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.

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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.

 

P&C interview: Pieter de Graaf by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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Pieter de Graaf’s latest project, Prologue, is the composer’s next exploration in his search for musical meaning and depth. His debut project, Fermata, first introduced Pieter as a new talent in the neo-classical world. The songs aren’t “written” in any traditional sense; instead he plays and improvises segments, records them, and listens back over and over before deciding what to use, what to discard, and what to embellish.


Hello Pieter! Thank you for agreeing to let Piano & Coffee Co. interview you!

First of all: I absolutely adore a good coffee. And piano. My motto is: ‘No coffee no music’. So very nice to do this interview for you! Thank you!

It would seem that you have been involved with music for a very long time. How did it become a part of your life in the first place?

My father used to play piano at home. Quite often. Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, but also pop songs of the sixties like from the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Because of that, I can’t remember not having a piano and music around me.

What were some of your proudest moments as a young musician? Is there anything you look back on now that you are older and realize, “That was a special moment”?

Yes, plenty. Among them some highlights of my ‘touring life.’ Like the first gig I played on North Sea Jazz festival and playing the main stage of Pinkpop with the Kyteman Orchestra. Another special moment was in Seoul, South Korea, with Wouter Hamel, where we did a great gig at a festival and the audience was screaming so loud I never experienced before. But also some other special moments... One of the things that had huge impact on me is a workshop I had one day of trumpet player Ack van Rooyen. I remember so well, he talked in the same way as he played his instrument. Very little words with major impact. Very few notes, major impact. Another thing I remember is that the movie “Shine” had a major impact on me. David Helfgott learned to play one of the most difficult pieces there is for piano: The third piano concerto of Sergej Rachmaninov. He struggled, fought for it, with a very nasty family situation at home at the same time. I was sixteen or seventeen years old and saw the movie. Major impact. And this piano concerto is still one of my favorite compositions ever.

What was it that drew you toward the neo-classical style of music? Why do you feel that you should compose and perform this type of music rather than another type of music?

I never made a plan to make neo-classical music. I just started from scratch and for me it was very important to feel every note I played. I wanted to let go of all stylistic framing and be free to do what I want. This process, which I call ‘Fermata’ now, is still an ongoing development. So I don’t know what the future will bring. If everything I make from now on will be called neo-classical music it’s all fine by me, if a future album will be called an EDM album, or death metal, it would be fine by me as well. I don’t have any plans, except to make beautiful music that I feel very intensely and hopefully the listener does as well.

As you have grown in the neo-classical genre, what have you noticed as major differences between it and other music worlds such as jazz or popular music? Are there things you prefer about one world of music or the other?

In our modern world, the previously so visible differences are slowly vanishing. Musicians share and discuss ideas with each other and the public, they mix and match various genres and styles so I can’t necessarily say I feel differences in making music. I think that the differences today are way more found in the audience, concentrated listeners vs. wild party people for example.

Can you discuss how your entire musical background, ranging from formal classical to avant-garde jazz, has influenced your overall sound as a musician today?

I guess that every style I have gotten to know has influenced me in one way or another. In jazz music I discovered the interest and gained a lot of knowledge about musical theory, harmony, improvisation and timing. From classical music I learned a lot about arrangements and about instruments and orchestration.  The classical repertoire I’ve played also definitely helped me to become a better pianist on a technical level.  During my time playing in hip-hop bands as a keyboardist, I discovered the art of production and some about synthesizers and keyboards. All these elements, of course, have an influence on who I am now, musically, although I couldn’t point out in my music which part in the music comes from which style.

What was it like to take such a long break from music, your hiatus or “fermata” as you say, and then return to it? Have you experienced any revelations? Does your intention with what to compose and play come to you more naturally now?

It was a relatively short break I took. I stopped with all I was doing musically in order to find my way back to my joy and love for music and playing music. So actually, I directly started with Fermata at the point that I quit all the other things. But, then what? I just sat down. Started playing. Often started with one note. Quit playing whenever I felt I was playing but not feeling. Everything has to be felt. Fermata contained quite a few revelations, or at least they felt like revelations to me: like discovering the even more intense beauty of a single note, of a church organ, of certain intervals or chord progressions. Or discovering the use of dishcloths, a rubber hammer, and window wiper and making nice stuff with that. I could almost say that Fermata, the whole project, is like a Revelation to me. The intention of what to write or create definitely comes to me more naturally now, because the only intention I have is to make something that I deeply feel. Of course, every composer needs to feel the music he or she is creating. But the advantage I feel that Fermata offers is that I don’t have the intention to make an album, I don’t have to work in a certain style, or with certain instruments. I can do in that sense anything I want, whatever I feel at that moment. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have to ‘work’ for it: There are good and bad days, I’ve always had them and maybe always will. The bad days I believe do always, in the end, contribute to the music I am making.

