Music

Hiddensee by CEEYS by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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CEEYS return with third album ‘Hiddensee’ which expands upon themes and inspiration feeding into their last two albums, building on childhood memories and impressions of East Germany and influenced by the aesthetic of Europe’s largest prefab estate in Berlin-Marzahn-Hellersdorf. An excellent example of minimalist music that manages to keep things very tight and refined, this album has a consistent concept and sound palette within each song while still offering for contrast and variation in very subtle ways that push the music along. 

The piano truly speaks for itself in these compositions as a central force that is self-assured, with a depth that is clearly the result of well honed skill, set against masterful strings and unified with arrangements that serve to support these key elements while never overcrowding.  As the result of rigorous process and concept, this music contains a sense of depth that invites deconstruction, but is equally pleasing at face value.

The album begins with a stark juxtaposition of sounds on ‘Trabanten’. Brooding, ruminating piano sits against rapid-fire rhythmic pounding with an irregularity to it that begins fast, then slowing down to a more tentative pace before speeding up again. Spliced with a touch of synth and perhaps a hint of electric guitar, this is a wonderful beginning to the album. Next on ‘Leaving Wallbook,’ pizzicato strings are mixed with dampened piano that still packs a punch amongst echoes, ripples and texture that disintegrate to slow bowed stings in held harmonies, with a real sense of deliberate restraint. 

The following track ‘Sagres’ stands out with its emphatic, heavy bowed strings that have a scraping, sandpapery quality, offering texture and bite. Lurking beneath is a sustained droning bass, while piano meanders amongst the waves, building into more chordal forms. ‘All Airport Delays’ is short but sweet, with a sunrise of glowing strings set against piano that trickles and shimmers; both crystal clear and deeply resonant. Leading on from here with flickering synth texture, ‘Horizont’ is a well integrated sound-world with its minimal drums and delicate interplay between solo strings and piano. 

‘Helikopter’ is a compelling track with an intensity that carries through filtered rotor sounds that create an abstract flickering, at times verging on tonal more than textural quality. With a steady kick drum, everything whirs around the synth and strings with slight delay, before piano joins to complete the palette. The next track, ‘Lost and Found’ bores in with its fast, throaty bowed strings set against chordal, rhythmic piano, before ‘Solar Sunny’ offers something more delicate with pulsing synth and a gentle rise and fall. 

We take a sharp left turn at ‘0991,' veering perhaps a little too close to a dance remix with its four-to-the-floor pounding, though ultimately the track redeems itself through soaring solo strings and some wild string harmonics at the end that make an impossible leap, sounding more like piccolo than anything that might be bowed. Next, ‘Wanda’ is full of interconnectedness between murky harmonies and rhythms joyously colliding, with plucky synth and slower, pensive piano.

Moving into the tail end of the album, ‘Wanderer’ stretches out with elongated strings that seem to go on and on, while synth patterns mark out punchy treble musings. Finally, on closer and title track ‘Hiddensee’ the album wraps up with lovely, light-hearted piano alongside delicate cumulative pizzicato strings, and just a touch of sound texture woven through.

This album is wonderfully refined; each song and indeed the album as a whole are well balanced, minimal but varied, with very tight arrangements and production resulting in a very accomplished end result. Though the work is not overly emotive, it is nonetheless compelling - even moving at times - though in more of an intellectual than a heartfelt way. This is by no means a criticism, as the overall impression is ultimately a collection of songs that don’t have to work too hard to make their mark.

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P&C interview: Lisa Morgenstern by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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Born into a world of music, it’s no surprise that young German/Bulgarian composer Lisa Morgenstern is already well on her way of making quite the name for herself. With her second full length-album released earlier this year, she showcased a gloriously fearless voice, paired with intricate experimental electronica and emotive piano instrumentals. Chameleon was recorded in collaboration with Argentinean producer and cellist Sebastian Plano, and contains multitudes of Morgenstern’s phenomenal talent in composing and utilizing several worlds of musical undertones; her outstanding range, both vocally and in regards of genre, tells of even greater things to come.

Morgenstern is currently on tour throughout Europe, but was generous enough to take some of her time to answer a few questions about her back story, her process and her latest album.

So music was always a big part of your life, from your parents’ musician background and your love of the ballet – was there a pivotal moment where you decided to start composing as well? Do you think you would still be writing music if your future in ballet hadn’t been cut short?

I had regular piano lessons before I went to school. For many years I had a wonderful but strict teacher who expected me to practice a lot and with discipline. I liked that, but for me it was very soon like a kind of rest or break from the classical repertoire to write little melodies for myself. Secretly I arranged music for piano from pop songs to metal – just what I liked the most. That was simply a kind of natural balance.

In any case, I can still remember small excerpts that I wrote when I was 8 or 9. That also lasted throughout the time when I had fully promised myself to the ballet, but I never expected to share it with any kind of audience one day. It was always a kind of therapy: something with which I could switch off all thinking and about which I could relieve feelings. So yes, I think, even if I were still a dancer today, I would still spend a lot of time at the piano or singing. It's just something I really feel the need for at least myself.

Could you describe your creating process for me?

With Chameleon the process of creating my music has changed in large parts. Especially since the world of synthesizers was added. Before that, almost everything took place at the piano and I had a good time messing around with samples. At some point I realized that either my sample library wasn't very good or it wasn't necessarily my talent. I've learned all these things to a certain extent and know how to do all this using a computer, but this album was supposed to be created independently of these possibilities. I wanted to avoid having a computer on stage at all costs, and besides, I just didn't find all the editing and time-wasting in any DAW software inspiring anymore.

At some point I had a problem with my right hand and the doctor had prescribed a three-month piano break. Afterwards it turned out to be complete medical nonsense - but it caused me to turn to these strange creatures in the studio, which didn't have any keys, only pretty knobs and cables. Before, I always thought arrogantly that synthesizers were plastic keyboards for people who couldn't really play the piano. Well, I've been taught a better lesson.

When I write on the piano, I write very heady and I never want to go a too obvious route – I prefer the more complicated way. These analog electronic worlds have limited me and tempted me to just feel and flow and record improvised one-takes. I also found it an inspiring challenge not to use a single beat on this album and still build pulsating rhythms just from interlaced melodies.

When it comes to singing, this is the most natural and easy way. I usually write lyrics somewhere on the way when I can't reach an instrument anyway. The best moments are when already written lyrics find their way to new music and suddenly it just clicks.

What can you tell me about your move to Berlin? How has the city affected your music?

Before Berlin I worked two years in a recording studio in Hannover. I don't know if the city was too boring or the work just too much - but I would leave the studio only in order to sleep. There came a time when I almost always looked at the piano through the studios window and the work of recording bands became too repetitive. I needed a cut. Berlin called for me. Or I cried for Berlin. I knew that there were musicians there who could make me grow, who would inspire me. And it was almost too easy to get in touch with the right people.

Today, people I previously adored as a fan have become good friends. Besides, you can celebrate a wonderful hermit existence in Berlin. You can find peace and silence in the middle of the hustle and bustle. It is strange and simply wonderful. I am one of those people who still love Berlin even after 5 years.

What or who is your biggest inspiration when composing? Do your Bulgarian and German roots affect your music?

In my childhood I was very intensively in contact with classical music because both my parents play as classical musicians in orchestras. Not least through piano lessons and much more through ballet. From Tchaikovsky to Stravinsky and above all "Romeo and Juliet" by Prokofiev – ballet music is almost a religion for me. At the piano, too, I wished from an early age for the more melancholic, emotionally profound pieces. Often the teacher gave me the choice and it was always clear what I would choose. Mozart was almost a punishment if I could play Debussy or Chopin. I don't know why.

