Posts Tagged ‘Piano’

6th June 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Mention Surrealism and the chances are Dali will be the first – and perhaps only – name mentioned by many. Breton, Ernst, Magritte may follow, but the chances are few would likely mention Beat luminary Brion Gysin, who was ejected from the Surrealists on the eve of a major exhibition. The fact of the matter is that Surrealism covers a broad territory, and is represented by myriad lesser known – although by no means lesser value – artists in all media. Leonara Carringon may be competitively obscure – as, indeed, are most women in Surrealism – but the English-born Mexican artist was both a painter, and novelist, who not only received an OBE but is also notable as being one of the last surviving members of the 1930s Surrealist movement, living until 2011.

This album (originally released by Wist Rec) is based on Carringon’s works, and the accompanying text quotes lines penned by Carringon: ‘Ice ages pass, and although the world is frozen over we suppose someday grass and flowers will grow again. In the meantime I keep a daily record on three wax tablets. After I die Anubeth’s werecubs will continue the document, till the planet is peopled with cats, werewolves, bees and goats. We all fervently hope that this will be an improvement on humanity, which deliberately renounced the Pneuma of the Goddess.’

Clara Engel, meanwhile, has built quite a body of work, and has also featured on a number of other works, including Aidan Baker’s Already Drowning in 2013. This is album is not overtly Surreal in its sound or delivery, but then again, it does forge an atmospheric depth that reaches into the subconscious and the further reaches of the listener’s psyche.

From the chiming minimal post-rock leanings of ‘Birdheaded Queen’ to the delicate, almost folky ‘Anubeth’s Song (Burn Eternally)’ (although it’s more the arboreal, ancient folk patina of latter-day Earth than anything most would recognise as ‘folk’), the album’s five compositions explore the spaces between the notes and use them to pull the listener in almost imperceptibly.

Soft piano notes and delicately-picked guitar are the primary instruments which provide the backdrop to strong imagery of animal devourment, transformation, and otherworldliness, not to mention infinite intangibles depicted in the most visually engaging of ways. Engel draws together a mesmerising, magical vocal style with compelling yet understated approach to arrangement and lyrical composition. Simple motifs and structures accrue power through repetition.

‘Microgods of the Subatomic Words’ is a splendorous work, brimming with rippling, shimmering electronic atmospherics over a solid but restrained rhythm. ‘The Ancestor’ is slow and sparse and ponderous: echo-laden guitar notes ring out into the thick air and hang, slowly resonating.

Engel’s voice conveys emotional depth, is rich and possesses an ethereal otherness, a kind of disembodied, abstract spirituality that’s haunting and deeply evocative. Exquisitely played and beautifully nuanced, it all combines to make for an album which is subtly strong.

AAA

Clara Engel – Songs for Leonora Carrington

Advertisements

Klangbad Records – 20th October 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

This is one difficult album to digest. It’s hard to assimilate, or even comprehend precisely what Audiac are aiming to achieve here. At first, the title track comes on like some kind of electro-soul effort with a soft-focus, analogue-hued retro vibe, augmented by some doodlesome 80s synths. But then everything goes haywire with eternal delay overlaps and there are overloading circuits and the soul turns to strain and… oh, it’s bending my brain.

Thankfully, the album’s second song, ‘People Going Places,’ is a relatively conventional piano-led post-rock ballad, with heartfelt vocals and soaring, quasi-operatic backing vocals. It perhaps goes without saying, then that conventionality is relative. It’s brimming with theatricality and bombast, a wildly extravagant composition

And back and forth it goes, alternating between weirdy and vaguely fucked-up experimental electronica and relatively straight piano songs with odd twists. There are moments of absolute beauty here, moments which not only tug on the heartstrings but nag at the corners of the soul. Audiac’s website places them as having ‘roots in the German Romantic Lied, chansons, theatre music traditions and the burlesque’.

‘Not Bound to Anything’ is scratchy and soulful: grandiose and , and there are hints of Scott Walker circa Tilt on ‘Doberman’, a bleak, piano-led piece that’s less post-rock drama than a warped and intense sonic smorgasbord, while the soft-edged ‘Dreamadream’ borders on the dreamy lounge side of synth pop. And then there’s ‘When You Say My Name’, which is subtle and sensitive, with its acapella opening and soft piano that gives way to brooding atmospherics before things get dramatic and a bit odd. JG Thirlwell’s post-millennium Foetus releases are something of a touchstone here.