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Was the writing and recording of Prologue always intended to include the cellist Jonas Pap, or did that idea come after the ideas for the songs already existed? What was that process like, to involve a second instrument such as the cello on these recordings?

No, that wasn’t always intended. I met Jonas as a cellist of the Kyteman Orchestra. Later we started to share a studio in Kytopia. We became friends and we naturally discussed and talked about music quite often. Then, when I had plenty of ideas and I decided to start recording, it was a very natural decision to do this with Jonas. I do and did ‘write’ the songs myself, for 99%. Jonas has been and still is my ‘right hand,’ backbone, and he records, produces and mixes the music with me. We always start a session by finding a good sound. We put the microphones in exactly the right spot. Jonas listens where certain frequencies sound best while I am playing. Then, when the sound is set and it inspires us, we started the recording. Once a piano piece is recorded, Jonas and I sometimes feel like it should stay a solo piano song, but for others, we may feel they need something else. And we don’t want to feel any restrictions. So far we’ve recorded a church organ, a soprano choir, cello, synthesizers, tubular bells and some more instruments and effects.

You tell a story of being moved to tears by a classical performance, while your friend sitting next to you had little or no emotional reaction to the music. Do you ever find that this ability to feel music so strongly on the emotional side can have a negative effect on how you experience music, or would you say it only benefits your experience?

I would say it benefits my experience. For me music is a purely emotional thing. Of course, you need technique to play an instrument and there’s all kinds of other technical issues one has to resolve and arrange to make music, but when all of that is done, for me the mere goal is to make beautiful music.

Lastly, you mention that Prologue is only “the first part of Fermata.” Can we expect to hear more music such as this? And how do the next chapters of Fermata continue the spirit of Prologue as a careful and intentional piece of music? We are excited to know anything you can tell us about future projects of yours!

You can definitely expect more music to come. I cannot and do not want to say anything about what it’s gonna be like. This is because I really want to feel free to go in any direction I like. Of course, there will be a strong connection with Prologue, because I am the same person making the music. Right now I’m working with loops, synthesizers and bass pedals while I am creating my music. This opens new doors and I’m very excited about the results so far. 

 

Époques by Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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In the early spring of 2017, after being invited to spend two weeks in solitude at a composer’s retreat in Suffolk, London-based French composer Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch used the time to full extent and composed her sophomore album, Époques. After an extensive recording process, the album was just recently released on July 13th, via 130701 – it is an organic, honest look into the composer’s mind, filled with tracks that range from emotive solo piano to gently experimental, more ambient pieces.

Époques begins with the weightless Martello, where I can just see the notes of the eager piano sparkling in the air, ringing gently on and on, and moving effortlessly towards the next. Suddenly the second part of the piece unfolds, with a trembling, graceful trilling and a sense of urgency creeping closer. The subtle nuances of the piece and the perfect timing of the changing sensations make the track a grand opening and I am immediately swept away into full immersion.

Highly ambient, The Only Water echoes all around me, a step down into some darker place, with the shuddering of voices fading in and out of reach, bouncing off each other – strings like the sound of doom approaching. Redux feels dark, too, but in a wildly different way: it pulls at something deep within me, with its unfaltering melody, moving like a gentle breeze. There’s an honesty to the piece that tells of a self-awareness – it knows the darkness and it’s not afraid. The piece lulls into Overflow, with strings like surgical knives, cutting through the sudden tension in the air. Utterly in control, and with flawless precision, it evolves into something softer, gentler – braver.

