly ethereal new reality, and I’m watching from far away. There is such beauty in the unveiled turmoil, and the track breathes in and out so slowly, the thought of waking up is wholly unappealing.

The following track, Mensch, is a collaboration with composer and pianist Sergio Diaz De Rojas, and it shows a mesmerizing distinction between the soft and the rough – the steady, mature rhythmic of the piano is introduced early, contrasted by the sawing that seems childlike at first, curious and explorative, soon growing into a relentless eruption of disorder, taunting the innocent, untainted loyalty of the piano, and relishing in its own freedom to roam. Junges Liebespaar begins almost like the aftermath of its predecessor, slowly progressing into a forlorn outburst of emotion, turning into a poignant tale of what once was, or what could, at one point, have been.

Das Meer instills a sense of floating, telling of the sound the light would make, illuminating the thousands of particles in the air around us, if we could only hear it. The track is lightly treading, slowly fading in and out, moving like the water does. It’s followed by another collaboration, this one with ambient music producer Lee Yi, as An der Zeit ertrinken introduces us to a deeper void, with protruding nuances and quick movement, soaring in and out through different sensations, like a whirlwind of noise and grit.

As the album is starting to come to its end, it does a complete turn-around with Nach dem Sturm, a gentler track that inspires a solemn hope, and ends on the absolutely intriguing Nachspiel – a track that at first glance is playful and light-hearted, but listen closer and it starts to ooze of curious guile, fronting with youthful innocence quickly turning into something bigger, something untrustworthy, but utterly irresistible. It’s a fully memorable ending to this experience that Erlebnis truly is, to listen to something and know that whatever it makes you feel is right, as there are no wrongs – no hidden messages, no secrets or stories, just an album and yet... so much more than just an album. 

Picture by Lore Deuninck

Picture by Lore Deuninck

 

Fresh Finds #2 by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Sergio Díaz De Rojas

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On this second edition of Fresh Finds, we share with you a series of beautiful singles by both emerging and established artists from the contemporary classical music scene. 

Theo Alexander returns with Palliative, a seven minutes demonstration of what his upcoming record, Broken Access, will be. Otto Totland returns, as well, with Vates, a nostalgic and hopeful piano piece, the ideal introduction to his long-awaited record The Lost, which follows and expands on his intimate debut solo piano album Pinô from 2014. An artist that also took three years to release another record is Christ Bartels, also known as Elskavon, who has shared with us three singles (Anthos being one of them) from Skylight, an album inspired by memorable moments in his life, to be released in January 2018. To finish this series of upcoming records, we introduce you to Esja by Hania Rani, a Polish pianist and composer currently working on her first solo album after having previously collaborated with cellist Dobrawa Czocher.

To vary a little bit, we have added a rework to our SoundCloud and Spotify playlists. Daigo Hanada (Moderna Records) has recomposed Empire, taken from Matt Emery's debut album of the same name. On this version, Daigo replaces the percussive piano with soft arpeggios, and the strings with a baroque soprano recorder, perfectly combined in order to achieve a grandiose build-up. 

Last but not least, we included a very special piece by a very special artist. Forgotten Fields has returned with his self-titled album, a multidisciplinary project inspired by the remote landscapes of the Western Cape of South Africa. Each piece represents a verse of a poem written by him, which captures the idea behind the album.

Find all of these pieces below and in our Spotify playlist

 

Form by Corre by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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The most immediate reaction new creative duo Corre’s (“KOR-rah”) album Form arouses is a sort of auditory hug, like the warm pianos and gentle, arpeggiating synths are enveloping the listener in a bubble. The instrumentation and production are pleasantly reminiscent of earlier, mellower Bonobo tracks or perhaps something that might be heard in a collaborative work between Jon Hopkins and Hauschka. However, the true identity of Corre shines when listeners refer to the duo’s music videos.

Corre is a joining of forces between songwriter and music composer Henry Green and photographer and visual artist Hattie Ellis. Together, the pair form Corre, though as a ‘band’ more direct attention is paid to the audio elements of the duo. While perfectly enchanting and easy-going on its own, the music of Form deserves to be recognized in its true potential – that is, with the visual accompaniment. Listeners would be robbing themselves of a more profound experience to skip over the music videos of tracks A Spark, A Beginning, Proceed, Response, and the most compelling, Aeon.