As a rebellious teenager I went through all kinds of eccentric scenes with all kinds of hair colors: punk, rock, metal, gothic, ambient and last but not least the so-called neoclassic. I guess that means the rebellion is over. Which artists inspire me is hard to say. I guess the list would be either too short or too long. So I don't do that.

Since two years I have been singing with the wonderful Bulgarian Voices Berlin. I could hardly believe that I lived in this city for over three years and knew nothing about it. This is a dream come true, as I admire Bulgarian folklore choirs. It's just transcendent music. Right now we are working on a joint concert and it is a pure pleasure to write for these magical women and I can hardly wait to present what is growing up here. Come to see us on the 21st of August at the Pop-Kultur festival in Berlin.

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What can you tell me about Chameleon? What were your thoughts and expectations throughout the whole process?

Besides the whole process of writing, which I described above, I knew that I wanted a producer for this album. I was running in too many directions at once and I needed someone to tame me. I had met Sebastian [Plano] by coincidence at one of his concerts in Hannover and he recognized me two years later in Berlin, whereupon we did not hesitate for long. Sebastian and his musical mindset were perfect for what I wanted to happen. Since the album was made in a time of moving, everything was recorded in different cities, studios and living rooms. And yet the result is round, flowing and organic. Maybe even because of that. It was as if someone had stirred around wildly in a lake and first a lot of stuff had to sink to the ground until the lake turned bottle-green again.

What were the biggest differences from creating your debut album back in 2013? How has the response been?

First of all, the differences were huge. The album before that was an underground gothic album. I'm still very proud of the songwriting, even though I presented the melodrama on a silver plate. But I knew that the next album would have a completely different aesthetic. Too much had changed. I had changed. And also my technical knowledge had increased drastically by working in the recording studio. I was inspired by so many new genres that I sucked up like a sponge. Chameleon can be seen as another debut. Today, I can say that my drastic changes, which have taken place over the years, may slowly come to an appropriate rest. I have found myself, found my style… But who knows. I've thought that so many times.

The feedback on Chameleon has been overwhelming so far. Especially at concerts I deliberately deal with very different audiences. I find it wonderful that people can access my music through so many different corners.  

Is there any track in particular that you feel most strongly represents your style? Any track you cherish most?

I think that would be Levitation.

This is one of the few songs where the music, the vocals and the lyrics were created together. I can remember when I wrote the song that I tortured myself with this song for three days in a row. I recorded again and again about 8 minutes of one-takes with a Euro-rack full of Doepfer modules, a Wurlitzer and a reverb device. It was hypnotic and disturbing at the same time.

I slept on the floor in the studio for only a few hours at a time and didn't speak to anyone during these days. But I knew I had to do it now, otherwise something important might get lost for me. This song was also the first to be finished from the album and definitely set an aesthetic direction for the rest.

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What can you tell me about your current tour? What does the future hold?

This year I have already been on tour with Ólafur Arnalds and recently with Fil Bo Riva as supporting act. Both very different and yet incredibly fulfilling experiences. I am very grateful for the chance to play such big stages, especially because in both cases - concert halls or club shows - the audience embraced me very warmly.

I have to say that touring costs me a lot of energy, but it also gives it back in an incredible amount. I've jumped over my shadow several times this year and I'm growing at every single concert. Now I have a lot of festivals ahead of me. I am very excited about them. And afterwards a couple of headline shows are coming in autumn.


If you have the chance, do yourself a favor and go see the immensely talented Lisa Morgenstern at one of the dates listed below – and in the meantime, you can stream Chameleon on Spotify.

AUG 16 Le Castrum Festival, Yverdon-les-Baines, CH

AUG 21 Pop-Kultur Berlin, Berlin DE

SEP 20 Reeperbahnfestival/Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg DE

OCT 12 The Concertgebouw, Amsterdam NL

OCT 24 Servants Jazz Quarters, London UK

OCT 25 Headrow House, Leeds UK

 

eau by Mariska Baars and Rutger Zuydervelt by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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Re-joining as a duo for their first creative collaboration in just over a decade, Mariska Baars and Rutger Zuydervelt combine forces to breathe into life their atmospheric new release eau. Mastered by Stephan Mathieu, this track is one long-form soundscape that is quite minimal but packed full of detail. A surprising, stimulating listen, it sprawls over thirty minutes of flowing, layered, modulating timbres. Baars, best known for her 2007 album ‘sC,’ combines her minimalist, impressionistic songwriting with Zuydervelt’s musical talents, who has a number of releases to his name, the most recent being ‘With Voices.’ Together, their self-described “audio debris” comes together in pleasing ways that fully engage the senses.

Beginning with whirling, fragmented voices wailing in asymmetric, unmetered haze, this unfolding sound has a haunting, paradoxical sense of unfamiliar familiarity, redolent of a Björkian female-led chorus, but with a flavour all of its own. Like a tapestry, with sounds threaded through and adorned with such careful detail, there is a quiet sense of stasis, while subtle changes in surface detail gently carry us along. Often, the sonorities that ripple out are so elusive, blending between the spaces in ways that make them almost impossible to pinpoint, defying categorisation.

There is a cosmic sense of stillness and awe, as this soundscape straddles earth-bound and psychedelic sensibilities. It’s as if this goes beyond seeing, hearing, knowing and touches something deeper; an encounter with something unnameable. As sounds are woven through, sometimes just grazing the surface of consciousness, the gentle voices are offset with glassy tones and e-bowed strings that are wide and warm. Without even realising, everything has changed in a slow, seamless transition leading into scratchier, metallic sounds, with rustling and flickering.

Like light through stain glass catching the dust as it settles, there is a sense of the infinite in the delicacy of these sounds. Getting progressively more nebulous, there are few moments of gentle interruption, so subtle they almost go unnoticed, but serve to softly refocus, as attention is perfectly sustained. Despite no formal delineations of sonic boundaries, the composition and construction of this all feels very deliberate: within its singularity, a constant disintegration and decay, with finespun tension between breakdown and renewal. Its conclusion seems to come full circle to where we began, beckoning to listen on, again and again.

A rewarding listen when fully attentive and tuned in, this track leaves the listener wide-eyed with wonder, with a serene sense of being frozen in time, yet moving ever forward, like glacial ice. This release is a glorious slow-burner: these sounds truly stir something deep within, and when allowed to fully capture the imagination, feels akin to a mystical experience.

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Stoic by Patient Hands by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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Earlier this year, Montreal-based Alex Stooshinoff of Patient Hands released his debut album – a nine track summary of a deeply troubled and taxing experience, where the musician struggled with physical as well as mental illness, and fought to find his way back to his rooted self. After what he calls the “Stoic Summer 2014” he found that that’s just what he had become – Stoic. And though I personally used to only have positive connotations for the word, after taking part in Patient Hands’ album, I found my views broadened. There is a helplessness to shutting oneself in, bearing everything in silence or even in denial – there is a strength in reaching out, speaking up and allowing ourselves to express the pain we’ve felt and continue to feel.

The album is in truth a journey, beginning with At Parting and its beautifully organic piano backbone, repetitive in nature and matched with the soft, airy vocals of a raw voice, growing in clarity and desperation. From this minimalistic first approach we then move on to I Shaved My Father’s Face, almost comical in its crude honesty, and with an aggressively ambient backdrop – ringing, droning, like the unnamed noises behind the sounds of a roaring waterfall. On top of this an intimately close acoustic guitar, plucking away with unfaltering dedication, and Stooshinoff’s young voice pouring out all the hurt and confusion and emptiness. The track evolves into a rockier, grittier sound, with layered electric guitars and expressive drums – it hangs just off the edge of the grandiosity of an epiphany, a burst of energy and newfound wisdom, and suddenly the air goes out and the droning, the ringing in our ears, is all that’s left to listen to – but listen, we must.