The album takes a turn towards a more minimal approach, with looping and gentle building of tension, until it reaches the title track – with an absolutely mesmerizing rhythmic, this piece could easily stand on its own, the piano carrying such weight with such grace that it is mindboggling. The fearless transitions seem amazingly effortless and I can practically see the composer’s hands flying across the keys, at one with the glorious instrument. The album later ends on the slightly nerve-racking Morphee, with echoing, buzzing, swerving – it is completely overtaking, absorbing me into a deeper part of the world, where it then transforms into some hurt, unforgiving thing, absolutely bursting with emotion. One track is never just one track when it comes to Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, and I feel like I am bursting with impressions as the album comes to a halt; exhausted and invigorated all at once, I am left with an endless awe for the composer and her unquestionable talent.

 

You Were Always An Island by Alaskan Tapes by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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Surrendering into stillness as the lines blur between sound waves and light, Alaskan Tapes’ fourth full-length release ‘You Were Always An Island’ is a tender, lingering moment of clarity and simplicity. The composer behind this project, Toronto based Brady Kendall gently coaxes out form and shape in delicate, understated subtleties, creating a warm embrace of sonic somnolence. Like sounds heard from the womb, these distant, unassuming textures shine like a pulsating glow, bringing a sense of release and solace.

This album simultaneously invites the mind to wander, but demands close attention to truly feel its presence. Like a collection of precious stones, each song radiates, like light diffusing and bending through crystalline prisms. There is something quite maternal and comforting in this music; we are lovingly tucked into bed beneath layers of sound as we drift along in a state of placid ease. The wonderful cello work by cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne enshrouds these soundscapes in lustrous beauty while guest vocalist Chantal Ouellette’s soft vocal sighs add a gossamer sheen with her two cameo appearances.

Out of white noise and distant sounds, opening track ‘Waiting’ emerges like a sunrise, a soft radiant glow of organ and strings, while off in the distance, Chantal’s vocals call out gently, drawing us in. With a sense of longing, this halcyon moment is like amber, frozen in time. ‘While Falling’ begins with bubbling, crackling textures like old paint flaking off timber, as a gentle drone washes over, sustained in layers of tape noise. Like sleepwalking through the empty halls of distant memories, this liminal space conjures up a sensation of being lonely, but not alone.

 Next, the title track unfurls like endless space; a vast aurora of refracting light across a full spectrum of deep mellow bass and heavenly treble. There is something cosmic and reassuring that seeps into our consciousness through the gentle interplay between guitar and piano, built upon with the faint whispers of a wordless chorus of vocal harmonies. Paradoxically amaranthine yet ephemeral, there is an enveloping sense of rapture in this poignant blooming of sound. Following on in a celestial display, ‘To Leave’ is like a meteor shower in slow motion, with strings and piano twinkling in arrhythmic collisions set against a cloudy, nebulous male vocal humming.

With crackling vinyl noise caught in a loop on ‘Drifter,’ we are met with layered, far off murmurs as the sound is gently propelled by the subtle beat repetition. Beams of light illuminate in shifting spaces: formless musical harmonies that hang in weightlessness. This effulgent shapelessness is beautifully juxtaposed with the more formal musical feel found in ‘Places’ which follows on as an intimate piano solo. This feeling of closeness with the music is heightened in the delicate wooden sounds of piano keys, moving hammers, and as we are drawn yet closer in, we begin to hear the pianist’s fingers as they make contact with ivory.

In ‘All Was Quiet’ we are met with incandescent pulses of sound that slowly creep in, burrowing into the psyche, deeper and deeper. A glittery, sparkling rhythmic repetition grows in brightness, amongst muted trumpet and sustained strings. Chantal’s vocals make another appearance in ‘Skin,’ a brief moment that leaves us wanting more. Scarcely more than a minute in length, this passing fragment of time feels homely and mellow, like a spontaneous bedroom recording capturing a brief spark of delicate magic in soft vocals and acoustic guitar. 

Moving into a slightly darker place with ‘Ruins,’ we are greeted with a haze of noise pushed far into the abstract, pierced with hints of the familiar rooted in guitar, but lost and distorted, just barely recognizable. The darkness is momentary as light begins to find its way in; plucked strings ripple through, with no distinct tonality. These sounds verge tantalizingly close to becoming music without overstepping the line, like a radio receiver catching just a hint of something on the other side. Closing with ‘In Trenches,’ crackling sounds like burning embers mingle with a warm droning: a sunset in counterpoint to the album’s opening sunrise, while dreamy guitar cartwheels effortlessly in slow motion.

