2017 In Review: Journeys in Modern & Experimental Classical

From the delicate minimalism of a single piano to the aching beauty of a string ensemble to the mysterious studio alchemy of the analog fused with the electronic, here is a selection of some particularly memorable journeys in modern & experimental classical music released in 2017. 

Akira Koseumra – In the Dark Woods [Schole]


A lovely and expansive 17-track collection combining new material with tracks released on several recent EPs as one cohesive whole in a beautiful package. Among the highlights, the sparkling ‘DNA’, the meditative ‘Stillness of the Holy Place’, and the lush title track.

Available on digital, CD, and gold vinyl LP 

Ben Lukas Boysen & Sebastian Plano – Everything [Erased Tapes]


Composers Ben Lukas Boysen and Sebastian Plano created an intricate 4-hour soundscape for  David OReilly’s award-winning simulation game ‘Everything’ which has been distilled down to a stunning 10-track album experience that will make any modern classical music fan salivate. That would be more than enough, but the digital edition includes no less than 33 bonus tracks to take the listener deeper into this imagined universe.

Available on digital, CD and 12″ vinyl (some editions may be sold out)

Bing & Ruth – No Home of the Mind [4AD]


A mesmerizing and deeply affecting opus of transcendent and intoxicating beauty. Moore’s fluid, percussive piano lines (composed on no less than seventeen different pianos) run like watercolors across a spacious canvas woven by Greg Chudzik’s & Jeff Ratner’s basses which arc and drone to create a vast depth of field in perpetual motion while Jeremy Viner’s clarinet adds light & color and Mike Effenberger’s tape delay effects render malleable form & texture.

Available on digital and limited transparent 2xLP

CEEYS – Contrete Fields [1631 Recordings]


CEEYS is a neologism forged from references to the instruments played by the Selke brothers – Sebastian on cello (you may recognize his signature sound from Ólafur Arnalds’ Evolutions audio library) and Daniel on keyboards (both piano & vintage electronic gear). Concrete Fields is the first installment of a triptych that incorporates images & videos to resonate their experience growing up in a prefab estate in East Germany and navigating dramatic personal, political, and cultural change and it brims with stark beauty and simmering emotion.

Available on digital, CD, and limited 12″ vinyl LP

Clint Mansell – Loving Vincent [Milan Records]


A master at using minimal resources to generate cinematic scope, Mansell’s score for the dazzling animated film Loving Vincent is dizzying in its own way, bursting with sonic colors and replete with evocative scene-setting cues even as it resonates with the powerful, conflicting forces at play in the narrative from tension and suspense to passion and beauty. One can imagine this music coupled with faithful oil renderings of the original paintings set into motion will be nothing less than sublime and deeply affecting.

Available on digital, CD, and yellow vinyl LP

Daigo Hanada- Ichiru [Moderna Records]


This is music for solitude and the quiet appreciation of treasured memories or reflection upon deeply held emotions. Each melody is warmly inviting and instantly memorable while an impeccably restrained touch and minimalistic aesthetic ensures the sentiment never becomes too saccharine. In fact, the more one listens, the more comforting it becomes like a late-night conversation with an old friend. It seems lately that lovers of solo piano music are a bit spoiled for choice, but that should not diminish appreciation for the exceptional beauty of what Hanada has created on his first outing.

Available on. digital and CD

Danny Mulhern – Reflections on a Dead Sea [1631 Recordings]


For his debut full-length album, Danny Mulhern augmented and extended his original score for short film The Dead Sea and then took it into the studio to collaborate with the London Contemporary Orchestra and cellist Oliver Coates in a process where composed elements and improvisation were fused into a single narrative. The outcome of this process is an enthralling opus which functions as something of a musical mirror to reflect the moving narrative, jarring juxtapositions, and powerful themes of the film in a deeply resonant way.  Also highly recommended is Mulhern’s EP Metanoia also released by the label earlier in the year.

Available on digital and vinyl LP

Ed Carlsen – Eluisve Frames [Moderna Records]


After nearly 20 years of playing guitar and covering other people’s music, Ed Carlsen recently started down a new path of pursuing his own compositions while teaching himself the piano as well as exploring the world of sound design  and that makes the refined beauty, mature restraint, and assured presentation of his second album rather remarkable. Elusive Frames is a sublime introspective journey. And how about that stunning cover art by Kevin Townsend?