Stooshinoff goes on to portray this infinite space of nothingness, the pit we sometimes fall into and struggle to get out of, as Anaesthetic gives us massive echoes, distorted synths and a perfect balance between lyrics and sound, where neither is ever given any less importance than the other. In Envelopment we get a taste of the musician’s affection for field recordings and more experimental ambience (as can be thoroughly experienced in his EP from 2015) – I see the dark corners of a crowded room, one person in the midst of it all, bursting with light from every crack in their façade; the droning almost vulgar in its growing intensity.

After having fought our way through the album, denied and finally embraced the darkness, the clenched jaws, the nails digging into your palms – we seem to start to let go, gently and without haste. Calm brings a transition from grand and gripping to intimately close: innocent little melodies frame the untainted sound, and there’s a lovely evolution throughout the track, a sense of renewal and then a sudden, unapologetic end to the chapter, a clean break to finally start anew. Stoic tells of pain and fear of a time now left behind – Stooshinoff found his way back to himself and dedicated his energy to create this intense, immediate recap of an obstacle he knew he’d just gotten over. His uninhibited way of sharing without shame, paired with this intense blend of acoustic and electric, makes for a beautifully dark, raw and insightful album.  

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Music video premiere: Bend Low, Sweet Branch, Bend Low by The Gentleman Losers by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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Back in December 2018, Helsinki based band The Gentleman Losers, made up of brothers Samu and Ville Kuukka, released their fourth album Make We Here Our Camp of Winter. Today they are pairing up with Ghent-based label Dauw to release a gorgeous vinyl issue of the album, with artwork made by Femke Strijbol, along with a video accompanying the track Bend Low, Sweet Branch, Bend Low.

The video, made by Hiss, captures instantly a sense of collision —no, coalescing— of human and nature. The warm, analogue soundscape against the cold, vast strength of the sea tells of how we bravely put ourselves in the hands of her mercy, her wind playing with our hair: her breath like the crisp, clear steel strings echoing gently. We are transported to a warmer, softer shade, the rustling white noise adding to the recurring underwater perspective. Sharp, vibrating pads bring us suddenly far in among the trees, soft skin warmed by the gentle hands of the sun, stretching down between branches —the elements all tied together, and us somewhere in between, thankful for the space in which we’re allowed to dwell.

The album itself is inherently somber, with slow, deliberate movements in grand spaces, adding to the vintage atmosphere. Beautiful mixes of steel guitar and mellow synth, with curiously distant beats and the occasional spoken word, allow for a rather multi-dimensional space and colour the album a beautifully lush, earthy hue. To get your hands on the heavyweight clear vinyl edition of the album, head on over to Dauw’s bandcamp.

Directed by Hiss, produced by Jonathan Olson, and edited by Steven Lambiase.

Featuring Olivia Grace Webster, Isaiah Caleb Jones. Gerald Beckham, and Levi Collins.

Special thanks to Ellie Kaucher, Vivian Lee Beckham, Leslie Bailey, Herman Wells, Andy Bair, and David Kruta.

http://www.hiss.tv

 

Somewhere Else by Alex Kozobolis by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

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Composer and multimedia artist Alex Kozobolis is the man behind some well-known piano tracks as well as album and press photos of many musicians. Those who follow him on social media, however, might do so for his serene, “still life”, landscape videos. His music is not far off from those videos - the undisturbed mood, the water-like rhythm, and the stillness are all there.

There is an art to recognizing the density of your genre and staying true to your own core of inspiration. Alex Kozobolis does just that on his latest album, Somewhere Else, an 11 track album which is his second release since his widely appreciated self-titled album in 2016. Describing it as a sort of common ground between the improvised and the structured, the tracks might have more in common with the structure of contemporary dance works than with standard composed, contemporary piano music. This is a naturally fresh approach on its own and is well carried out.

Offline is one of the album's strongest tracks: a near divine piece with an air of acceptance and serenity that forces the listener to slow down their thoughts and let go of anything getting in the way. The first track, the Poulenc-y Where London Sleeps lays the ground for the rest of the album with its energetic right-hand motives, a nice and divided track which might have been even stronger if one of the fast passages were more stable in rhythm. It does an amazing job, however, at telling a story by swiftly changing hues, which goes for the whole album.

Kozobolis tells a lot of stories, actually. While portraying a good authority over the instrument, he literally pulls out scenes and characters from it. Lastly, Nothing Actually Happened is a notable track - with the right hand entering with a heartbeat rhythm over some lingering reverb, this is the only melancholic track on the album. Kozobolis has publicly revealed his living with Tourette syndrome and the inspiration for this particular track was drawn from habitually getting lost in obsessive negative thoughts, and how repeating that title phrase to himself often proved helpful.

This is rich piano music. Kozobolis goes into a nice direction which suits him well, generally short of drama but full of range and some rare magic.

 

INSIGHT IV by Julien Marchal by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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Bordeaux-based pianist and composer Julien Marchal is back with the fourth and likely last part of the INSIGHT series he’s worked on since the first album came out back in 2015. With INSIGHT IV, Marchal is renewing himself by exploring different types of harmonies and rhythms, while keeping the intimate setting with microphones affectionately close to the heart of the piano, allowing for that homely sound we so dearly love. Passionate about the euphoric feeling to be found when listening to outstanding classical music, Marchal’s minimalistic compositions all adhere to influences both by electronic and folk music, as well as composers such as Philip Glass and Arvo Pärt.

Not wanting to blur the open minds of his listeners, the pieces of the INSIGHT series are all titled with Roman numbers, allowing for complete transparency – no hidden agendas, no underlying intent, only the individual journey every listener undoubtedly travels while indulging in Marchal’s music. Every piece can stand on its own: the albums needn’t be listened to in any particular order, yet they still feel very much a part of something grand. INSIGHT IV begins with the ever so soft XXXIV, the organic movement of the melody giving it an incredibly human feel to it, painting a vivid picture of a person telling a story they know by heart. XXXV follows up with a steady rhythmic rolling on effortlessly, embalming me in warmth, only to be woken up by the unexpected dissonances thrown in ever so carefully.

There’s a subtle change in the emotive pallet throughout the album, noticeable as the rather slowly burning XXXVII comes forth, offering a little more afterthought and focus on the nuances in force and expression – a welcome transformation that expands even further in the slightly darker color scheme of XXXVIII. There’s even a beautiful mixture of more contemporary influences and rather classical ones, as the big revelation of XLI comes crashing in: melody exploding in a cascade of fluttering, a steady urgency and a sudden clarity, gloriously combined.

Though the pieces do offer some coherency, the INSIGHT albums really are more like collections of beautiful compositions, to be listened to without any need for a time line or concept. Marchal’s deep love for the art he creates is apparent and shines through in every piece, and his urge to express and explore the never-ending possibilities of music is absolutely inspiring – whatever path he ventures on next will surely be equally as sublime.

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When You Take Off Your Shoes by Nathan Shubert by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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One of our favourite Canadians, Vancouver-based pianist/composer Nathan Shubert, recently released his second full-length album, just over two years after his successful debut, Folds. Shubert went on a European tour for Piano Day, showcasing his newest release, When You Take Off Your Shoes – and as far as I’d like to believe, his apparent penchant for Scandinavian culture (or, at the very least, Scandinavian languages) shines through just a little bit. I may or may not be a tad biased, but I will say: this album is an absolute masterpiece.

After introducing his concept with an immersive field recording of a busy street, somehow intimately anonymous, Shubert takes off into a comfortably high tempo, the instant depth of A Beacon, A Pulse sending a warm wave through my body. The clicks and creaks of the piano – these utterly endearing noises we seem to share a love for – get to play a big part of the piece, accentuated by the ever-forward motion that Shubert manages to hold in suspense. Without ever seeming rushed, there’s this never-tiring surge for a goal somewhere up ahead; it’s comforting to feel that Shubert trusts his listeners to be able to keep up.

