2019 In Review: Modern 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 during the past year.

A Winged Victory for the Sullen – The Undivided Five [Ninja Tune]


Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Wiltzie rekindle their venerable A Winged Victory for the Sullen project on a new label while exploring new processes, drawing on new sources of inspiration, and visiting an assortment of diverse locations to record. What has not changed, however, is their sonic mastery of the liminal spaces between ambient and neoclassical forms and the sheer, adulterated beauty of the music they create.

Released on vinyl LP, CD, & digital.

Bersarin Quartett – Methoden und Maschinen [Denovali]


DJ, musician, graphic and audio designer Thomas Bücker closes the decade with the fourth album from his enigmatic Bersarin Quartett project aptly named “Methoden und Maschinen” (“methods and machines”) once again creating immersive inner soundscapes on a cinematic scale from lush electronics, glowering bass, and swelling strings in a distinctly noirish mood.

Released on vinyl LP, CD, & digital.

Carlos Cipa – Retronyms [Warner Classics]


A retronym is essentially a new way of seeing something old, a renaming brought on by changes that require new clarity. They emerge out of periods of advancement and thus serve as markers of growth and development. Spend a little time with the new album and it becomes apparent why composer & multi-instrumentalist Carlos Cipa chose this metaphor. It marks a turning point in his album output, fusing established piano and classical motifs with bold new forays into pop, jazz, and electronic music resulting in his most multi-faceted and imaginative work yet.

Released on vinyl LP, CD, & digital.

Corey Fuller – Break [12k]


Known for his work as part of Illuha (with Tomoyoshi Date) as well as collaborations with such musicians Ryuichi Sakamoto, Simon Scott, Stephan Mathieu, Marcus Fischer, Chihei Hatakeyama, and Christopher Willits, musician & multimedia artist Corey Fuller asserts himself as a compelling solo artist with this exquisitely crafted and boldly personal album of cathartic beauty. Also not to be missed is Live in Tokyo in which Fuller deconstructed, reassembled and scored the album for performance with a musical ensemble.

“A crashing wave, the breaking dawn, an impact, the crushing of emotional spirit… the breaking of a storm. These are all relevant ideas behind his choice of a title for this highly emotional album…The ideas that we as humans all share many of the same difficulties is both a launching point and a message he wishes to share with Break — the catharsis.” – 12k

Released on vinyl LP, CD, & digital.

Christopher Tignor – The Light Below [Western Vinyl]


Composer, violinist, lecturer, and software engineer Christoper Tignor dazzles and intrigues once again as he uses custom violin processing, kick drum triggered synths, tuning forks, hi-hats, triangles, and bells as a sort of musical foundry to build new sonic worlds and push the boundaries of what one might expect from these instruments. Tignor’s performance-based approach expressly avoids the use of overdubs, pre-recorded tracks, clicks, or looping, a deliberate dismissal of “electronic music’s grid, reclaiming time as a first order expressive element”. As his liner notes remind us, however, the objective here is not to be clever but rather to forge a genuine connection with the listener.

Released on vinyl LP, CD, & digital.

Christopher Whitley – Solos [Fluid Audio]


On Solos, Canadian violinist Christopher Whitley takes what is traditionally thought of as a solitary instrument and turns into a veritable builder of worlds. To be sure, there are moments on the album when the violin’s empyrean voice rises in its purest natural form, but these are juxtaposed with cavernous soundscapes hewn from sedimentary layers of reverb and dense accretions of distortion. At times, the deep, rumbling temblors seem as if they will shake the melodic structures apart, but they hold together throughout this remarkable and captivating album.

Released on limited edition CD & digital.

David Norland – Glam Tear Stain [Denovali]


David Norland is an Emmy-nominated English composer living and working in Los Angeles. His varied and kaleidoscopic Glam Tear Stain draws on his long career from being a chorister from an early age in Westminster Abbey to his electronic band Solar Twins and his soundtracks for television, film, and news documentaries as well as influences as diverse as Future Sound Of London and 16th century English choral music. Acording to the Denovali, this is the first in a series solo works that Norland will be releasing on the label and that is something to look forward to.

