Music

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.

 

WÆNDE by CEEYS by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

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The duo of German brothers Daniel and Sebastian Selke, CEEYS, hardly needs much introduction to the readers of Piano & Coffee. “Ceeys”, a portmanteau they created of the words “cello” and “keys”, represents the core of their music making, their respective main instruments of expertise. The brothers have collaborated successfully playing and composing with piano and cello from an early age and have released two previous albums as CEEYS, but have also collaborated with other artists on many known projects of their genre, together and separately. Their latest release, WÆNDE, is simultaneously an album and a photography project, and was released on May 18th, 2018 on Neue Meister.

The work concept focuses on the brothers' memories of their early life growing up in East Berlin in the last decade of the GDR, and as described in their own words, they use the release to come to terms with their memories, impressions and feelings about these rather hybrid times. “Waende” has the meaning of walls in the German language; the brothers used to listen to each other and sometimes play together while in different rooms of their flat, but the word also correlates to the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

This is portrayed in the audio with the inventive utilization of carefully selected vintage gear from the era, and built on with the duo’s fantasy of instrumentation. Inventive can also be said about Sebastian's relationship with the cello, to which he demonstrates the clear authority and technical freedom that can only be acquired by years of classical training. The cello is a machine, an animal, and everything in between. On WÆNDE, generally, the imaginative tricks and hidden corners of the instruments have a noticeably clear artistic purpose and placement, while the former works carry slightly more of an air of improvisation. Occasionally, the soundscape references to the known German pioneers of electronic music.

One impression of the compositions is that most of the songs exist in a calm frame, with vivid, pacing movement inside – the piano often creating the frame and the cello doing most of the pacing, with stark techniques of the bow or with pizzicato. In Rectangles, the cello corresponds with the frame, sometimes in a dialogue, with a simple motif mimicking the sound and pitch of the outlining frame but at times frustrated and coarse, almost animalistic. This particular track perhaps corresponds especially well with the work concept as a whole, which is explored through different depths and colors on the rest of the album. Greys stands out as well, notably cold and nearly mechanical, while expanding throughout. The cello lurks along the scope of sound, virtually becoming one with it, stirs up tension and then disappears. Zanzibar is a beautiful, upbeat end to the work, made from pizzicato loops and drops of “Arvo Pärt”-ic, minimal piano motifs.

From a quick earful, WÆNDE might seem minimalistic but in reality is full of nuances and details. This is one of the duo’s main characteristics, but the brothers generally exercise a reduced approach to composing and improvising, resulting in what they call “accessible minimalism” with elements from different genres of instrumental music. The production is immaculate, and the listener is left with a sense of intention every second of the album. Cold and warm, motionless and still moving, WÆNDE makes an interesting point of antithesis and form, a work of disciplined quality, yet leaving room for plenty of turmoil.

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P&C interview: Snorri Hallgrímsson by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

 Snorri Hallgrímsson by Nicolas Hyatt

Snorri Hallgrímsson by Nicolas Hyatt

15th of June will mark the release date of Snorri Hallgrímsson's first album, Orbit. Hallgrímsson, a recent name at the Canadian-based Moderna Records, has an impressive background in composing. Holding degrees in composition from Iceland Academy of the Arts and Berklee College of Music, Hallgrímsson has scored several projects for screen and is a long-term collaborator of his compatriot Ólafur Arnalds. Orbit is a curious construction of music, using distorted beats, piano, strings and vocal elements to achieve a result, which conveys clearly an internal dialogue, a struggle, and ambivalence. 


You've summarized the project under the name Orbit, a term from physics. Could you elaborate on how the title sheds light on the album concept?

Most of the songs on Orbit were written shortly after I moved back to Iceland. I had been living in Spain and Mexico, where I made so many wonderful friends from all over the world. Coming back, Iceland felt half-empty. While Iceland is my ‘home,’ it felt much less so when I came back because of all the people in my life who weren’t there. Now I’ve accepted that no place will ever feel fully home – for better or worse. Nevertheless, I’m always searching for that feeling, planning and organizing trips to try to see the people I miss.

The title Orbit comes from a poem of the same name that my wife wrote about coffee (her best friend while she experienced her first Icelandic winter). There’s a line that goes “I spin consistent circles ‘round the centre”, which I blatantly stole, as I thought it described how I felt perfectly: Drifting from place to place, but held on a steady course by the very people I’m searching for. Ironically, I actually hate coffee...