Available on digital and CD

From the Mouth of the Sun – Hymn Binding [Lost Tribe Sound]


At times luminous and transcendent, at others mournful and bereft, Hymn Binding is an album which gives breath as much as it takes it away, rising and falling with the swooning arcs of Martin’s cello as they emerge from the ravishing sonic canvas to speak nothing but pure emotional truth. To choose a highlight among highlights, the devastating one-two punch delivered from the glowering power of “Risen, Darkened” followed by the healing beauty of “Roads” is nothing less than astonishing.

Available on digital, CD and 180gm 12″ vinyl LP

Hammock – Mysterium [Hammock Music]


A memorial to Clark Kern, nephew and son-like figure to Marc Byrd who died last year after a battle with childhood disease NF2, Mysterium effortlessly fuses modern classical, ambient, and choral music to present a work of otherworldly beauty rooted in deeply felt grief infused with loving appreciation. These are not just beautiful sounds meant to serve as shallow comfort. Rather they are intrepid confrontations of the deepest pain and the most troubling existential questions we face, a tireless sonic quest search for healing and redemptive beauty.

Available on digital, CD, and double vinyl LP

Hior Chronik – Out of the Dust [7K!]


Combining ambient and drone sounds with strings, piano, and trumpet
to create “soundtrack for a movie that was never shot”, Out of the Dust is another superb outing for the Greek composer who splits his time between Athens and Berlin where the album was recorded. Austere and melancholic beauty with a delicate cinematic flourish.

Available on digital, CD, and vinyl LP

Jakob Lindhagen – Paces [1631 Recordings]


Whether by intent or osmosis, the quintessence of the long Scandinavian night seems to be etched into each of these delicate compositions. Their snowbound interiors are aglow with warm introspection and a keenly felt melancholy while being haunted by a vast, mysterious dark that lies on the periphery beneath the silent dance of distant northern lights. An album of extraordinary beauty that demands to be heard in stillness and silence with an open mind and heart.

Available on digital and vinyl LP

James Maloney – Gaslight [Moderna Records]


It only takes seconds for the cascading, watery light dance of notes of the opening “Seascapes” to fall under the album’s spell which is sustained by Maloney’s unique approach to delicately overlaying piano tracks (sometimes as many as 40!) to create a shimmering miasma of notes. Some of these pieces have all the magic of an impressionist painting, forming a beautiful whole out of a myriad of seemingly random brush strokes (or key strokes in this case). But they are not random at all. The weight, texture, tone, and timbre of each note is just what is needed and none could be subtracted without diminishing the whole.

Available on digital and CD

Jane Antonia Cornish – Into Silence [Innova Recordings]


On this exquisite, intimate, and deeply affecting work, the BAFTA-winning composer, along with an ensemble of impeccable musicians, invites us to stillness and contemplation by “creating a sound world where the notes ring out into the distance, so the listener’s ear is following the echoes of the notes as they disappear into silence”. At its most plaintive, Into Silence peers into your soul while at its most ardent & resonant, it is pure, transcendent beauty. A very special record, this.

Available on digital and CD

Jason Van Wyk – Opacity [Home Normal]


An impeccably lush and luminous collection of imaginative pieces that manage to sound expansively cinematic while remaining serene and intimate. Van Wyk’s piano along with Brittany Dilkes and Gavin Clayton on violin and Lynne Donson on cello weave the modern classical magic embellished by opulent layers of electronics used ornamentally and melodically throughout.

Available on digital and CD

Manos Milonakis – Festen[Moderna Records]


Milonakis fuses the sounds of piano, persephone, synthesizer, glockenspiel, violin, viola, cello, guitar, and theremin with programmed beats and loop processing into his mesmerizing score for the stage adaptation of Thomas Vinterberg’s 1998 film by the  National Theatre of Northern Greece. As in the play, his music conveys the dichotomy between aristocratic reserve and searing emotions roiling behind a facade of etiquette and familial order.