Audiac could only ever hail from Germany. There’s something about the way they’re unbound by convention, about the undocumented, unspoken undercurrents of their sensibilities which belongs to Germany. Ultimately, though, So Waltz is an album that exists out of time and stands free of geography.

AAA

Audiac – So Waltz

Nakama Records – NKM008

Christopher Nosnibor

Strolling bass, graceful strings, rolling piano: these are the defining elements of Nakama’s Most Intimate. But if this sounds like it’s an album of romantic pastoral compositions, then this would be to misrepresent the range and expanse of the more experimental bent of the Most Intimate sonic experience. And none of this touches the

By way of background, Nakama is ‘a five-piece band led by Norwegian bassist Christian Meaas Svendsen. Nakama is Japanese and can be translated as ‘comrade’, or simply a community where no-one is above the other, but rather watches over one another.

The intimacy articulated on this album, then, is not of a sexual nature, but instead reflects the close interaction of artists working in collaboration. Can anything be more intimate than revealing the soul of one’s creative process, the core of one’s art?

At times discordant, at times venturing into free jazz, at times eerie, and at times playful, the album’s fifteen tracks bleed into one another to forge an aural journey. Over its course, the album demonstrates musical range and a certain depth. It’s not always fun, and it’s not always easy. But it’s never anything less than art. And the embossed cover is something special.

Nakama,

24th August 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Although he’s released two solo albums under the guise of Wiekie, Adam Weikert is perhaps best known as the drummer of Her Name is Calla. This first release under his own name marks something of a departure, and given its inspiration and evolution, it’s perhaps not unreasonable to say that Weikert’s decision to release an album as ‘himself’ represents a stripping away of the layers of artistry to reveal a work which is more directly personal.

The blurbage contextualises the release as follows: ‘Born years ago as response to cope with a traumatic event of his youth, and revived years later after ill health forced Adam to temporarily stop singing – USIDOH showcases the scattered fragments of poems alongside happenstantial Neoclassically themed works, creating a unique and personal experience.’

Attempts to unravel the meaning of the album’s title, which I take to be more of an initialism than an acronym, during the writing of this review bore little fruit of use. The poems – which are contained in an 80-pagebook which accompany the physical release – are considerably more instructive as to the true meaning of the project. That isn’t to say they’re in alignment with the album’s eleven (instrumental) tracks, because the poems – plural – essentially blur into a single, drifting longform work which has its own shape and tempo, as well as illustrations which augment rather than impinge on the experience. That is to say, the two elements of the project are complimentary rather than directly parallel. Nevertheless, the poems are absolutely integral to the overall experience, rendering USIDOH more of a multimedia work than simply a musical piece.

The words are weighty and the presentation is not only highly visual but intrinsic to the execution. Just as the music on USIDOH draws on aspects of the postmodern and the avant-garde within its broadly neoclassical framework – Wiekert conjures a vast array of atmospheres and emotions through the use of abstraction and semi-ambient field recordings and found snippets in conjunction with mewling saw, sweeping strings, brooding piano and nagging banjo – so the poems pull on high modernism, postmodernism and concrete poetry to further accentuate the lines, disparate and abstract yet unified by virtue of emanating from the same mind, over a period spanning the six years from 2005 to 2011.

‘Die Puppe’ weaves in and out of experimental atmospherics, before ‘Vardøhus Festning’ forges an imposing, imperious mood. ‘Sloth’ is a simply beautiful piano composition, which rolls and drifts mellifluously. There’s almost a playfulness about ‘A Constant Repose’, which first aired via YouTube aired a couple of months ago, the nimble piano work affecting a lightness of mood. But beneath it lies a subtle undercurrent of nostalgic melancholy. And if anything, it’s this emotional layering and the depth of nuance and detail which makes USIDOH such an appealing and compelling work, musically.

As a complete package, there’s a lot to unravel. USIDOH is very much art: Wiekert has poured everything into this, and it shows. There are times when it’s not easy to penetrate, but that in itself is reason to set aside some time to explore a work that multifaceted, deep and resonant, and achieves this without slipping into pretentiousness. There’s no question that USIDOH is ambitious, but Wiekert succeeds in delivering something which conveys the vision.

USIDOH

Solaire Records

Christopher Nosnibor

Threads of a Prayer is an immense work. Over the course of two discs and two and a half hours, Volume 1 of this two-part project finds Jeffrey Roden exploring quiet spaces, and as much as he explores spirituality, he also explores the effects of quietness and solitude in a world where life is a perpetual crescendo of noise.