Gently awakening from this dreamspace, there is a lingering sensation of being cocooned and nurtured. This album delicately holds us in a comforting space that we long to come back to, or perhaps stay forever. It is remarkably restrained in simplicity but expertly formed; our mind left to fill in the blanks in a curious listening experience of co-creation. Like a subtle experience in synaesthesia, this sonic encounter is like an expression of light waves, sublimated into sound.

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Aitaké Suite for Solo Violin by Mathieu Karsenti by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

Many attempts have been made to define Ma in the English language, in aspects of philology, philosophy, poetry and other arts. It is one of those words that are rather explained than translated, resulting from a lack of parallel words in other languages. In his 2001 book The Art of Looking Sideways, Alan Fletcher had these thoughts on the subject:

“Space is substance. Cézanne painted and modeled space. Giacometti sculpted by "taking the fat off space". Mallarmé conceived poems with absences as well as words. Ralph Richardson asserted that acting lay in pauses... Isaac Stern described music as "that little bit between each note - silences which give the form"... The Japanese have a word (ma) for this interval which gives shape to the whole. In the West, we have neither word nor term. A serious omission.”

In other words, the idea of Ma, along with a traditional Japanese instrument, sho, with its Aitaké chords (the standard chords of the sho) were Karsenti's inspiration for his album Aitaké Suite for Solo Violin. Violeta Barrena performs the solo violin part and is accompanied by various instruments. The music is built on the 15 traditional chords of the sho, each existing for the 15 pieces of bamboo in it [learn more about the sho].

Mathieu Karsenti has vast experience as a composer, and notably for film and television. His repertoire includes award-winning original soundtracks for the UK's largest channels and he has received both BAFTA and John Brabourne awards. Clearly, one to associate the music with imagined or real moving images, his works carry a very cinematic atmosphere in general. His previous work Cello Prayers for cello and synths as well as the EP Ichi also put string instruments in the driver´s seat and show the composer´s taste for mixing organic string sound with computerized accompaniment where one might expect an organic background. He creates an interesting atmosphere with his instrumentation and somewhat quirky.

Aitaké Suite For Solo Violin could possibly be the long lost Asian relative of the Assassination of Jesse James original soundtrack by Nick Cave. It is fairly soundtrack-like with a steady rhythm and a violin protagonist. It is easy to envision it accompanying an indie type of film. Barrena has a romantic, soulful sound and plays in crystal clear intonation, this is particularly enjoyable on the higher notes. In the second movement, In the Vastness of the City, she shows more freedom in the change of tone and different colours of sound. In general, the music seems quite strict on metronome, though –the protagonist walking with poised steps. The last movement, Back and Forth, is the one that seemingly plays the most into the idea of space between notes but apart from that, the music is surprisingly often dense with tone -making one reflect hard on the idea of ma.

 

Walden by Jochen Tiberius Koch by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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After two self-released EP’s, German musician Jochen Tiberius Koch is now releasing his first full album, Walden, through Schole Records. Inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s book from 1854, “Walden; or, Life in the Woods”, where Thoreau writes about his experience living in a forest: portraying the liveliness of nature while criticizing civilized society. Jochen explores this same approach to nature in his album, Walden, utilizing his characteristic synthesizer sound, mixed gracefully with the more classical tendencies of piano and strings – resulting in an intriguing and highly personal sound.

A steady, mindful beginning: solitude tells us, with resolve in every movement, of a path into this other world we’re about to enter. The climbing melody instills such hope that I am overwhelmed; soon, the strings come in like a faithful answer to the echoing all around us. The second half of the track introduces a melody so eerily similar to the Stranger Things theme song that I feel it must be a commentary on this other world we harbor, although ours is all around us and not hidden at all. This second, ancient world we step by step are shutting ourselves out from – enclosing ourselves with cement walls and building ourselves up in ever higher buildings, further and further from the grass beneath our feet.

After the bean-field with its gloriously enticing spoken word element, performed by Dieter Bellmann, we are thrown into the water as the ponds starts playing. With the accompanying video, directed by Shin Kikuchi, this track is the one that stands out the most, with horns, clear and crisp, like an introduction to the warm, airy vocals of Willy Son, backed by arpeggiatic piano, raining down like glittering drops on a still lake.

Later in the album we are introduced to another highly intriguing track, as brute neighbors lets the whispering of Manfred Kroog lure us closer, deeper into the woods – the strings are like rope around our wrists, tugging us ever forward, step by step, further into the dark. The second half of the track adds in an eerie tinkering, like someone curiously following along on our journey through the forest; never seen but you can feel it there, at the back of your neck, someone sprinting in and out of the shadows, observing without interfering.