The immediate change in sound and atmosphere seems, at first, almost comical – but there is a sober air to the goofy rhythmic of Repose, Tenuous, sort of like listening to someone tell a joke only to slowly realise there’s a much darker lesson to be learned behind the words. The repetitive nature of the piece has me humming along quietly, finding myself suddenly completely in love with the tune. Equally as enamouring is the title track, with its white noise of nature lending a paradoxical sense of surrealism when paired with the quietly determined piano, something so intimate and enveloped. Shubert is gently tapping away, the signature melody swaying confidently and completely uninhibited, only to be subtly corrupted towards the end as reality seems to fade away into the background.

There seems to be an active choice to everything Shubert does, from the titles to the order of the tracks, making sure the next piece never feels like a repetition of its predecessor. There’s ambient droning, sound palates that cover both soft warmth and gritty concrete; there are contrasts of cold, wet air paired with the warm fabric of Shubert’s piano, as the unhurried pace of Fable, Fleeting tells stories of sitting inside by a fire while a slow storm roars outside. I am blown away by Shubert’s ability to remind me that everyday objects can be given unfathomable meaning – that something perfectly ordinary can contain a whole array of memories. In Pencils he gently introduces another plateau of sound, as strings and clarinet build a grandiose swelling, but ever so fleetingly, tactfully avoiding getting overly dramatic.

Shubert seems to have really taken his time to compose the whopping 15 tracks that make up the album, and it shows in the over-all quality of his pieces. With a clear concept, a couple of heavy-lifters packed with field recordings and emotion, and a few tracks whose main purpose seems to be to add to the atmosphere, When You Take Off Your Shoes is a pleasure to experience, a beautiful example of how to work hard without the results sounding over-worked – and a testament to Shubert’s dedication to the contemporary classical music scene.  

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P&C interview: Hania Rani by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

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On April 5th, Hania Rani (short for Raniszewska) released her 10-track debut album Esja on Gondwana Records. Growing up in the country of Chopin, where the standards of piano music are high, Rani aimed initially for a path in classical music before getting introduced to jazz and electronic music at school.

Can you tell us a bit about the writing process for this album? For how long has it been in the works? Was it always supposed to be solo-piano based?

I didn’t plan to record the solo album. I started recording three years ago and I accomplished at that time loads of other compositions, not only for piano solo, but including strings, choir, voice, electronics. But two years ago I met a sound engineer from Iceland - Bergur Porisson. He invited me to finish the recordings at his studio in Reykjavik. I didn’t think twice and booked a flight to Iceland. There, somehow spontaneously we recorded a lot of new piano songs. I really liked the vibe of the compositions and thought that I should release the piano solo album as my debut album. My record label - Gondwana - also encouraged me to do so. I feel like this minimalistic, instrumental album is a nice prelude to all the other music that I am planning to share in the future.

Coming from a background of classical music, was it always easy for you to envision your own musical creations outside of the curriculum?

No, it was definitely not - that’s also why, I suppose, my debut comes so late. For a very long time I was strongly convinced that I would become a classical pianist; I was very focused on this path. But there was always some inner power that pushed me to start getting involved in some non-classical projects. When I said “yes” for the first time to make some arrangements I really felt wonderful and was happy about the outcome. New proposals began to show up and I couldn’t resist them. I was feeling better and better in this new area and realised that this is way more natural and easy for me, compared to classical music.

One might debate that your album falls into sort of a male-dominated genre of music. Have you felt like you’ve had to work harder to prove yourself and be taken seriously, in comparison to your male colleagues?

Yes and no. I never felt that being a woman is a problem, or a limitation. But when I started to compose and perform at less classical venues than concert halls I met many unkind reactions to my knowledge and opinions about my approach to sound system or technical requirements. But it is getting better and actually I only had to deal with it in Poland, where I guess the music business is dominated by male composers and producers. I never felt upset about it, it motivates me to improve and learn more. Also I was always surrounded by great male musicians, who are also my close friends and who are always ready to help me and explain issues that are still new to me.

You are quite an active live-performer. Would you share with us which factors are the most important to you in your live shows?

I feel very good on stage and I like the atmosphere of the live concerts. It is also very challenging for musicians to keep the set fresh and interesting, not to give in to routine.

Not everybody realises that touring is kind of a repetitive activity and hard work in the end. That’s why I try to keep a place for spontaneity and improvisation in my live shows, and I change the set as often as possible. I am also lucky to perform in other bands which gives me a lot of joy and keeps the balance, and a feeling of not being overwhelmed just by performing alone all the time.

Which past live performances of your own do you particularly treasure? How about shows of others that you’ve attended?

One of my most treasured performances ever is one of the first ones I did with my duo partner - cellist Dobrawa Czocher. That was our second non-classical show ever, with my arrangements and composition. The situation was pretty stressful because the concert was supposed to be streamed live on the Polish Radio Station. Me and my friends weren’t even nervous about performing and playing but about… talking on stage! When you are a classical artist you almost never talk to people during the concert.

But when the concert started and we began to play, all the stress had faded away. We felt wonderful playing this new repertoir on stage and were able to communicate with the audience in a new way. The concert turned out to be a great succes and shortly after we decided to record our first album. That was year 2014. And since then, things started happening.

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To Believe by The Cinematic Orchestra by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

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Are you able? Find your ground
Other people falling down
Tell the world that saw you head for hell
I can be your something you believe in.
— From the title track, “To Believe”, ft. Moses Sumney

Our imperfect lives, human fear, coping mechanisms, God-complex, the need to surrender one’s judgement to follow someone or something else, those are some of the themes covered on Cinematic Orchestra’s latest album, To Believe. In fact, the whole album apart from two tracks feature vocal artists, all delivering quite transparent lyrics which portray different perspectives to the same, ongoing theme. The lyrics and the music are both quite univocal, often bittersweet, but thankfully there is no one preaching a “message” here, the nature of the concept is more observational and reflective. Arguably, the strongest lyrics belong to Roots Manuva on A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life.

Starting off with Moses Sumney's masterfully controlled, seemingly multi-dimensional (“wide-ranged” does not fully describe it) voice, we head to an upbeat trip around the theme of faith. After the mellow beginning there is an eruption of energy throughout the second track, which goes on to one of the two instrumental tracks, Lessons. Even in the more downbeat tracks of the album, there is always a new colour throughout. It always stays interesting and takes you on a trip, but evidently not only for the sake of avoiding “down time”. The subtle but powerful changes through the tracks are clearly intentional and for bigger purposes. Three of them even bear two names. Although all of the tracks are pretty strong as they are, one can't help mentioning the “Zero 7” song, Zero One/This Fantasy ft. Grey Reverend, which arrives as a pleasant, heartwarming surprise with a nice and original, syncopated melody.

One of the most notable qualities of To Believe is the very clever usage of borrowing, then releasing time and tension. Another distinctive factor of the album is the energy of it. It is energetic even when portraying vulnerability, and it works out. This successful flow is owed both to the aforementioned facts, but also to the five different vocal artists who give generously from their artistry to the tracks. Luke Flowers on drums deserves much credit as well for his rhythms which pull the whole creation together. To Believe lets you space out and revive yourself. Recommended for long drives.

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P&C interview: Flying Hórses by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

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Jade Bergeron, also known as Flying Hórses is, in few words, is a Canadian composer and a multi-instrumentalist. Bergeron’s background is an interesting one, but growing up in the Montréal metal scene and living in Iceland for four years are a couple of factors that have influenced her work. Her second full-length album Reverie was released on February 22nd on Canadian label Bonsound, and is already making its mark on popular playlists of the largest streaming platforms.