Available on digital and limited edition CD

Michael Price – Diary [1631 Recordings]


More than a simple collection of songs, this collection of thirty solo piano improvisations by BAFTA-nominated and Emmy award-winning composer Michael Price is a window into his creative process. Compiled over a six-week period, Price began each working day with a new improvisational piece recorded in a single take, allowing the project to unfold as an unguarded and unedited musical journal of his thoughts, mood, and level of inspiration.

Available in digital only

Moinho – Elastikanimal [1631 Recordings]


Franck Marquehosse devotion to the eloquent minimalism of Satie is evidence here, but he adds expansiveness to this set of superb compositions with moving and dramatic string passages on songs like “Josef”, “Les Lointains”, and “Cairn” as well as ambling playfulness on pieces like “Le Chien Jaune” and the inventive title track with its clockwork-like percussion and interlocking marimba patterns. The quality of the recording is exceptional and the arrangements are superb making it a wonderful listen from start to finish.

Otto A Totland – The Lost [Sonic Pieces]


Almost four years after its release, Pinô remains a favorite of many solo piano lovers and for good reason. Nevertheless, it was lovely to see the Otto Totland return with The Lost, a new collection of composed and improvised pieces once again recorded in Nils Frahm‘s legendary Durton studio in Berlin. Fragile, intimate, and mesmerizing.

Available on digital, CD, and vinyl LP

Panoptique Electrical – Quiet Ecology [Sound in Silence]


Can you find a way to release yourself, if only temporarily, from the noise of the world?” Inspired by a quiet odyssey across four Australian cities, Jason Sweeney utilizes deep, resonant piano notes to map out lines & boundaries while droning cellos and swelling strings fill in their contours. Quiet Ecology is like that respected friend or co-worker of few words who instantly commands attention whenever they choose to speak. Take a moment. Slow down. Give it a thoughtful hearing. You won’t regret it.

Available on digital and limited edition CD

Poppy Ackroyd – Sketches [One Little Indian]


As a precursor to her highly-anticipated new studio album Resolve due in 2018, Poppy offered this delightful set of  solo piano interpretations of pieces along with several new compositions which will appear in different form on the new album. In this format her playing becomes even more free-flowing, and expressive as she retells these musical stories in a effervescent new way.

Available on digital, CD and vinyl (some editions may be sold out)

Roger Eno – This Floating World [Recital Program]


The highly respected composer’s leanings toward classical impressionism, pastoralism, and minimalism quietly abound in this enchanting collection of “rustic and melancholic piano works, as grey and mossy as a country cottage”. While some of the pieces are exquisitely lovely, others convey loneliness and unease with uncanny poignancy like the downcast eyes peering through the center of the window on the cover. Note that the album comes with a 12-page booklet which includes photographs and brief stories written for the album.

Available on digital and vinyl LP with CD (includes 12 page booklet)

Simeon Walker – Mono


An active member of the UK music scene across a number of genres, the Leeds-based pianist & composer only recently began to release his own solo music, but it did not take long for savvy listeners to enthusiastically latch on to his captivating minimalist style. Mono is Walker’s first full-length solo recording and it is a fine one, a tender-hearted collection of thoughtfully composed pieces in slow bloom and wrapped in hushed intimacy.

Available on digital, CD, and vinyl LP

Sophie Hutchings – Yonder [1631 Recordings]


Yonder finds Sophie in a more ebullient mood as radiant melodies ripple and flow from her piano with pure élan. While the piano is the primary instrument, strings & voice add expansiveness and color. These are sounds that evoke the joy of being alive and the freedom of wide open spaces; of azure skies, wind rushing through the tall grass, and sunlight dancing on the water. There is no pretension here, only the life-affirming joy of beautiful music of the purest kind.

Available on digital, CD, and vinyl LP

William Ryan Fritch – The Old Believers (Extended Edition) [Lost Tribe Sound]


Though his original soundtrack to Ryan Loughlin & Wendi Jonassen’s documentary was released in 2014, the addition of 8 new tracks and a digital re-release by Lost Tribe Sound should justify approaching this an essentially a new album, especially for those of us who are hearing it for the first time. This years Eagles Hunters In a New World may be more exhilarating and exotic, but there are infinite subtle charms in this thoughtful and restrained collection of tracks with a breathtaking, elegiac beauty all their own.

Available in digital only