A new element is added in as the rhythmic, playful the pond in winter starts playing – with a sense of improvisation to the shimmering melody, there’s something childlike and pure in the unpredictability; I am swept away in the movement, fluttering through leaves and tall grass, sending dew drops flying through the air. Finally, the ending track doesn’t seem like an ending at all, as the grand spring brings us horns like the base of nature’s deep sound, and the soft, gentle vocals of Fräulein Laura, the first breeze of spring floating around the woods, breathing life into the stiffness of the slumbering trees. But indeed, with this track, Walden is over – and though we return to modern life, once more surrounded by four walls, I feel I do take part of nature with me, as though a newborn tree has sprouted roots somewhere within my soul.

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Polar Institute by Polar Institute by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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The self-titled debut album from Manchester-based sextet Polar Institute, led by composer Rob Thorpe, beckons into the abyss of an icy, isolated soundscape that strides between classical chamber music and post-rock in a wonderful collision of contrasting yet complementary timbres. Built on cello, saxophone and voice, alongside piano, guitar and drums, there is a tightness to the aesthetic – it ventures into a myriad of textural possibilities, that effortlessly sit beside one another and co-mingle as these long-form songs take us to unexpected places.

More than a mere collection of songs, this album feels like a singular musical statement. There is a sense of sameness and unity within this album, as the songs bleed into each other like a stream of consciousness. The delineation of tracks feels more like a pause for contemplation, rather than a clean break in continuity; this album flows along in its singularity built around a sophisticated, restrained sound palette. Each song is like a wave lapping up against the shore; no two are the same, each colliding and rippling against each other. The chemistry between the players as the music ebbs and flows between free form and crystallization expresses things beyond words in a dualistic sense of intimacy and vastness.

From the moment this record begins with 62°36'S 60°30'W leading into Opening, we are swept away, gently, at first, with softly whirring winds mingling with wispy melodies blowing in the breeze – then tonalities emerge in piano octaves and strings in a spacious arrangement that slowly builds with e-bowed electric guitar. Soft cymbals and placid vocalizations coalesce, decorated with reedy trills as the singer’s voice rises up to breathy, joyful wailing. The musical motifs are passed around amongst the ensemble, riffing and improvising as the sound mass builds and decays. Just as the music comes to rest, a brief pause is sliced by a building climax, as the ensemble’s synergy kicks into full force before once again fading away.

By third track Pisagua we find ourselves fully immersed in this strangely familiar place, floating amongst gorgeous soaring cello, guitar textures and a touch of synthesizer swirling through. Then comes a jarring stab of the unfamiliar in alien, reverberant plucking sounds and a textural whir, led by a call and response between glockenspiel and saxophone. With effortless grace, the voice soars to operatic heights as the music swoops through peaks and valleys, building and developing with a sense of hard-hitting urgency and intensity with a driving, elemental force.

Following on from that heavy, percussive climax, The Great Circle Route offers a moment of repose, free and unmetered in a liquid timelessness; a lulling moment of gentle gracefulness in which the idea of selfhood is momentarily suspended in a sense of oneness with the music. As the ensemble swirls into motion, and time catches up with us once again, there is a lost sensibility of wandering and searching. We are once again thrust into drama led by a throaty, heavily bowed cello ostinato, a tense reedy melody from the saxophone, ramping up into percussive hits before the piano takes over the insistent repeating musical figure, joined once more by the other instruments building up to a frenzy.

Cetacea begins with a gorgeous moment for the piano and its healing vibrations, a warm sense of cocooning that circles in a vortex of saxophone and sparse decorations from the rest of the ensemble, growing in intensity. Like wading through water, the music oscillates between hope and hopelessness, taking tangential excursions to places of whimsy and wonder. The shining moment for the piano comes next with Ebb, where ripples of piano arpeggios sit against the vocalist’s breathy whispered hums, playing off the saxophone and cello as they chase each other around while the harmony builds. This track has a sense of epic timelessness, of openness and emptiness.