Can you tell us a bit about your musical background?

I didn't grow up playing classical music. I was immersed in the Montreal metal scene and spent my high-school years playing heavy music. I'm the only musician in my family, and so I really had to make my own musical connections. I had to learn the tools to build my project from scratch through trial and error. It's been a really interesting and challenging learning experience, I finally feel that I have some sort of foundation to build on.

That’s an impressive story. What do you think your current music has in common with metal? Has it grown far apart at its core?

I wouldn't say that my music is metal, just like I wouldn't say that it's classical, or post-rock or ambient. I truly feel that it startles lines and blurs different styles of instrumental music together. This record feels heavier than my debut, and I certainly felt more connected to metal and post-rock roots while composing it. Icelandic winters are harsh, long and dark. I found myself feeling homesick from time-to-time and metal really grounded me when I felt that way. It's possible that my piano playing and writing was reflective of what I was listening to, or how I was feeling during that time.

When and how did you start composing music?

I started writing my debut record in 2013. I wanted to combine some of my metal/post-rock influences with the piano. It was an experimental idea, that sort of took off, I suppose. I didn't know that I would end up recording my first full-length in the Sigur Rós studio, life just sort of guided me there. I mostly compose on the piano before I include other instrumentation. I usually leave room for other instruments in my piano tracks and beds, I like the idea of the tracks being versatile.

You have been very open about the fact that Reverie is a heartbreak record. While many artists might gather their inspiration from heartbreak, it does take guts to be unambiguous about such matters and their usage in the art. Have you always been comfortable with sharing from your personal journey?

Not at all. In fact, I've very rarely discussed what my music is about, publicly before. I finally feel comfortable because we are in a day and age where mental health is finally being talked about, and people are coming to terms with the fact that there is nothing to be embarrassed or apologetic for when it comes to being sad, or our emotions in general. It makes sense that I can elaborate on what the songs mean to me, this time around.

Would you share with us some of your biggest influences for your music

Nature is foremost my biggest influence. Being near or around bodies of water, really allows me to dive into places within myself, where I can process my thoughts and emotions. On a good musical day, I can lay out some of those emotions onto my piano. I'm a very visual person, and something that I enjoy doing is composing while watching movies or documentaries on mute. Certain films trigger or channel emotions, that allow me to open up to my piano.

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I must ask. What is the connection with Iceland, and why the Icelandic titles in your previous work?

I lived in Iceland on/off for about 4 years. I'm not going to go into detail about my personal experience because I want listeners to embark on their own journeys, while listening to Reverie. All that I'd like to say is Iceland will always be my second home, and that my experience there, changed my life, forever. I have Icelandic titles on my debut record because I dedicated that album to the island, itself.

How was your experience with the Icelandic music scene? In which ways was it different for you there from Montréal?

I've always felt like a black sheep in Canada. When I first started my project there were so few instrumentalists/composers/solo-pianists performing live, that I felt very isolated in my Montreal/Ottawa community. It wasn't until I landed in Reykjavik in 2014 that I really began to feel that my music was better understood or 'fit in more' in Europe. Iceland was a stepping-stone in the realization that I could really apply certain aesthetics or performance tools to my instrumental compositions. Visual art is so alive within the Icelandic music community, and it's taught me a lot about breaking boundaries when it comes to expression and communicating sounds without vocals.

What is most important for you in a live performance? Will any of the album collaborators join you on stage on future tour-dates?

I've been performing solo for about 2.5 years now. As it stands, bringing in the cellist, Sebastian Selke, that performed on this record from Germany is proving to be a bit challenging. He's a very talented and busy musician and has worked with artists such as Ólafur Arnalds. We are currently working on some live concerts here in Canada, and I'll be announcing those soon. Regardless of whether it ends up being a solo tour or not, the session musicians that played on Reverie, are an integral part of the album and deserve recognition. My live shows vary from festival to festival and sometimes include visuals, depending on the size and structure of the venue.

 

P&C interview: Peter Sandberg by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

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The name Peter Sandberg is hardly very foreign to the fans of Spotify’s playlist Peaceful Piano, and numerous such playlist intended for relaxation or reading. Sandberg’s track Remove the Complexities has, perhaps, become his most well-known, relaxing the hell out of the tensest of humans. Other musical accomplishments include composing for clientele such as Netflix, Volvo and Tesla. His new album, Motion, released on March 1st via Phases Records, marks a slight shift of instrumentation and a new exploratory direction.

How did you first get into composing? Are you self-taught or did you study music?

I started out with a dream of being a classical concert pianist. I studied classical piano in high school and at a music college in Sweden. But I grew tired of never being good enough so when I graduated I set off to do something else. I bumped quite randomly into an acquaintance of mine and he told me about this new gig he had, composing for music libraries and that he thought I could do it if I wanted to. So, I did and worked with that for about 6 years. That’s when I really got into the whole composer role. I loved it and I created so much music and got a chance to develop as a producer and composer. So, the short answer is; I studied piano but I don’t have any formal education in composition. That has been a more ’trial and error’ sort of setup.

Your previously released music has a very clear, sheer brightness to it. It could be described as sensitive, maybe introverted but hardly melancholic, thus differing from much of the current piano-based music. Is this on purpose or is this the mood that comes naturally to your compositions?

I would say it comes very naturally to me that style I have had. But the thing is that my old catalog is made for TV and then released as albums, therefore being and sounding the way it does. I have a much wider emotional capability though, and I’m very keen on exploring this, starting with this new album.

One might say that you have made a career out of calmness. What is your relationship with “calm”?

This is kind of funny actually. When laying out the concept for the album I wanted to process experiences from my childhood, which most certainly wouldn’t go under the adjective ’calm’, rather the opposite - ADHD. I was all over the place as a kid.

This was quite a big revelation for me. The reason why I was able to turn things around with my ADHD situation was the fact that I started playing the piano. It channeled all that excess energy into the music and it made me so much calmer. I have never thought about this before and it really shows how much impact music really have.

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What is the story behind the new direction of this album? Can you tell us a bit about the creative process?

(See previous answer)

When I started working on the album I was just aiming to make a beautiful album in the traditional ’Peter Sandberg’ realm. But I wanted it to be a bit different from the old catalog. So, I just started working on ideas and developed them, threw others away and just kept on creating something that I could be proud of. I think I probably went through 40 compositions before settling on the final 10.

I’m a piano player and that has always been my strength, so it was a no brainer that I would do something that was very piano-focused. I usually start composing at the piano and then I elaborate from that initial sketch.

I also knew very early on that I wanted to have a string quartet included on the project and was fortunate to get a group of very talented musicians together at the legendary old Abbey Road / EMI studios in Stockholm, nowadays named ’Baggpipe Studios’. I had a very specific sound in mind when composing the tracks, so we worked pretty thoroughly with how to capture it correctly.

I guess this album has been a search about finding myself, finding my feelings and my direction as an artist. All of these tracks are very personal to me and are snapshots of my life, in one or the other way. It reflects my journey as an individual in a way, across the time making the album but also my journey through music to date.

Any live performances planned this year?

Yes, for the nearest future I will be doing a headline show in Istanbul on ’Piano Day’, March 29th. Another gig in London in May (date TBA). And will hopefully get a tour going this fall/spring 2020. We announce everything on my website and on socials.

 

P&C recommends: Philip Daniel, John Hayes and Jacob Pavek by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

Already this year, we have been treated to some spectacular offerings from a vast array of musicians hailing from far-flung places across the globe. Looking back, there are many gems that left a lasting impression, and we are taking a moment to reflect on those releases which have recently gone out into the world, as we now give them the time and consideration they deserve. As always, we are spoilt for choice with a broad community of makers producing high quality work that is often quietly startling. Here we will be looking back on three albums released earlier this year, each beautiful and distinctive in its own right, but as always pulling together those common threads.