Having lived, studied and worked in such interesting and different corners of the world, in what ways have these different cultures influenced your working process as a composer?

The most obvious answer is work/life balance. Everything feels more laid back in Spain, and even more so in Mexico. Since the cost of living was so low, I could afford to work less and take more time on each project. In Iceland, I need to work constantly just to be able to make a living as a composer. But in my experience, having more time doesn’t mean you’ll spend that time working on your own projects. When I’m too relaxed, I can’t get myself to work on anything – and when I’m constantly working, I can’t stop. Finding the right balance between the two is the hard part. Maybe there’s a fourth country where I’ll find it?

You have made the great decision to use your own voice on this album. The voice itself and the style of singing gives a very personal and organic, fragile touch to the soundscape. Was it always in the cards for this one, to sing?

Thank you! Yes and no. I’m much more experienced in writing instrumental music, and generally, I focus more on harmony and atmosphere than melody. Usually, I start a song without even knowing whether there will be vocals or not. The main reason I decided to sing on this album was exactly to make it feel and sound more personal. I work a lot with Ólafur Arnalds, one of the forerunners of neo-classical music. He’s had a huge influence on composers in that genre so I was very aware of the need to establish my own sound, that felt personal to me. One of the best ways to do that was to use my own voice.

It’s also funny that you ask because Moderna Records almost exclusively releases instrumental music. When I told them I wanted to sing... well I’ve seen happier people in my life. I actually ended up singing way more than I anticipated on the album. Sorry guys! In all seriousness though, they’ve been great throughout this whole process in giving me the freedom to do what I think is right. 

 Snorri Hallgrímsson by Nicolas Hyatt

Snorri Hallgrímsson by Nicolas Hyatt

Is the lyric-writing process for you any similar to the composing of the music?

Yes, I think I subconsciously approach it in a similar minimalistic way. My music isn’t really telling a story, rather it’s describing a feeling or a state of being. So once I’ve found a text, or a harmony, that accurately portrays that, I don’t feel a need to expand or complicate it. Instead, I find repetition is a very powerful tool and I use it purposefully when writing both music and lyrics.

All of the album’s lyrics are in English, yet the two instrumental tracks have Icelandic titles. How come?

My wife, Jelena (herself an incredible songwriter), actually wrote a lot of the lyrics on the album. She’s a native English speaker. I also get her to look over the stuff I write. I’m aware of how easy it is to settle for over-used clichés when you’re not writing in your native language because you don’t realize how limited your vocabulary actually is, even when you think you speak fluently. It’s very handy to have a personal thesaurus at home!

The two tracks with Icelandic titles are named after lines of poetry they were inspired by. They also happen to be the only instrumental tracks on the album. Those tracks are more internal somehow, and it made sense to use my native language to express that. I think your native language can strip you down more, whereas other languages don’t fully reveal what’s behind the mask. Maybe I write lyrics in English because I’m subconsciously afraid of showing too much of myself?

Your native Iceland has a rich choral tradition and a large repertoire of some eerie folk tunes with dark lyrics. Somehow they came to mind from time to time, listening through Orbit. Do they ever ring through your mind or was this a coincidental effect?

I had an Argentinian teacher once who always said my music sounded cold. I was pretty sure it was just because I was the only person from Iceland he knew. It became a running joke among my classmates and still is. I used to be annoyed by it (OK maybe I still am), but I also have to admit there might be something to it, though I’m not trying to make my music sound ‘Icelandic’.

I’ve sung in many choirs and still do. I’ve also written a lot of choral music which inevitably is inspired by Icelandic choral tradition, which in turn is partially inspired by those eerie folk tunes and rhymes. And writing choral music heavily inspired the approach to the songwriting on this album, the harmony in particular. The string chords in the track Homeless are “borrowed” from a choral piece of mine, and the album’s outro Týnd er tunga þín is built around a heavily processed live recording of the same piece. Manipulating my own choir recordings is something I really love doing. It can create this dark, almost uncomfortable beauty which is so inspiring to me.

Finally, the official video from the album track Still Life was premiered recently, you have talked about it revolving around the relationship between architecture and nature. It´s a very nice angle to the concept, how did it come about?