The shimmering piano arpeggio motif carries over into Vakna í Myrkri, which has a canonic, circular feel to it, building with each repetition. This track evokes a feeling of homecoming, coming back to the same place, but everything has changed and is no longer familiar. Berkner Island Fugue has an unsettling, foreign feeling to it, with its angular melodic leaps, taking tentative steps towards the unknown. This aimless meandering, gentle in its sparseness, sets the scene for a particularly exciting moment in the album, as we are hit with the surprise of a raw, grainy electronic rhythmic figure that feels distorted but very tight. As this track concludes, there is a sense that the daydream has come to an end.

The closing track Eulogy for Endurance seems to stand alone, almost as an epilogue for the album. Now awakened from the instrumental reverie, we are greeted with our first direct contact with something more human, in this a cappella vocal arrangement that very much sounds like a modern secular hymn. The soprano vocals chant in circling, intersecting harmonies, hinting to sacred music set to text, an incantation of the phrase “The walls without bricks; the roofs without tiles,” perhaps revealing some hidden secrets to the musical journey now behind us.

There is great power in the combination of instruments, and the tension they create between each other, yet they all magnetize together with the voice at the core, cutting deep and speaking to an instinctive mode of listening, in the complete absence of language. Each instrument speaks from its own perspective, joining together and building a beautifully devastating soundscape – and we are left in a state of silent awe and rumination.

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Traces by Resina by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

In a haunting blend of steady, emotive cello and crisp, echoing vocals, Polish cellist Resina recently returned with her latest album Traces – a collection of pieces that all resonate with power and sentience. The album was recorded back in December of 2017 at renowned producer Maciej Cieslak’s studio, located in the ruins of the Wola district of Warsaw – a location heavily affected by the last war – where, undoubtedly, a lot of the darkness from their surroundings seeped into the album. It shows right away with the introducing In, as the tender power of the cello, like a force of nature, claims its space with the gentle touch of a natural born leader; no doubt and no hesitation. The track moves into warmer spaces, then on to more intense ones, with sound waves flashing and spinning and crashing up against you – dizzying and exhilarating.

The romantic Procession follows with sweeping warm notes, a fluttering as of cicadas in the tall grass just beyond us. The whole track, in fact, moves like a leaf floating in the wind, getting swept up in an unexpected turn as the second part comes crashing in; suddenly, strength and independence color the piece, with marching footsteps, bells tolling, and ever the cello, whispering its commands – demanding to be heard all the same. Vibrating just on the edge between wilderness and complacency, the power of the cello equally terrifying and fascinating, we are swept off into Resin, where suddenly the other side of the same artist is portrayed fully: the playful, welcoming, youthful side shows its face, beckoning us unbelievably close to nature. The track has the intensity of a hunt but the innocence of a lighthearted chase, slowly descending into something more mature, more sober, more severe.

In Surface, one of the key elements of Resina’s sound is introduced to full extent – vocals like sirens, calling from the woods, luring us closer and closer. The clarity of the vocals, piercing through the processed sound, makes for an otherworldly experience; with the artist somehow all around us, flashing in and out of focus. Later in the album we are offered another glimpse of the lighter side, as the raw sound of Trigger takes us into a different part of our world. Simultaneously ancient and hyper-modern, the track dances in and out of different eras and continents.

The album ends with the hauntingly memorable Lethe, picking me apart gently – pieces of me slowly drift away, swirling in and out with the vocals. Resina’s voice is far away and then up close, and with the sounds of the deep blue echoing all around me I ask myself – do I float or sink or am I flying? So as the silence settles around me, still she echoes there in the background, this untouched force like a mist all around me, and I am utterly speechless. I feel as though Traces is a flexible, touchable thing, becoming something different to every listener – becoming what it needs to become, saying just what we need (and might be afraid to) hear, and reminding us of exactly that which we need to remember.

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For a Wandering Beam of Sun by Solidarity Hymn by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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Back in the middle of May, the brand new project Solidarity Hymn – consisting of Andy Othling of Lowercase Noises and Steven Kemner of Hotel Neon – released their debut album: a collaboration the two had wanted to explore for a while, having had the idea after touring together as their separate projects. The base of For a Wandering Beam of Sun was created back in August of 2017, as the two musicians sat down together for a week and laid down the foundation of what the album would become – ultimately, a well-balanced mix of their respective styles, blended together in a gloriously unassuming fashion.