One trend that continues to hold on into the new year is our current obsession over soft, delicate old piano with muted felt-tinged timbres, and the creaks and tics of the piano action that are revealed in high detail with this quieter aesthetic. Undoubtedly, there is an intimacy to this sound that works with so many of the colours and moods that the piano conjures up and it indeed adds texture and interest, however at times this is at the cost of dynamic interest. While the albums we are considering here have moments where this effect is used to great advantage, it can often run the risk of diluting the effect with overuse, much like playing through an entire suite in pianissimo.

In saying that, softer sounds are sometimes exactly what best serves the spirit of a composition. This is true for Philip Daniel who is able to wring out a broad range of musical outcomes on his latest offering ‘Between Us, Chapter 1.’ Using a 100-year old Steinway grand piano with felt between the hammers and the strings, the composer recorded the piano for this album in one take, yielding an end result that is excitingly spontaneous that and is anything but flaccid. The way Daniel uses quieter tones to draw in the listener relies heavily on the compositions themselves, rather than letting the dynamics and timbre do all the work. The melodies and textures themselves already have so much to say that the quiet piano style becomes a device that focuses attention.

This collection of songs it seems is but one half of a greater collection: a story told in two chapters. The first six of these tracks appearing on this release are haunting and delicate, with standout track ‘Between Us’ getting under the skin with visceral string tremolo, like the murmuring inner monologue of an uneasy mind and a fluttering heart. With a free-wheeling piano melody that contrasts, this track is bittersweet with beautiful decoration in its grace notes and runs. ‘Selfoss’ is lyrical, with solo strings bowed with slight hesitation and delicacy, while opener ‘Minor Ventures’ is fluid and spontaneous, with a wonderful dialogue between piano and strings.

Next, John Hayes wholly commits to this stripped back feel with his full-length release spanning over twelve tracks, titled ‘By The Woods.’ Absorbed in a single sitting, the stark delicacy of the piano sounds he works with do create something of a trance state, as the mind burrows in, parsing the sonic landscape for detail and nuance. If anything, these tracks feel like orphaned film scores, crying out for a visual to give them a sense of form. By themselves, they are perhaps a little too stable, with no great surprises, though they are passionate snapshots of a broad range of emotional states.

Standout track ‘Here’ sounds like the tune of a lonely wanderer and Hayes weaves a sonic narrative through his melodic storytelling that is quite compelling, while ‘Towne’ contrasts with its hazy ripples: a brooding, cumulative effect building to sensory overload. Tracks such as ‘Given’ and ‘Marin’ take us through the gamut of typical piano evocations with their melancholic, bittersweet sensibility, while the rhythmic feel of ‘Ascend’ and opener ‘Another Word for Happy’ provide counterpoint with a whimsical, carefree spirit and soft, sunny melodies.

Finally, our third album ‘Nome’ provides a welcome relief to the pallid tones of old, dying pianos. Composer Jacob Pavek invites listeners to respond and create their own world within these sonic offerings as responses to feelings and memories. From the very first moment of this album we are greeted with full, pounding chords from a bright, sonorous piano. There is a richness in the harmonics that gently bleeds between each wave of sound, with a lush density of sound so thick that one barely notices the synth and strings swelling up underneath until the piano drops away. There is a real slick sense of professionalism in the end product, with a well honed sound palette and a strong ear for producing and arranging.

While it is the craft with which Pavek constructs his work that makes a strong first impression, it is certainly not skin deep: looking more closely, the compositions themselves are beautifully wrought. The title track is a wonderfully sensitive performance on solo piano, tinged with regret, while ‘Love/Marriage’ makes use of a seductive chord progression to great effect with its beautiful turns of chromaticism. ‘Crocus’ begins with a murky sustained piano melody, as notes bleed together with a gorgeously arranged string section that is weathered, expressive, and with a real sense of spirit and soul. The final track ‘Pulse’ also leaves a lasting impression and begs for further exploration to understand its layers. There is a dense complexity to the sensations embodied in these sounds, like mixed emotions.

Inevitably, the constant flow of quality releases will always overshadow our hunger for new music, no matter how insatiable our appetites. It is startling the myriad musical possibilities that emerge from even a single genre or musical community as we see here with three very different albums, unified with a common love for piano. What a thrilling idea to think that musicians and composers continue to engage with this centuries old instrument, often bringing it into context with synths and modern production, or just as often, exploring the possibilities of the instrument itself, through prepared piano  techniques, and by revisiting older instruments whose wisdom is to be revered and celebrated.

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Encores 2 by Nils Frahm by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

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Encores 2, released on January 25th, 2019, is a second EP out of two in following up Nils Frahm´s 2018 album, All Melody. Frahm is known to be very productive, so it hardly comes as a surprise that the album ended up bigger than planned. In the composer’s own words:

The idea behind Encores is one we had from before All Melody; to do three releases each with their own distinct musical style and theme, perhaps even as a triple album. But All Melody became larger than itself and took over any initial concepts.
— Nils Frahm
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Encores 1 and 2 being separate entities is intriguing, both stem from the same musical creation but the former consists of 5 tracks for harmonium and solo piano. Encores 2 thus sets a different mood, we have four ambient tracks starting with serene, piano-arpeggio based Sweet Little Lie and building up to the 12-and-a-half minute-long Spells. The nicely titled, disarming track A Walking Embrace is a personal favorite. As was the case with All Melody, listening to this music is like glancing upon an impressionist painting and while stepping closer, realizing how fluid and yet distinct it is, how something that gave a simple effect at first has in fact been manipulated from its original tone into a whole other creature, a familiar sound which still can’t instantaneously be perceived and identified as a single musical instrument. The layers create a dimension that is rare to acheive without coming off as saturated, but that is just one of Frahm´s rare talents. One reason possibly being the religious use of organic sound, no matter how he ends up maneuvering it. This trilogy of releases, in fact, includes a human choir, but utilized very much like a human-made instrument. If the secret to the perfect fabrication is to throw an inch of truth to it, Nils Frahm does the same in his soundscape by surrounding the maneuvered with the raw while finely cleaning up the borders of the two. Another reason is the impressively perfected dynamics when there is a lot going on in the music (which, although not always comprehensible at first is actually, always), the instinct that Frahm seems to have been born with, knowing every time, exactly just up to what point a voice needs to come through. A beautiful 4-track release worth every bit the same attention as All Melody and Encores 1.

 

Refuge by Ô Lake by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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French composer Sylvain Texier’s recent release ‘Refuge’ is the first release for his instrumental project Ô Lake and is a finely orchestrated album of evocative, mood driven music. With hints of synth and other texture, there is a lovely sound palette that builds and develops across eleven tracks spanning a range of sonic scenes. Meditative and slightly forlorn, this album is a work of instrumental beauty: quiet but moving, silently sweeping us away in its dreamscapes. 

‘Refuge’ begins with its title track: a gentle glow, delicately laced with noise, while hints of pencils running along a page create a texture with a spontaneous feel. This sets the scene for a rising, hopeful piano motif, as a brume of strings wafts gently in between, gently building before an abrupt ending, as we are left hanging on the edge. Next, ’Reveries Op. 1’ gently lulls us with its homely, meandering piano musings. A subtle lick of synth doubling adds a nice touch of depth to this old creaky piano as it wanders in its dreamlike state.

Following with ‘Portrait of Solitude’ there is a touch of cinematic cliché with the sound of raindrops, setting a backdrop for a slow pensive piano track. The track finds its feet as the minimal percussion kicks in with a woody, reverberant sound, before being washed out once more by the rain. Beginning with a reverent piano set against gradually thickening strings and a hint of haze, ‘Holocene’ is a slow builder that is a compelling, arresting listen and is a standout on the album. It is tonally rich, and with a driving rhythmic pulse that is insistent and visceral.