Released on vinyl LP, CD, & digital.

Emmanuel Witzthum – The Book of Dusts [Fluid Audio]


After last year’s poetically poignant Songs of Love and Loss (Eilean Rec.), Israeli violist, composer, & multidisciplinary artist Emmanuel Witzthum debuts on Fluid Audio with another exploration of elegaic beauty on The Book of Dusts. The album comprises a suite of starkly resonant pieces and interludes that ache with a palpable mournfulness. After leaving the listener in near ruins with the closing “Book of loss”, a kind and comforting respite is offered in the form of two efflorescent long form pieces by e+i, Witzthum’s ambient project along with Craig Tattersall aka The Humble Bee.

Released on limited edition 2xCD & digital

Hammock – Silencia [Hammock Music]


With ‘Silencia’, Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson bring their deeply moving triptych on loss to a close. It began in 2017 with Mysterium, an exploration of the shattering of grief following the death of Byrd’s nephew followed by Universalis which centered on healing and recovery.  The closing chapter drifts ever so beautifully towards stillness and silence as the duo articulate the process of acceptance. Adding immesaurably to Silencia’s depth and beauty are Icelandic conductor and violinist Viktor Orri Árnason, who orchestrated the record’s string and horn arrangements, and the voices of a 20-member section from the Budapest Art Choir.

“Silencia is a prelude to silence…It was made in reverence to that space, so it’s great if you don’t feel a need to listen to music after it ends. Silence has become a friend.”– Marc Byrd

Released on vinyl LP, CD, & digital.

Hania Rani – Esja [Gondwana Records]


Hania Rani is a pianist, composer and musician who splits her life between her home in Warsaw and Berlin where she studied and often works. Esja is an album of solo piano pieces so disarmingly beautifu and so fluid and assured it is hard to believe it is her debut album. Spellbinding.

Released on vinyl LP, CD, & digital.

Hugar – Varða [Sony Masterworks]


Taking its name from a series of guideposts used by Icelandic travelers to navigate in times of extended daylight, Varða roughly translates to “cairn” in English, a reference to the tiny rock towers that serve as trail markers and memorials on the pathways of the wayfarer. Bergur Þórisson and Pétur Jónsson envisioned such a trek on their second full-length and debut for Sony Music Masterworks as Hugar.  The duo unfurl a panorama of grand musical landscapes marking them with moments of orchestral beauty and melancholic introspection punctuated by chill-inducing swells of post rock majesty forged from guitar and brass.

Released on vinyl LP, CD, & digital.

Jane Antonia Cornish – Seascapes


Having immersed us in the empyrean beauty of the cosmos with last year’s Constellations, BAFTA award-winning composer Jane Antonia Cornish turns her gaze from the heavenly to the pelagic on her new record, an exceptional new collection of cyclical works for piano, strings, bass guitar, & electronics entitled Seascapes. Once again, Cornish achieves a consummate balance between painterly eloquence, cinematic grandeur, and refined minimalist expression as she captures the vastness and wonder of her chosen subject framed in contemplative stillness.

Released on CD (signed editions available) & digital.

Laura Masotto – Fireflies [Lady Blunt Records]


A stunning album of solo pieces by violinist & composer Laura Masotto arranged with looped accompaniment to the main melodies to create a rich and mesmerizing sound.  The opening pieces are full of light and soaring beauty while the final segment explores  Arabic and experimental tunings including one recorded for an art project in collaboration with Elena Crisanti.

Released on CD & digital.