Throughout the album the listeners will find themselves positively surrounded by sound and stillness, moving slowly but deliberately, losing neither focus nor feeling. The title track has the most unfaltering hope in those distant horns, telling of new horizons, setting the premises for the album instantly – it is soft, strong and grand in its minimalism. I can hear the sound of sunlight filtering through the dust of an early morning; I feel the movement of the earth, breathing like a sentient being. 

The thoughtfulness and transiency of The Beam I Sought Always Burnt shows just how a little subtlety can reach even further than some grand gesture – with each sway of the ambience perfectly calibrated, you feel like every second of the track is equally important: that nothing and no one was left behind but instead carefully integrated into the soundscape. Later in the album we get a hint of something slightly more sinister as the depth of Death Was Between Us sweeps over the open fields like a mist merely caressing the ground, only to be followed up by the heartbreaking beauty of Dropped Beneath the Downs, quivering like the stillness of a thousand sleeping birds – it settles into a breezy awakening behind my eyes and the movement of the track summons soft melodies inside my head, like daydreams coming in and out of focus. The whole piece is like one big, blissful sigh, echoing in my mind.

In short, the album is a prime example of phenomenal, minimalistic ambient music – slow and still and never dull, moving in such a pace that you follow by pure instinct. For a Wandering Beam of Sun is a beautiful collection of tracks that all encourage you to turn your gaze inwards, see what hides inside you, and lead it gently to come out and see the light.

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Upright Vol. 1 by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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One of our recurring favorites – featured several times here at Piano & Coffee – recently returned with a brand new project, which truly speaks to the heart and soul of all the things we stand for. Upright Vol. 1, created and curated by British pianist and composer Garreth Brooke, is a flawless selection of sheet music for the very best contemporary solo piano music out there. Overflowing with pieces composed and transcribed by a variation of artists (quite a few that we’re well acquainted with), freely given by the composers and carefully edited to perfection, the PDF is a gold mine for glorious music from all around the world – and is available for free.

In an interview with pianodao.com, Brooke said, “The seed of it was my own curiosity – I heard Sergio’s piece Istanbul and I was totally intrigued by it.” Stemming from a desire to play the pieces he found most beautiful, Brooke decided to reach out to the composers of some of his favorite scores and quickly ended up with a rather large collection of them – ultimately leading to the idea of turning the collection into a book of sheet music. The first edition of Upright has 12 different pieces by 12 different artists, including Michael Price, Daigo Hanada, Matt Stewart-Evans, Sergio Díaz De Rojas and Simeon Walker; for every piece, there is a short introductory description of the composer and their composition, followed by the beautifully calibrated sheet music.

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The selection can be purchased from as little as £0.00 up to any amount the buyer feels appropriate, and any profit made is going straight to Music for Relief: a charity providing immediate support to people who have had to endure a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis. In spite of the whole project being a non-profit, Brooke made sure to keep the PDF of a high quality, spending a lot of time making the sheet music look, sound and feel just right. With pieces varying in level of difficulty and style, the first edition of Upright is truly a grand beginning; and though the releases will be irregular, there are plans for a second edition to be published, hopefully before the end of 2018.

So for any piano teachers out there, looking for something fun and modern to surprise their students with – or for the piano players longing for a deep dive into the amazing contemporary piano music we have the pleasure of surrounding ourselves with – head on over to bandcamp, where you can get your hands on Upright Volume 1.

 

P&C interview: Mathias Van Eecloo by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker 

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Mathias Van Eecloo is the sole person behind the magnificent IIKKI Books, a French publishing label which promotes the overlap of visual and musical arts. Eecloo has been experimenting with visuals and sound on his own, and through labels as a combined piece of art since 2014 with eilian rec, a second label he also manages alone. With five editions of IIKKI Books released, and a sixth just around the corner, we spent some precious time talking with Eecloo about his two labels and the story behind them.

IIKKI is an incredible project, unlike any other. How did it begin?

Around early 2000, in my solo artistic practices I frequently worked with slide projectors, in black and white photography. At the same time I started to record my own sounds and I completely immersed myself in it. I received some positive feedback, but it was too difficult for me to be in the forefront of a scene – to be in the spotlight. 15 years later, I needed to return to it, not for my own works, but to highlight some artists that I loved and would like to support. The result was IIKKI. Put simply, I wanted to create a dialog between a visual artist and a music artist. As a passionate collector of books and physical editions of music (CDs and vinyls mainly) I wanted to make my own publishing house/label.