I’m glad you think so because, in my completely unbiased opinion, the video is absolutely gorgeous! I was so lucky to get to work with Gala Hernández, a fantastic director based in Paris. I trusted her completely so I gave her free rein. I had previously scored one of her beautiful films, so I knew she was capable of capturing this fragile, bleak melancholy that in some ways characterizes my music.

The video begins by showing how simple things in nature have inspired city architecture. But then Gala takes it further by capturing ordinary people in suburban Paris going about their day surrounded by these huge lifeless buildings—a reminder of how far we have come from our natural roots. These images, combined with the line “spring, unbearable and never-ending”, show this depressingly mundane reality in an almost dystopian way.

But this is just my interpretation of her video—Gala may not agree with me at all. To me, the best art leaves room for you to portray your own feelings through it. That’s what Gala’s video to Still Life does for me, and what I hope my music can do for other people.

Preorder Orbit here .

 

Mind Vessel by Tortusa by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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Two years after his successful release, I Know This Place, Tortusa recently released another collaborative album, this time with Norwegian jazz saxophonist and fellow electronic composer Inge Weatherhead Breistein. Using samples of saxophone recordings and processing them through various soft- and hardware, Tortusa has created an eclectic mix of rhythmic experimentations, different textures and ambiences, and intriguing soundscapes.

Mind Vessel begins with the deep abyss of Hopes, an overwhelming sense of doom in those echoing chambers, tinged with a subtle gentleness to the dread. A sudden voice in the hopelessness takes tone, a voice of sobriety but also curiosity, and starts telling the same story from a different angle, thus allowing it to be viewed in a more nuanced light: suddenly the dark just doesn’t seem as daunting any more. The slow, deep, jazzy thing called Snow Mold comes next, taking ambience to a whole new level, telling of how important the recording spaces have proven to be for the collaborating duo. With variations of closeness, the saxophone somehow both unexpected and completely true to the sound, the track is buzzing with energy and inspiration, enclosing me with warmth and confidence.

The title track proves the perfect example of the experimental nature of the duo, with the sax ticking like Morse code – I can’t help but wonder what it’s saying, who it’s calling out for: what message it has to convey. When a new voice chimes in I needn’t wonder any longer, as two souls call out to each other, like birds across an ocean, weeping in the same language but on different wave lengths. Another glorious track follows – Keep Coming Back introduces a gentle, natural backdrop, through which the listener is being lead by the flighty sax, a hopeful thing, lighting the way. The droning drifts off into a different state of being, with echoing percussion, a close-up of the saxophone, and eerie whistling soaring off with the wind

The erratic footsteps through crisp snow in Rusting in the Shallow take me on a last trip through the Nordic woods, and as the album comes to an end I find myself simultaneously emptied out and completely filled up with sounds and images I hadn’t thought to envision before. Mind Vessel has proven itself to be another fascinating exploration of sound manipulation and combinations unthought-of, expertly manufactured by two souls with, what seems like, a shared passion for the mix of exotic, jazzy and experimental.

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µstructure by Jesse Woolston by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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Enter a world of mesmerised wonder and dazed stupor in New Zealand based multimedia artist and composer Jesse Woolston’s recent release “µstructure” (Microstructure) in which six very different pieces hold together in a spellbinding way, as his sonic sojourn lures us into unfamiliar territory. Somewhere between meditation, incantation, and an out of body experience, these sounds play with scale, as music emerges from the structures. Adding a layer of visual element to this project, these pieces are accompanied by a photographic series of microscopic images, and as a full experience these sounds relate to the aesthetics and materials used in the images.

This album breathes to life in a celestial glimmer of piano textures lilting and colliding on This Way Comes, as spaces move between, tiny details intersect, and shapes and structures materialise. With bass slapped, then a wavering tremolo against a sheen of synths like plastic wrap, there is a sense of wonderment, of drawing you in to look deeper. Lambent 1 is a shuddering, awe-inspiring moment like an earthquake rippling out in slow motion on some distant landscape in a deep, dark corner of outer space. Like looking through the time-space continuum to somewhere post-human, there is a sensation of weightlessness – as if floating through shards of light in the darkness, with flashes of colour in bowed strings, and a liquid swirl in sparse, meandering piano musings.