Mikael Lind – Contingencies [Archives]


Mikael Lind is a composer of experimental ambient music, currently residing in Reykjavik, Iceland. In his first appearance on the Archives label, he presents nine beautifully conceived experiments based on live improvisations with a variety pianos which he contextualizes in array of spatial and textural settings. Other noteworthy release by Lind this year include a four-track EP called Inskrifter on Polar Seas Recordings and a collaboration with violinist Hoshiko Yamane (Tangerine Dream) on Time Released Sound called Spaces in Between.

Released on CD & digital.

Nathan Shubert – When You Take Off Your Shoes [bigo & twigetti]


One listen to When You Take Off Your Shoes by Vancouver-based pianist/composer Nathan Shubert and it becomes apparent how apt the title is. The inviting solo-piano vignettes focus on modal harmonies, subtle modulations and diminished chords while close-miking and dampening techniques create a palpable sense of presence and intimate charm. This sense is heightened with the deft integration of field recordings and ambient electronics which also add dimensions of narrative. By the time it is over, you feel like you have spent time in the company of a close friend.

Released on CD & digital.

Rob Simonsen – Reveries [Sony Masterworks]


Having scored a number of major independent and feature films such as The Way, Way Back, The Spectacular Now, and The Age of Adeline, LA-based composer Rob Simonsen weaves a different kind of magic on his first full-length solo album. Recorded with a very special piano he found in a barn outside of Paris, Simonsen applies deft cinematic touches deflty enough to make create a sense of immersion, but he never lets the sense of reverie and its spell of somber, reflective beauty be broken.

Released digitally

Slow Meadow – Happy Occident [Hammock Music]


In his first full-length album since his evocative meditation on the towns and coastlines of Texas where he grew up with Costero in 2017, Matt Kidd takes Slow Meadow on a different tack with Happy Occident. Kidd describes the new record as “like a waking dream of ideas strung together in a nonlinear fashion” in which he ruminates on the false sense of happiness so prevalent in modern life. There are plenty of the kind of tender piano &  strings passages that have graced his previous albums but he adds bright new elements of electronics and voice samples with a deftly whimsical touch. Worth noting is that the album is available in three separate limited vinyl LP editions each of which offer a unique listening experience with seamless cross-fades and a different outro track.

Released on vinyl LP, CD, & digital

Square Peg Round Hole – Branches [National Sawdust]


The percussion driven trio serve up their most “collaborative and outward-looking” effort to date. The bold dynamism of their previous albums remains very much in play, but Branches also turns out to be a quite nuanced affair with great attention paid to layering of sounds and weaving in beautiful atmospheric interludes with the more energetic passages. Sophisticated rhythmic chops and clever ideas abound, but always in the service of a well thought out compositional framework and a narrative sense that points unerringly true north in this exceptional effort by a band that just keeps getting better.

Released on vinyl LP, CD, & digital.

Tess Said So – Piaf’s Boyfriend [Preserved Sound]


One piano player. One percussionist… As classically trained musicians, Rasa Daukus (piano/keyboards) and Will Larsen (percussion/drums/electronics) began working together as music undergraduates playing a repertoire based on 20th century piano and percussion. Inspired by the people they met while on tour, their most recent album finds the duo at the top of their game as musical storytellers with Rasa’s sparkling piano lines leading the way accompanied by Will’s versatile and highly expressive percussion.

Released on CD & digital.

Deceptive Cadence: Music For Film Volume I & II – William Ryan Fritch [Lost Tribe Sound]


Since 2009, William Ryan Fritch has composed music for over 30 feature films and more than a hundred short films as well as releasing over 20 solo records. How does one attempt to showcase such a body of work in a single album and make it cohesive and compelling? Consider Deceptive Cadence: Music For Film Volume I & II a masterclass in just that. At forty-five tracks and a two & a half hour run time, the cleverly titled double album is sourced from material bound to many disparate narratives, yet Fritch has carefully curated the selected compositions in a way that transcends the original context to create something majestic and new, a singular opus that a listener can come to with fresh ears and experience with unfettered joy & wonder.

Released on 2xCD & digital.