‘Conversation’ opens with a curious rustling sound that is slightly metallic, and strangely moody. A piano figure stretches out across this subtly undulating sound texture before strings join, lending a sense of gravitas. Like a lonely, late night walk, ’Silhouettes,’ with its blurred edges of sound and resonant old piano is a slow, pensive piece. It is dreamlike and beguiling but concludes with a slightly haunting final chord, leaving us with a sense of tension.

With a weary, tired sounding piano, ‘Morning’ is like a fragile beauty; whimsical but sad. Like turning the key on an old music box, there is a sense of intimacy that this song creates, as if this tune came to life just for you. The next track, ‘November 17th’ has a rippling, flickering surface of enchanting polyrhythm like raindrops on the surface of a still lake. When the strings kick in, it is the sweetly singing vibrato of the violin soaring above that lends this track its poignant, moving quality. 

‘Interlude’ offers a moment of stasis amongst otherwise restless piano ripples, with block chords of piano echoed by string quartet, creating a sense of weightlessness before moving on to ‘The Leftovers’ which instantly draws you closer. It is intriguing with its repetitive motif broken by changes in harmony, before strings take this piece to another place entirely. Finally, ‘Epilogue’ tacks on the end as quite a different sound with a synth glow, dark pulse and an urgent electric piano. It is a driving force with a commanding presence that concludes this album with an explosive final moment: distorted guitar smeared across an ostinato that builds to a fever pitch, leaving a lasting impression long after the dust has settled. 

Textier has excellent command of the instrumental forces he wields, and a terrific sense of restraint that lends his work a real maturity and ease. This album is an accomplished, polished collection of pieces that are truly transportive and transfixing. Each song is its own microcosm of mixed, complex emotions, conveyed with sincerity and integrity belying a great ideal of passion behind the crafting of each one of these songs. 

 

Commune by Kin Leonn by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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Kin Leonn’s debut album, Commune, falls welcome on curious ears. Leonn is a young voice in music, Commune being his first full-length release in association with Kitchen Label. But his sound is a quilt sewn of familiar and obscure inspirations alike, and comes together in a warm and wholesome result for the listener. Hailing from Singapore and residing now in London, Leonn has a wealth of musical backgrounds, from modern classical to abstract electronic, and from easy-listening keyboard and piano to experimental ambient and noise-based soundscapes, all of which can be heard as influencing factors in the sounds of Commune. The album as a whole listens as an anthology of what is possible on the canvas when one has so many paints to choose from, and across all ten tracks it seems Leonn applies every color in his own individual way.

With such evocative song titles as Shinrin-yoku (parts I and II) and Noumenal, even glancing at the tracklist of Commune can catalyze an imaginative journey for listeners. Of course once the music begins, this journey evolves rapidly into a multi-faceted kaleidoscope of genre-bending sounds both acoustic and synthetic. A key characteristic gluing all the varied atmospheres of sound together, though, is Leonn’s ability to provoke emotion with his playing. Whether utilizing abstract found sounds, laying heavy on a sweeping synthesizer chord, or plucking out distinct piano melodies, everything on Commune is done with the utmost care for emotional impact.

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Moments of this album may be reminiscent of sweet summer days in one’s childhood, or perhaps of darker times when the light of hope was dimmer than normal. Some may find themselves pointedly reminded of an individual, maybe a close friend or relative whose significance in their life is quiet yet great. These are the ineffable nuances Leonn is able to reach out and touch, and indeed even bring directly to the minds of his listeners. While in this respect I almost beg for songs to have a cinematic pairing, there is definitive potency in the notes themselves without any visual accompaniment, that when let to wander across a blank mind they paint their own images sharper and clearer than any filmographer might hope.

And I implore those who are able to invite the songs in Commune to paint their own pictures for you. It’s true that with closed eyes, the sounds of Leonn’s playing seem to strike the canvass of the mind with a vast array of colors, some of which even escape definition of the eye and are found only in with ear. To this end, the music of Kin Leonn’s Commune should not be missed.

 

BTTB – 20th Anniversary Edition by Ryuichi Sakamoto by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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Ryuichi Sakamoto has had an immense impact on the world of music from the 1970s to present day. Practically pioneering the Japanese scene of electronic music as a member of the band Yellow Magic Orchestra, and going on to compose an extensive catalogue of film scores, he is a household name at the very least. He has additionally worked as a music producer, actor, visual arts collaborator, and activist, and has been awarded a long list of honors and awards from Golden Globes to MTV Breakthrough Video awards to recognition by the French Ministry of Culture.

Now, under  the renowned Milan Records, Sakamoto releases a celebratory 20th Anniversary Edition of BTTB, a pensive and notably introspective addition to his eccentric and bizarre catalogue at the time of its release in 1998. The new 20th Anniversary Edition offers all the original tracks in a newly remastered form fit for the 21st century. It also brings a brand new music video to the table for the Japanese hit “Energy Flow”.

Personal and intimate music—somebody (an anonymous somebody) sitting alone in front of the school piano early in the morning, weaving a melody, exploring harmonies. Music that gradually fills a space with high ceilings that contains the wafting presence of rain. But music that leaves gaps where necessary. Once in a while, we need music like this and this way of being...no, perhaps all the time. We need it as much as we need hot black coffee at the break of dawn and a cat napping next to us in the afternoon.
— Haruki Murakami

At the time of its release, BTTB (acronym for “back to the basics”) stood out as less aggravated, less wild, and ultimately somewhat underwhelming when compared to the other works Sakamoto had been releasing at the time. However in the present moment, looking back on the album offers a new clarity to these solo piano compositions that may have been missed by the wider audience in 1998. Following a biographical documentary of Sakamoto, “Coda,” released in June of 2018, the 20th Anniversary Edition of BTTB seems smartly fitting of all Sakamoto’s albums to reintroduce into the music world. While most of his works through the years have been aimed outwardly, seeking to push new boundaries in music and explore what is possible, very nearly to the limits of what audiences were prepared to accept as listenable, BTTB was one of the few works that looked inward, breathed slowly, and offered a mirror to listeners rather than a portrait.

With the addition of the new music video for Energy Flow, BTTB is a genuine and powerful installment in Sakamoto’s extensive and ever-growing collection of artistic successes. The music video, entirely colorless, has in itself a beautifully stirring, haunting organic element to video shot without a human soul in sight. Mixing in Sakamoto’s affinity for field recordings with the original track, the visual elements have a parallel style to field-recorded audio. Motion exists in a wonderfully static form throughout the various shots, and sort of visual hum is created in the pacing and subject matter of the video as a whole.

Without a doubt, BTTB’s 20th Anniversary Edition is a revitalization of a wonderfully pensive album created by, simply put, one of the greats in modern music. In the context of a new century, the music takes on further potency than it originally had, and is a delight to hear from beginning to end. BTTB - 20th Anniversary Edition releases in full on March 1st, 2019.

 

Atermus by Tom Blankenberg by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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Dusseldorf native Tom Blankenberg has led a life surrounded by music. Finding work in production, sound design, film soundtracks, and advertising, he has since settled into creating music for himself, and for us. On February 15th, his newest album titled Atermus is set to release.

Opening with beautifully pensive, sophisticated yet friendly tones, Atermus leads the album with a blend of classical, jazz, and free-form minimalism styles that is satisfying in its diversity. Rarely sitting in a key for long, each track floats nevertheless smoothly and often sans rhythm across the album. What structure there is to grasp is mellow and comfortable, almost effortless, as if Blankenberg has been practicing his entire life to play these notes on the recording, just for the listener.