While either element on its own – the audio or the video – evokes a thoughtfulness and daydream-like atmosphere, the full power of Corre is realized when they are brought together. Far more provocative are the far-away horizons, sometimes inverted or negatively colored, when accompanied by the blips and hums of a synthesizer; far more emotive are the muted strikes of hammer on the piano string when played over the misty swirling of cloud and wave. Specifically, this duet of artistic mediums reaches its climax with the song/video Aeon, which features water traveling in drips or streams across various sizes and textures of rock, and audibly a bouncing, bubbling synth contrasted with rich piano chords. Moments of the piece visually would recall, if taken out of context, a grand mess of marbles and glass spheres or even the scaled body of some curious reptile. Musically, the piece wanders and weaves through varied terrains of rhythm and distant marimbas, just as the water itself wanders through the rocky maze.

Corre, though recent and unproven in its current form, has all the makings of a great exploration of multimedia arts through music and video. The skilled musings of Green paired with the stirring creations of Ellis result in a unique experience, and we can only hope to see more great works from them in the near future.

 

Wave Recital by Correspondence by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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An explosion of various MIDI instruments and live percussion, Wave Recital, the latest release by Correspondence (Ben Catt), is more than just an album – it’s a crazed deep dive into an experimental field of magnetic looping patterns and hypnotizing unpredictability. The UK based electronic musician resides in the musical world of Steve Reich and Arthur Russell, mixing minimalism with a constantly, innocently explorative soul. Utilizing several different processes and mixtures of sound, Wave Recital is as complex as it is fascinating, and requires one’s full attention.

Holding Cycle is a fluttery, playful dream sequence, intentionally asymmetrical and erratic, followed by the chaotic cacophony of Playing Field, which practically satirizes itself in that it’s so fully unorthodox, it’s mind blowing. The track seems to have a mind of its own, as it – without any seeming intention – throws the listener in every which way, on and on, completely unapologetically. It is followed by its antithesis, the feathery On Again, like a wild animal at the edge of the forest, watching curiously, edging closer but always on the verge of flight. The track is a welcome change of pace and completely endearing with its enticingly slow build into a playful chase.

Slow Tone certainly lives up to its name, an intriguing track with its unpredictable changes – the slight movement within each long tone urges you to listen more closely, enticing a sense of self awareness – am I imagining that particular sound, did it disappear, is it in my head? Harp Routine lends a deeper sound to the overall quite tense and sharp album – but this track, like all the rest, have the same experimental, spontaneous sense to it, and seems difficult to mimic.

The last track of the album is the one that stands out the most and appears quite like a teaser to a path Correspondence might take in the future – The North Sea is like that conversation you don’t want to have, slow and full of pain but unavoidable – it’s a stunning ode to all that’s left unsaid, with the backdrop of an ocean after sunset. Overall, Wave Recital is an album that hits you like a train at full speed, completely unabashed and unafraid, and with a lot of surprising twists and turns keeping you constantly on your toes. You can listen to Correspondence’s fascinating album at their Bandcamp

 

P&C interview: Matt Emery by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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Already familiar with the composer scene, having released several singles and with his works featured in ads, trailers, and theatre, UK composer Matt Emery is now releasing his debut album, Empire, via Injazero Records. With an interest for music sprouting from his early years and growing steadily along with him, Emery found his particular sound early and put his heart and soul into expanding and excelling at it. The album shows clearly the hard work Emery has put into getting where he is now, and the grandiosity and emotive palette of his music is positively entrancing.

How were you introduced to music? When did you start creating your own? 

Music is something I’ve always loved as long as I can remember. I started drum lessons at the age of 6 (because at 5 sadly my legs weren’t big enough to reach the pedals) which I carried on until I was about 20, and I have spent most of my music career drumming in bands (mostly rock and metal). I also started to learn piano at 6 but gave that up after about a year as the teacher was really strict and always said; ‘well I bet you could do that if it was on a drum kit’ so I left that to one side and just focused on drums for a while.