In the highly detailed, textured sound of the title track, rhythms suspend precariously in a delicate balance of sounds; a bricolage of sampled gurgles and tics that are at once disjointed and unified. They flicker and chirp around a chanting, pulsating synth texture that is dark and slightly unnerving. Each sound is like a carefully selected specimen with a texture of its own, and together they come to life and play off each other in a way that is as infectious as it is intellectual.

Bathing in a gentle warm glow of synth, strings and horns, Design in Motion is like the eerie glow of a nuclear explosion. Like looking across the horizon of some gaseous planet in slow orbit, the sound is sustained as it shifts and changes form. This is then followed by fragments of piano and fractured motifs in Piano Form, with its sinister tone, like cobwebs catching the light in a deserted factory. The closing track Movement concludes with a sense of familiarity, with its open voiced strings, contemplative piano gently meandering, and hints of woodwinds; a homecoming.  With a rustling climax, we are left hanging, before a simple gesture of piano floats by, like a feather gently coming down to rest.

Though there is something very clinical and cold in some of the places Woolston takes us, there is an enduring humanity and grace woven through this music, often living in the warmth of piano textures, and the glow of strings. There is a strong cerebral element, something more conceptual that makes this more than pure aesthetics. There is a sense of structure that unfolds that is altogether deliberate and considered; this is music on a completely different wavelength.

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Track premiere: My Love by Sophie Hutchings by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

Circles is a compilation album curated by Japanese artist Yasuhiko Fukuzono, aka Aus, and will be released on his record label Flau on June 27th, 2018, in celebration of their 10-year anniversary in the music world.

All the tracks on Circles are waltzes, but in Japanese culture, the waltz is also referred to as a “dance to draw a circle”. The featured artists come from several different countries and continents and were given the freedom to make their own interpretations of a waltz. At some point, most of them have traveled to Japan on concert tours organized by Fukuzono, thus additionally from the notion of a waltz, the music is inspired by the intimacy of friendships and the time spent together, rather than by sentimental or nostalgic sources, which creates a lovely overall brightness to the compilation.

My Love, composed by Sophie Hutchings, is the seventh track of the compilation, in which the Australian pianist and composer lends us a warm, forward-moving waltz, manifesting her known evocative musicality and tender sound on the keys. Listen to it below.

Pre-order Circles on Bandcamp

 

A Baleia by Will Samson by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

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The British-born, Brussels-based Will Samson has just released his seventh solo work, an EP named A Baleia, on Dauw.

Samson has been known to experiment with recording techniques, focusing on old tape machines and analog equipment. He portrays some rather strong musical characteristics throughout his works, but A Baleia differs from the rest when it comes to style. As an example, his previous album Welcome Oxygen from 2017 (a treasure, by the way) seems inspired by folk elements, possibly belonging more in a category with the likes of Bon Iver, Kings of Convenience, Sufjan Stevens or even Beach House.

A Baleia, as expressed by the release label Dauw, was originally inspired by Samson's time spent in a flotation tank, where he experienced a complete, dark, silent weightlessness. He has described the experience as a first in a series of “deeply healing” events, and the result which we hear are four wordless, ambient works. The album title, as well as the tracks, are in Portuguese — A Baleia meaning “The Whale”. Samson's previous albums generally have titles in English, but this development might be a tribute to the composer's Portuguese ancestry, as well as his time spent in Portugal.

Through the four tracks, titled Faroleiro, (which translates as Lighthouse Keeper), A Baleia (The Whale), Brilhar (Shine), and the final track, Vozes Encontradas (Found Voices), the listener gets introduced to the void, an air of weightlessness. Each track is carefully woven out of different, thick and thin textures of organic sound, rays of fluid tones, sometimes carried in a forward movement and sometimes with an impression of a complete time-stop. The final track is especially soul-stirring, perhaps more intense than the previous ones, maybe depicting the end of the journey. An ongoing minor third gives the atmosphere, travels between different carriers of sound and gets answered to by the sound of an optimistic, warm violin that feels almost like a divine light, welcoming you back.

Will Samson's evolution between albums is very enjoyable to observe, but the recurring theme in all of them seem to be light, growth, rebirth and balancing of the soul. Samson manages this well and transports his personal healing experience straight to the listener. A Baleia and its meditative, fluid, luminous music are here to make your life better.

