Review

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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Sosiranu Piano by repair by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

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

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

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

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

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

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光 by Ian Hagwood by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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

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

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

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Crossworlds by Joshua Van Tassel by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Premiere: Vicissitude by Cameron Brooks by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Sergio Díaz De Rojas

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

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

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

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

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

 Picture by Ben Brooke

Picture by Ben Brooke

 

Periphery by Danny Clay by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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

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

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

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

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

 

Variations Vol I by Jesse Woolston by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

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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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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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.