Fast forward another 6 years to secondary school and that's where the fun really began. In music lessons we got the chance to start working on the computer and making music on Cubase, which blew my mind, I was instantly addicted. I was really lucky to get Cubase at home along with a little midi keyboard at about 13, and I would compose and write every night or at the weekends when not playing football. At this stage in my life, I was mostly writing dance and garage tunes, finding the flute setting on my midi keyboard and playing it on the lower octaves to produce the phatest Sub Bass sound I physically could. I also started playing drums in bands at this time also discovering grunge, punk, emo and nu metal, they were special times. 

Did you ever study music? 

After scoring an A in my music GCSE for imitating a rollercoaster in my improvisation exam on the drums, and feeling my low end flute led dance tunes were finally getting the recognition they deserved from the GCSE examiners, I decided to really concentrate only on music and went straight to Music College at the ACM in Guildford. I studied there for 3 years, doing 3 separate courses receiving diplomas in Production, Vocals and Drums. 

Could you describe your creating process for me?

There is no set way to be honest, but the majority of my music starts on the piano or synth if I’m writing string pieces. I always start with a riff or little idea, occasionally everything comes together and you can almost improvise or produce a whole piece in a matter of minutes, but most of the time I write riffs and ideas and record them on my phone. I have hundreds of ideas recorded down. Normally if it’s something that I still really like after 2 or 3 weeks or keep coming back to when I sit at a piano it’s something I’ll develop further until I have the full piano part written, which I’ll record down as a demo on the computer. I’ll then start writing and recording the string parts and add a little synth or sub-bass if some extra depth is ever needed.

Then the real final stage is when I write something I like enough to record properly with other musicians (I’ll normally make sure I have enough pieces for at least an EP or Album, as this part isn’t cheap). At this stage, I normally give my good friends James Kenosha (producer) and Fraser Bowles (Cellist) a ring and book some studio time as I really like just worrying about the performance at this point and not worrying about the technical side of things. Then we make a record. 

What is your biggest inspiration when composing? 

It’s all about connecting and letting yourself go, I just want people to be able to connect with the music in the same way I do, in a form of a big audio hug. Every piece of music is like a different case or cocoon that I would like people to get inside and just listen and experience, whether that’s in the form of seeing certain pictures or visuals in their head or provoking certain feelings within themselves. Music is just so much more than hearing – it’s energy, whether contained in a record or presented live, and it is trying to connect the listener to that energy which is my biggest inspiration when making or writing music.  

What can you tell me about Empire?

Empire has been a long time coming, I recorded it in its first incarnation in January 2014. It was initially a split between instrumental piano and string pieces, and upbeat tracks including drums, choirs and synths. The hardest thing was trying to find the record a home and somewhere it would fit. I had spoken to a handful of people but when Injazero Records sent me a message one day after hearing my track ‘Effervescent’ on Fat Cat Demo’s page I got really interested in what they were doing. I met up with Siné who runs Injazero and was pretty inspired by her vision and the other artists she was signing. It took a couple of years to then shape Empire into the record it is now, but we decided to go down a more instrumental and focused piano and string path. I actually wrote Empire, Louloúdia, and Orpheus just before going into the studio to complete the record on the second stage of recording and can’t imagine the record without them now.  

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

It’s really nice to finally have it released as the last nearly 4 years I’ve been in a bit of limbo with no official releases to promote, which has also made gigging and performing very minimal too. It’s just been great to start really pushing things forward. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I always set myself high goals and targets and have certainly ticked a couple of boxes which is good. I managed to sell out my debut headline show at St Pancras Old Church and perform it with a 7 piece string ensemble which was the first time I’d heard a lot of the pieces played entirely in their full form (as in the studio I’d had 2 or 3 string players come in to record all parts to keep budgets down). It’s been amazing to have support from the likes of Huw Stephens on Radio 1 and being Song Of The Day on KEXP was a real highlight too. Also just to hold my record in my hands on Vinyl is always a special moment.

Were there any significant differences/challenges in composing your debut album as opposed to the works you’ve previously created?