Thematically, Atermus hovers in a unique limbo between transiently care-free and starkly apprehensive. These two sides of the coin can flip within a line of melody itself, let alone multiple times across a single track, exhibiting the expert gracefulness of a musician purely in control of his sound. Sometimes with grandeur, other times with melancholy, Atermus gives an impression of fluidity in emotion that echoes life itself. In one moment the quick flutter of bright piano produces hopefulness and high spirit, then the next flutter descends to painfully sweet minor chords bringing that hope into a form of regret or subtle disenchantment.

Blankenberg’s music has a spellbinding looseness to it which is integral to the sounds of Atermus. Each of his compositions flows outward the way speech does in conversation - reactive, progressive, sometimes abstract. These compositions don’t feel like compositions so much as an account of stream-of-consciousness thought. While many writers and performers of contemporary classical music actually sound calculated and careful in their works, Blankenberg sounds at ease, unconcerned, and relaxed. It is a pleasant experience, like listening to a story told by a wise, elderly family member who may add his own flair to the details each time it is told. By this token, Blankenberg’s Atermus deserves praise for its uniqueness in this respect, as well as in the level of skill shown in this minute detail of the album’s sound.

In short, Atermus is a gorgeous and inquisitive soundscape, with countless rises and falls in the overarching story it tells. To find out how the story ends, though, you’ll have to wait until February 15th and give Atermus a listen of your own.

 

About B. by Tim Linghaus by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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About B. by Tim Linghaus is a captivating collection of reprises, fleeting ideas, and musings which accumulated during the recording of Linghaus’ most recent album memory Sketches, (which piano and coffee had the pleasure of reviewing upon its release in April of last year). Now, on January 18th, Linghaus has presented this unique smattering of tracks, none longer than three minutes and 37 seconds and many at or under the one minute mark, as a culmination of “B-sides” from the previous album.

The album is playful in its arrangement, leading with two tracks roughly 30 seconds long that paint brief but vivid images spurred by their evocative titles. Almost all of these songs sit on a full-bellied bed of electronic fluttering and arpeggiated trills, giving the music an otherworldly feel. As listeners sink their teeth into the later and longer tracks, acoustic instruments become present, primarily including Linghaus’ piano melodies, but also accented with cello by Jean-Marie Bø and Sebastian Selke, and later with saxophone by Leon Sebastian Haecker and violin also by Jean-Marie Bø. These instruments ground the listener in what would otherwise be a syrupy dreamscape with little if any auditory landmarks to track one’s progress throughout, beautiful in its own merit. Linghaus, however, gives distinct impressions with these acoustic points just like a photograph finds focus in a singular field of view while the rest of the image fades in blur.

And this album is very much like leafing through a box of old photographs, unearthed perhaps accidentally, but entirely irresistible to keep from diving into. Former piano and coffee reviews of Linghaus harp on the intense visual imagery he creates in his music – a feat at once perplexing and entirely central to the potency of his musical abilities. It is without any apology that the album About B. utilizes this very effect in the style of flipping through photo after photo, and briefly yet wholly reliving the distinct emotional atmosphere that surrounded and imbued that past. The titles of the tracks themselves could just as easily be written on the space at the bottom of a polaroid: “Crossing Bornholmer,” “Snow at Franz – Mehring – Platz,” “Empty House,” “Chased By Two Idiots,” etcetera.

Also greatly akin to self-recorded visual memory like family photo albums, these tracks are often dappled with abstract yet familiar background noise. The rustling of papers, the creaking of wood, movement as if from the next room over. These give off an attractive feeling of wear-and-tear to the songs that physical keepsakes often accumulate, making the analogy between track and photograph even clearer.

Linghaus has breathed life wonderfully into songs that in other circumstances often never see the light of day. About B. is a testament to the value of what is personal, and what can inspire memories of what is personal in others. Whether or not you choose to dig up your own set of nostalgia while listening to this album, expect the same feeling to result. One of drifting, sweetly reminiscing, and wandering from the ‘now’ slowly backward into the ‘what was.’

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Remember Tomorrow by Clemens Christian Poetzsch by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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Second full-length solo release “Remember Tomorrow” by German composer Clemens Christian Poetzsch is a rare gem that cements this artist’s status as a true triple threat, possessing great talent in each of his focuses: composing, playing piano, and producing. The piano tracks capture a tender, thoughtful performance of compositions that are comfortingly familiar, yet filled with subtlety and an understated sense of drama. His production further elevates these compositions with hints of synth, strings, and ear-bending oddities that push the musical forms, highlighting their most thrilling contours and deepening their darkest depths.

From the very beginning we are immediately swept up in pointillistic musings in opening track ‘Spheres,’ with fragmented clusters like islands floating amongst sustained tones. As all the dots join together and the music begins to cascade, it is stirring, with haunting shifts of harmonies flickering by. Next, gentle doubling of the piano and a slightly heavy reverb give ‘Tokio Nights’ a weightiness and plenty of dimension, as synth slowly becomes more present and reaches a point of climax as it eclipses the full frequency spectrum.

‘Rufe’ is a visceral, thundery rumble in the background and a wash of synth colour; stark streaks foreground the composition in open harmonies as the timbre seamlessly shifts from brass to strings. ‘Ascending’ oozes an opulent charm and stately gorgeousness; a rapidly rippling reverie of colourful broken chords evoking a sense of flight. The following track ’11 Step’ has an idiosyncratic, jittery groove with a simple left hand riff and a meandering melody in the treble. It has a crystalline purity in its youthful exuberance, and a certain spunk to its cartwheels and leaps.

Beginning with a sombre, slow set up, ‘Echoes’ is all about the moment the music takes flight. It leaps into action with an urgent rhythmic riff on the piano set against a thick smog of deep electric bass, synth, double bass and cello: thick, dark and textured, like scratchy, detailed graphite layered over and over. ‘Neon Leipzig’ showcases some of Poetzsch’s more interesting synth musings, with pulsing, whirring sonorities setting the scene as a background for a bright, sparse doubled melody and a disquieting deep rumble beneath.

The piano has a moment of purity in the following track ‘Reflexion,’ a short solo piece that seems oscillate between patience and restlessness with a simple stepwise melody. Next, ’Zur Nacht’ begins with a gentle repeated piano figure that ripples out, each note bleeding into the next. With a gentle violin floating along, a second voice emerges from the piano, growing in complexity with harmonies filling out the upper range with a beautiful sense of development.

‘Pyrus’ is striking, with tense, thick, bittersweet piano chords that stand like skyscrapers against gently warbling synths. This track is sublime in its simplicity and its refined, plaintive motif. The following track ‘Schimmer’ immediately seduces with its enchanting twists and turns of melody and harmony. This track especially showcases Poetzsch’s wonderful sense of harmony with some interesting, stark choices: some beautifully jarring, and others heartbreakingly tender in the sweetness they evoke in gorgeous key changes and shifts of colour.

Penultimate track ‘Zwei Stimmen’ sprawls out with a sombre moodiness: deep strings ring out, reverberant, stark and dark, as a gentle strain of dissonance tugs at the heartstrings. Here again, the composer’s restraint with musical material is used to astonishing effect, with a very focused idea that is truly refined. The album concludes with a hint of intrigue and elusiveness in closer “Lento,” a slightly tense piano solo with an atmospheric reverberation that echoes on in the mind long after listening.

It is a rare artist in today’s world who can create something that has a sense of the traditional, without being trapped in the predictability of convention. Poetzsch possesses a wonderful gift for harmony; it is the choice of colours that lends his work a quality of the familiar tinged with something beguiling and unique. Adding in the delicate ornamentation a honed arrangement around his piano playing, he has honed a musical voice using traditional harmony, unbound by tradition. It is no surprise this artist embraces ‘Freedom’ as his guiding creative principle, as this feeling permeates throughout his music in a sense of looseness, spontaneity, and immediacy.

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