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Sleep Stations by From the Mouth of the Sun by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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On May 18th, the brightly brilliant From the Mouth of the Sun, comprised of Aaron Martin and Dag Rosenqvist, released their latest work, Sleep Stations EP – a gorgeous continuation of their previous works, as the pieces were actualized alongside many of the tracks from both their full-length album, Hymn Binding (2017) and the soundtrack they scored for Menashe. There is nothing repetitive or derivative about their new EP, though, as the musicians managed to sum up a different theme and focus fully on it, transforming the six pieces into a work of art that stands separate from their predecessors, while still carrying many of the characteristics of the pieces that came before.

The short intro, About the Birth of Stars, with its completely innocent and intimate sound, brings us closer than I could have imagined possible – soaring strings and fluttering wings take us up and forward, through some magnified version of the universe we’re about to enter. It transcends into the warm but lonely Reaching When Nothing Is There; we hear the sorrowful, absentminded humming of someone awake while the rest of the world is asleep, deeply affecting on some new level of distress – add in a beautiful new voice and suddenly we see, we hear, twinkling stars like an answer to the void, to the empty, and maybe all is well again.

The swooping, minimalistic ambience of About the Life of Stars send images flying through my mind – I can practically see the sound waves rolling through the air, like the curves of the mountains, framing the sky, vibrating with the deep rumble of Earth’s constant movement. The title track follows then, a long, unhurried beginning where I strain to hear the rustling static, telling of the story coming more and more into focus. It grows slowly, so slowly, into a rumbling droning: the track moves like the gentlest of giants, walking through seas like they’re puddles – slow and careful but ever moving.

About the Death of Stars brings us hastily down to earth again, with a new longing for the infinite sky above us – the piece is like a eulogy of sound, with dramatic cello backed up by the safety and clarity of the piano. A second part of the track allows for a sudden growth into a grander state, the breathtaking cries of strings being soothed in their mourning by the steadfast piano, only to fade out into a delicately somber outro. Ending on A Place We Cannot See, with a shuddering melody, exposed and fragile but completely unafraid, the EP finds a hopeful sound to break through the clouds, and becomes the rebirth of all the things we once lost. Staying true to their sound, From the Mouth of the Stars has brought forth another beautiful addition to their growing collection of releases, with Sleep Stations EP proving a perfect next step for the duo.

 

P&C interview: Florian Christl by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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Florian Christl is a new arrival in the classical and ambient music scene, and his debut album Inspiration was released in March of this spring. Though he has been a musician all his life, this breakthrough into the professional music world has afforded him recognition from many notables including Sony Classical record label and pianist and composer Nils Frahm. We were very fortunate to catch up with Florian and learn more about his recent success while he has already been on the road, playing concerts around Europe.

Let’s start at the beginning. How did music enter your life? When did it become a central part of your life?

Music has always fascinated me and played a very important role in my life. I started piano lessons at the age of 5 – I can still remember my very first lesson. I was so excited that I immediately knew, "That's what I want to do”! I found my great passion in music and playing the piano when I was 5 years old and this passion has not diminished even today - on the contrary! From day one I have invested every free minute in the music and worked on being able to describe myself as a "professional musician" one day.

As a musician with less background in theory and formal instruction, do you feel this gives you any advantages in your composing and performing? Any disadvantages?

In fact, this question has kept me busy for years. Of course, a basic understanding of musical theory is needed. But for me, music is not a purely theoretical arrangement of tones and chords. Music is a passion for me. Music is emotion and in my opinion, it cannot be forced into a given grid or constructed according to a schema. I want to create something new, let my inspiration run free and let the music be music.

I think if I had studied music my tunes might sound different today. But I do not think it's a disadvantage for me not to have studied music – perhaps it is an advantage since I can pursue completely free my kind of composition, and thereby have a different view than a classically educated musician. I always had a clear goal in mind and knew what I wanted; I have taught myself and I am firmly convinced that this path and the years of work, self-study, and experience have made me the musician I am today.

Could you walk us through your process of composition?

What fascinates me about music is that you cannot plan or force it. Music just happens. I am sitting at the piano, improvising, and suddenly there is a melody that completely absorbs my current mood and carries it in itself: pure inspiration. From this point on, I am completely trapped in the music. I play the melody, develop it further. Meanwhile, I also hear the strings in my head. The piece actually comes out by itself. Sometimes it seems to me that the melody just waited to finally become audible.