It’s just been very satisfying. Previously in bands I have sat in a practice room for hours carving out a new track between us all with everyone having a thought and opinion. It’s all about compromise which is not a bad thing at all but this time around I got to see more of my own visions develop to where I wanted to take them or see them which was nice, but on the whole it’s been a great experience. I just want to keep writing, performing and pushing on now. 

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

I had my music used on an online GoPro Camera ad and it went viral very quickly, it was quite surreal watching something that I had soundtracked getting that much attention and having so many people asking about the music and track. Also again performing my tracks live with the ensemble at my album launch was a real highlight, I’m looking forward to doing that again. 

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Fresh Finds #1 by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Sergio Díaz De Rojas

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Recently, I came across some beautiful ambient and neo-classical pieces composed by emerging artists that I consider worth sharing. Here at Piano & Coffee, we want to give these artists and their works the space and recognition they deserve. That's why we have decided to create monthly playlists and articles featuring our fresh finds.

Our first playlist begins with a minimalistic piano and cello piece by Leo Eltes, aka #7d7791 (hex-colour), a nineteen-year-old musician from Sweden. Berry Farm Crops follows him with his piece 'For Gabby', a tribute to a friend of him who passed away. Then, 'Surround' begins playing with the beautiful piano and pads of Nadav Cohen, a film composer from Australia, accompanied by a really nice beat. After it, Centri and Aedur portray their friendship with a captivating improvisation. Finally, 'Soulless' by Niall Michael Joseph Gahagan, aka BELORUSIA, a musician and designer living in Berlin.

We highly recommend these five pieces and can't wait to hear more of these young composers. 

 

Premiere: Taylor's Theme by Andrew James Johnson by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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Andrew James Johnson’s album Winter’s Heart achieves a level of emotional potency so instantaneous it’s almost jarring. Johnson’s abilities on piano have been characterized as “simple” and “uncomplicated,” but by the end of the first track of Winter’s Heart, these words are challenged.  Something in Johnson’s composition does have a purity and vulnerability to it, but I certainly hesitate to attribute it to the simplicity of his skills on the instrument.

What is at play in Winter’s Heart is a sense of distinct storytelling so self-assured the listener can even be fooled into thinking they already know the story as they are hearing it. Something magical occurs from start to finish of each of Johnson’s tracks on this album – almost like he conveys the emotions behind the songs so effectively we think those emotions are our own and are simply being brought forward, not Johnson’s that are being shared with us through the music. It’s almost frightening to realize this, as it seems Johnson finds a way to bypass the initial scrutiny of music by the listener and instead jump straight into the personal realm of the musical experience.

Some tracks on this album are less aggressive in the aforementioned sense – there are clear ebbs and flows throughout the track list, as any successful album would have. Following a dramatic, built-up, nearly chaotic number including various swirling strings and a driving theme, is a much mellower piece with relaxed and almost easy-going rhythm and a whimsical tone.

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Johnson’s second single, Taylor’s Theme, takes an even further step away from the more active parts of the album and paints a gorgeous tonal landscape across which delicate cello dances and swirls. The track takes a wonderfully slow pace similar to the walking speed of two people who are far more interested in each other’s company than the walking itself. The track is emotionally reminiscent of spending lazy days with family or reforming a friendship that previously went dark.

Winter’s Heart is a wonderful exploration of sentiments and nostalgia from beginning to end; Johnson keeps listeners feeling like they are a part of the music in a curious but captivating way. Sometimes the melody falls exactly where you predict it will in a satisfying conclusion, other times the piano dances off into unexpected territory – but always in a way that should have been obvious and that builds even greater texture into the songs. Johnson is a craftsman of the keys and the melodies, but also of our very perception as it relates to Winter’s Heart. He grips the listener so powerfully with his music that minutes can pass in a span of seeming seconds, memories long forgotten emerge bright as day, and even entire perspectives can be shifted by the impact of these songs. Winter’s Heart is a masterpiece in emotionally compelling contemporary classical music, and wise listeners should keep a close eye on Johnson as he continues to create in the future.

Winter’s Heart will be released on November 17 following a launch show on the 13th at The Crypt on the Green, St. James Clerkenwell in London