Which desire came first: to release and support music, or to release and support visual arts? Or did the idea come together at once to join them in the way IIKKI does?

The idea came together... it was evident to combine the two. It’s the IIKKI brand!

How are musical and visual artists selected to be paired in an edition?

I have a list of favorite music artists who I think could work really nicely with some visuals; and same in the other way, I have a list of visual artist that I love, who I think could work nicely with sound. From there I approach the artists and introduce the project. When we agree to work together, I propose to them to choose between two or three music or visual artists, whichever is opposite their art. When their choices match with one another, I connect the artists together and the project starts. IIKKI is the bridge – sometimes there are a lot of exchanges of ideas, directions, etc. and sometimes, each of the artists work separately and I put together the pieces of the puzzle.

How has each edition evolved over time? Has the format of IIKKI editions been refined, or is it the same as it was for the first edition?

For each series we work with a friend of mine, a graphic designer, and we use the same graphic charter: same format, layouts, size for the books and the same paper. So the first series (Stills, Alveare, Lowlands), including three books and three vinyls, were similar in the approach. The second series (Mythologies, Orbit and Touch Dissolves to be released in July 2018) keep this idea: same formats, layouts, size and paper, and same for the vinyls. But it’s a different size, paper etc. than the first series. The second series was visually focused on the black and white photography. The third series to come from November 2018 to July 2019 will keep the same idea. It’s a radical choice, but it gives us the strong imprint of IIKKI’s style.

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Personally, are you a musician or visual artist yourself? Or have you come to love, and chosen to support these arts by some other way?

Like I’ve explained previously, I was a photographer of silver photography mainly, and a musician too. But with IIKKI and my other editions projects, I have no other time to express myself, which I sometimes miss a lot! I would love to come back to my personal practices, and I hope I do one day. But I don’t know when… I have to admit that I do consider opening all of my old boxes with more than a thousand black and white slides, scanning some of them and presenting my works in a near future. Maybe on IIKKI!

You also run the unique record label eilean rec, which stitches together music and visual arts as well. Has this been a side-project or something older than IIKKI?

eilean rec. is older than IIKKI, but not so old. The first release was in April 2014, and the last one will be December 2019. Since the start, the plan was to have only 100 releases. And true, the visual part on eilean rec. was and is important since the start. The goal was to try to have coherence between the visuals even if the visual artists come from different practices and horizons. It gave me the idea to develop that more, and then IIKKI was born in September 2016.

Of course, managing two different labels is a lot of work – I alone am the one behind the two publishers/labels. But it’s a great experience and I make a lot of nice discoveries, exchanges with the artists, conversations, ideas. It’s a creativity process too, that I love a lot, truly a pleasure. The only thing is that I don’t have any more time for me, to create my own works and sometimes even, simply, in life. I moved away from Paris seven years ago, and it has been a personal choice to be more isolated, on the countryside in Brittany, far away from what I love and loved before. All to focus on what I would love to create, to choose my time to work on that (mainly during the night) and to be my own employer! So, for now, it’s the perfect place to walk alone in the forest, visit the sea, and work on the two labels.

IIKKI has released 5 editions and will release its 6th in just a few days. What are you excited about in releasing this edition?

Like each edition on IIKKI, I’m always excited to present the next edition. There’s always a lot of excitement but a little stress, too. But that’s the deal! The new one to come features Touch Dissolves, including Aaron Martin for the sound and Yusuf Sevincli for the photography. It’s a special one because it will close the black and white photography series, and I will be at Arles with my graphic designer for Les Rencontres De La Photographie to present the new book and the vinyl (and a CD, too, this time). And of course, we will have the previous editions too. So, fingers crossed, we hope it goes well!

Anything else you want readers to know about IIKKI that we haven’t already asked?

I believe almost everything has been said. But again and again, I would like to offer a big thanks to all the music artists and visual artists who have been involved with IIKKI since the start, the new ones to come, and for trusting me with IIKKI. Without them, nothing of IIKKI could have happened! And on the other hand, too, I thank all the people who have followed the project and continue to follow it, for the passionate listeners, readers, collectors, book shops, music shops, galleries and people who spread the word, for those who have some editions at home! Without that IIKKI could not exist. And thanks a lot to you at Piano & Coffee Co., for coming to me with the idea to do an interview. I really appreciate it.