When composing, do you envision these other instruments or does that addition come afterwards? Do you ever compose with other musicians?

I always compose alone. Composing is a very personal and emotional process for me. I shut out everything around me. In these moments, there is only me and my music. As mentioned above, a new piece builds up gradually in my thoughts. More instruments like the string parts I usually have in my ear right from the beginning. But sometimes a piece is completely finished and only at the hundredth play of the piece, I realise that something is missing. Then the creative process begins again from the beginning and the "real" piece is created. Like for example "Close Your Eyes," the second track on the album.

When did you first realize that your music was gaining significant attention (from the likes of Nils Frahm and Sony Classical)? What was your reaction?

What has happened in the last few months still feels somehow surreal. Record deal, photo shoots, video shoots, concerts, recordings in the recording studio, album release, #1 in the iTunes classic charts, upcoming Germany tour etc. My dream is about to come true... it's hard to understand! But there are always these little moments in which I really understand for a few seconds and perceive what is happening here. These are moments of absolute happiness in which tears of joy come to my eyes every time. I'm overjoyed and thankful and I'm looking forward to the coming time.

Your very recent debut album, ‘Inspiration,’ was released this spring, but it sounds like you’ve been composing and performing your own music since 2013 or earlier. Have the songs of ‘Inspiration’ simply evolved over the years into the form they are now? Or are there original compositions of yours prior to ‘Inspiration’ that do not appear on this album?

On this album, I have united my highlights and favorite pieces from my previous musical work. All pieces are original versions. C'EST LA VIE is e.g. already created in 2011, CLOSE YOUR EYES or DESIRE were created in 2017.

You have taken the music of ‘Inspiration’ on the road to perform at various concerts across Europe so far. Will you continue this tour of concerts beyond May or return to compose more music for the future? Or, have you already been creating new music while on the road?

The past few months have been such an inspiring time for me. I've already written so many new songs, I could go straight to the studio and record another album! But of course, we'll go on tour and do as many concerts as possible to present to the audience my debut album ‘Inspiration.’ We are currently planning further dates for this year.

As you have grown as a musician into the position you now occupy, is there anything you would like to change? Or anything you would have done differently up to this point?

I would do everything exactly like that again. As I said, I think that all the decisions, obstacles and events in my path have made me the musician that I am today.

The music video for the song ‘Fly’ is astonishing. How was this video made? Can we expect to see more visual art such as this music video in the future?

The video shoot was a terrific and inspiring experience. We packed an old piano in the VW bus of my buddy and we drove to Austria in the Alps. There we put the piano right in the middle of nowhere and filmed it. Sitting at the piano with a view of the mountain lake, glacier and the breath-taking alpine panorama was simply indescribable. We will definitely produce more videos of this kind in the future.

If you could choose one musician to spend a day with in the studio, composing or sharing ideas or maybe just hanging out – who would you pick?

In the studio: Daniel Hope. Composing, sharing ideas: Woodkid.

Lastly, what kind of new things can fans of yours get excited about in the near future? What new projects are in the works?

I stand right at the start of a hopefully long musical journey, full of ideas, inspiration and zest. However, at this moment I’m focused on the presentation of my latest album INSPIRATION. At the same time, I'm working on a sheets book for my album INSPIRATION, which will hopefully be released in the middle of this year.

 

See by Muriël Bostdorp by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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Netherlands-based composer and pianist Muriël Bostdorp’s recent release See is a collection of pieces that are evocative and steeped with imagery, and a melancholy undercurrent running throughout. A series of piano solos drenched in sepia tone, this album has a gentle, lulling quality and is easy to get lost in. These songs seem to loop and undulate, patterns emerging from the circles and ellipses. Like a flip-book of flickering images, these songs speak to the imagination and bring dreams to life.

It is no surprise in hearing this music to learn that this is an artist who has been drawn to piano and other keyboard instruments from a very young age. Even as a late bloomer commencing formal lessons from age 16, there is a clear sense of musicality illuminated by the passion she pours into these compositions. Her contemporary classical style has a cinematic feel, and draws on classical influences such as Claude Debussy and Philip Glass, and from contemporary composers such as Nils Frahm and Max Richter.