The first time I played disc one was at work. I like to listen to music to drown out the inane babble of my colleagues. Due to recent cost-saving moves, my colleagues are now in closer proximity and more densely-packed than previously (which is what happens when multinational corporations decide that profits are more important than people, and close one of the main offices, condensing the workforce of three offices into two). The volume is, at times, unbearable, and music helps to filter out the background racket and therefore helps me to focus. This was not the result with Threads of a Prayer, which is, in the most part, so quiet as to be barely audible.

There are long periods of silence, or near silence. Such silence feels somehow daring, but also creates a remarkable atmospheric intensity. In these moments, in the right listening conditions, it is possible to cast off the clamourous hum of the world, the everyday, other people. These are periods for reflection, for contemplation. A dolorous single note played on piano resonates, booming, on the third of ’12 Prayers: One’. These, it feels, are prayers offered in dark times, under testing circumstances, but always with a ray of hope twinkling.

Roden’s piano playing demonstrates remarkable focus and restraint, not just in the spaces between the individual notes, but the attention to the way in which the soft passages are played with such delicacy, flickering flourishes as gentle as a butterfly’s wing, and with a natural grace seemingly finer than the blunt tools of human hands are capable.

The presentation is outstanding: the design is sleek, discreet, classically understated. The card stock which houses the jewel case and magnificently produced thirty-six page booklet is uncommonly heavy, and the high level thought that has gone into both the contents and layout of the booklet is clearly apparent. Make no mistake, this is a true work of art. The presentation gives a sense of occasion, of importance. For all its duration and the meticulous nature of the packaging, the pieces which make up the work are remarkable not for their scale or grandeur, but for their hushed introspection.

 

Jeffrey Roden – Threads of a Prayer – Volume 1

Makkum Records – MR17 / Platenbakkerij Pb 006 – 17th November 2016

James Wells

In these times of accelerated media and an exponential growth in the volume of mew works being cast out into the world, it’s often easy for lesser-known items from the past to be lost to history, to be buried and forgotten. And yet the archive is an eternally rich source of gens which so deserve rediscovery. This album – released simultaneously on 10”vinyl, CD and download – is very much a labour of love. The origins of its existence lie in the past: Komitas Vardapet penned a cycle of pieces for piano – Six Dances – based on Armenian dances, in 1906.

Makkum Records’ Arnold de Boer writes how, on hearing Keiko Shichijo perform Vardapet’s compositions, he fell in love with the music, and how Internet searches revealed other performances of Six Dances but none which touched Keiko’s. and so he made it his mission to capture Keiko playing the pieces, and how it came to pass that Keiko played them on a Steinweg Nachf piano, built in 1880, in the Geelvinck Hinlopen Huis in Amsterdam, a 16th Century house along the city’s canals in December 2014.

In using such a vintage instrument, the recordings are imbued with a deeply ingrained and palpable sense of the origins of the work. ‘Unabi’ sounds like a child learning ‘London Bridge’: the notes are not so much tentative as prone to wandering, but there’s something compelling about the seemingly innocent disjointedness which sometimes creps into the refrain.

The looping motifs of ‘Shushiki’ are delicately charming, and draw the listener’s attention with their easy grace. The heavy timbre of the low notes at the beginning of ‘Het u Araj’ is compelling, and Kieko captures the spirit of the composter’s direction to perform the final piece ‘Shoror’ .The performances are wobbly, wonky, yet delicate and sincere, and this is an integral part of their mystical, dust-coated appeal.

 

Komitas Vardapet - Six Dances

Frozen Light – FZL 041

James Wells

There’s something mildly irksome about the phrase ‘tickling the ivories’. It’s perhaps a strange personal quirk, but perhaps it’s the louche thespy associations of the phrase which are so bothersome. There’s also the fact that the phrase really fails to convey what’s truly involved in the act of playing the piano. Well, that’s usually the case. But much of the music on Sanctuary sounds very much like the tickling of ivories. Often quiet, delicate, light, tentative and experimental piano notes flit here and there, forming irregular patterns in the air. There are passages of haunting melody, with wavering drones quivering tremulously. There are also scraping strings, trilling woodwind and stomping elephantine rhythms passing through the protracted periods of hush. But first and foremost, it’s about the ivories, and there’s nothing remotely irksome about it.

 

James Batty - Overtones