Opening track ‘Intro’ sets the scene with a wistful sigh, like a sad song from an antique music box. Wavering in the breeze of a desolate landscape, the piano textures and melodies that emerge dance like shadow puppets, gentle and mellow but with an icy chill. ‘Danse des Nuages’ has a feeling of flight and flurry, with a buoyant melody that is whimsical and naïve in its playfulness. By third track ‘About A Girl’ we find ourselves in a deep introspective place as the tempo slows to an aimless wandering pace, as if searching for something unknown. This song feels a little deeper with a sombre tone, like sorrow tempered by the passage of time.

‘For Willem’ is a standout track and feels like an opening in the clouds, an outpouring expressing things that are perhaps beyond words. This song best exemplifies the bittersweet sensibility that runs through the entire album; a constant tension between the feeling of hopefulness and listlessness. Following on with ‘My Heart Crumbles,’ we are led into a pensive, reflective state with a tinge of sorrow and regret at the inevitability of fate, before the graceful melody of ‘The Comforting Words of Your Mother’ offers a moment of repose; a warm embrace.

Moving back into that introspective space, 'Lights Out’ is also another poignant moment on the album, like a rainy day alone with your thoughts. Next, with ‘Miles’ Bostdorp is a little more playful and adventurous, flipping between two contrasting ideas, with some surprising, angular chord changes. Then there is a moment in time marked with ‘Beneath Starlight,’ which is like an ephemeral glimmer of stillness, like a gentle lullaby.

‘Merry-Go-Rewind’ is a playful but sinister, like a dark dream waltzing through an old ballroom with velvet curtains and dust-frosted chandeliers. Playing with the idea of spinning in the other direction, this music is subtly disorientating. As the darkness further encroaches, ‘Abandoned’ conjures up images of haunted houses with a lurking sense of doom, as if being stalked by fate. Finally, the album closes with ‘Falling,’ conveying a feeling of speed and urgency, as if rushing towards something. Relentlessly galloping, with a sense of yearning, striving, reaching out in vain.

The individual songs on See are beautiful, though sometimes blend into each other; as an album there sometimes isn’t quite enough light and shade. The artist has done a wonderful job in creating a tracklisting that best maximises the contrast between the songs, and nonetheless covers a broad range of nuanced emotions. Using the sounds of prepared piano, she blends the mellow Una Corda style piano sonority with the delicate intricacies of hammers and the internal action of the piano with its percussive tics and creaks. A lush sound indeed, this seemed to suit some songs better than others, and lost a little impact in its blanket application. It is very expressive; adding a complex timbre that creates a very distinct feeling, but at times becomes a distraction, obscuring the playing.

Overall, this was a very pleasant album to get lost in, instantly accessible and very easy to listen to. Given full attention over several listens, these songs reveal themselves on a deeper level, as their subtleties unfold. Equally, a casual listen will surprise in the places this allows the mind to wander. This is unquestionably contemplative music, and is best listened to in solitude by the window on a rainy day.

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Purchase and stream See on Bandcamp.

 

Improvisations On An Apricot by Aqueduct Ensemble by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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Sophomore release “Improvisations on an Apricot” from label Last Resort is the fruits of a collaboration between Ohio based artist Keith Freund and his neighbour Stu. Keith has previously released music as part of both Lejsovka & Freund and Trouble Books and Stu is a piano tuner and professional pianist and together they build this album adding to each other’s improvisations. This album is rooted in free jazz, taking flights of fancy into cosmic synths, and is joyful and playful in its summery, daydreamy quality. There is a real sense of considered inquiry and experimentation in this album, with a pleasing balance of gentle parts with more challenging moments.

There is a sense in this album that everything is part of a bigger whole, each song almost forming a different corner or focal point of the larger canvas. Indeed, there is a great sense of painterly quality to the way this music flows, and the colours and textures are layered. This ECM style jazz album comes rebooted with a few modern touches of synth licks and stylistic choices. The feeling of spontaneity from the improvised elements, combined with the deliberate consideration behind creative choices in combining ideas makes for a listening experience that feels like a Super 8 Film flashback to a childhood summer vacation.

In that vivid sense of reality that childhood daydreams have, ‘Borrowed Sax Test’ opens the album with its smoky, hazy open chords. Subtly psychedelic, subconscious and surreal, the saxophone meanders amongst liquid, trickling synths and a gentle bed of mellow texture. A triptych of songs entitled ‘Cut Grass 1,’ ‘Cut Grass 2,’ and ‘Cut Grass 3’ follows this short track. In these next few tracks, there are equal parts soothing and challenging elements, with a sense of balance despite the looseness of form.

‘Cut Grass 1’ opens with the off-kilter, stammering rhythm of piano, held in a moment of anticipation before casting off into a sprawling dream of arpeggios and bright trumpet, as the bass is swooning below. Following on with ‘Cut Grass 2,’ this track ventures into a more bold experimentation of sparseness and looseness of form. Tone clusters and staccato gestures punctuated by great spaces in between build a jittery, uneven background for wailing, droning calls, like stretched out tape samples. Finally, ‘Cut Grass 3’ returns to familiar piano murmuring and the moonlit tones of a single muted trumpet, with the texture of rapid-fire rhythms.

‘Potters View North’ hits us with a deliberate reminder of the improvised spontaneity in the studio with a snippet of studio banter left onto the start of the reel before the piano embarks on its hopeful, lilting melody. Layers of saxophone, synth and rattling textures build, while the bass chases its tail in the background, creating a wash of sound that is bright and airy, like the horizon at twilight. Then the tone of the album shifts with ‘In Perfect Air,’ with its open saxophone chords overlaid with manic, flickering synth textures and a sustained bassline.

On penultimate track ‘C. Backlit’ there is a glimpse of hummingbirds and insects fluttering in the heat of summer amongst the textures of broken piano chords. Drunken bass washes against a background of bustling synths, filtered strings and modulating tone colours. The album concludes with “To Close Without Saving,” with a reedy drone, spaced out piano and a drowsy bottom end of swirling bass. Pierced with bright rays of trumpet sunshine, the sounds become distorted, pushing to the edge of discomfort, and then abruptly stops.

In its limited use of instruments and timbres, there is a real sense of a controlled palette, and this unifies the album from start to finish. The combination and variation of these different colours and textures truly felt like listening to something visual be laid out on canvas. The sonic sensibility of the album really evoked the idea of brushstrokes, gestures, scraping and smearing, painting in a way that is somewhere between expressionism and abstract impressionism. 

 

Day One by Ben Laver by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

Inspired by one of the sentiments explored in John Koenig’s Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, the British composer Ben Laver has embarked on a journey marked by three instrumental EP’s culminating in a full-length album in August. “Sonder”, the realization that everyone has a story as complex and vivid as your own, encouraged Laver to further explore and elaborate on the complex and unique nature of humanity in his compositions, and back in February the first part of his multi-release saw the light – the Day One EP.

Emotional but fully in control, Keeper begins with beautiful waves of intensity, warm cello playing around soulfully with the nuances, and then gracefully stepping aside as the piano comes in. The instruments are like two languages blending together, complimenting each other incredibly well – Laver’s background in composing for picture media is apparent from the very start. Halfway through the piece, he adds a break with an entirely different feel to it, and for a moment everything tilts and spins, only to be gently brought back to everyday life, the softness of the main theme.

A whole new story, a whole new life, and universe it seems, is told in Liberosis – the quick, light footsteps bring me forward so suddenly and so lithely, I feel like I’m weightless. The creaking in the background takes me to some distant place, surrounded by trees; I am so safe and so alive and the light shines truly, not on me but through me. I know with all my being that I could run forever, cascading around this tiny bubble of light, piano-like glittering dust in the air all around me. However, this track, too, takes a serious turn halfway through, reminding us again of the intricacy of life, not to be forgotten even for a second.

The ending track is a thoughtful, gentle voice, so incredibly soft that I am convinced now that a piano can whisper, can make its own decisions – Laver’s compositions have lives of their own, and Sleep, with just a tinge of sadness beneath the calm, still surface, moves like someone wise beyond their years and almost unbearably heartfelt in its sincere love for every person listening. I, for one, couldn’t be happier that Laver found quite the source of inspiration in the word “sonder” as it allowed for such an evocative concept: a great reminder to be mindful of the many things we don’t know about each other – and truly, this first part of the release has left me rather impatient for more.