Thresholds is the 6th studio album from SASO, a project formed in Dublin, Ireland in 2000 by composer & multi-instrumentalist Jim Lawler and producer/recording engineer Ben Rawlins and one which extends the duo’s collaboration with pianist Kevin Corcoran first heard on Mysterium (2016). The inspiration for the record came from the passing of Jim’s father, Brian Lawler, a musician and composer himself, and it was after his funeral that Jim and Ben began talking about creating compositions that would reflect the cycle of life and the journey to death. To do this, they decided to “go back to basics” and make a purely instrumental album using strings and piano while relying exclusively on vintage analog equipment to facilitate a minimal approach to recording and mixing while capturing most of live sessions in a single take.
“We wanted to press the reset button. We took everything we knew and put it to one side and embarked on a new chapter…We embraced the discipline of restriction so we could focus on the art rather than the convenience of technology. It felt like an antidote to modern digital production” – Ben Rawlins, SASO
The third and final installment in Lucy Claire‘s “Works” series is a beautifully conceived EP that takes her music out of the confines of living room and studio to integrate with a variety of soundscapes. In a rather fresh take on the concept, she has taken an especially interactive approach which, when combined with her keen sense of narrative and use of binaural recording techniques, creates a series of vivid, immersive and pleasantly disorienting scenes. The magic is in the layering and juxtaposing of the many field recordings used in each piece and then contriving musical reactions to each setting.
“a Lisbon tram journey
a walk through an old ship building yard named Bucklers Hard
a car journey across the Pennines in a hail storm
a walk along a towpath in Dorset
a hike to a castle in Schwarzwald, Germany
a walk in the New Forest…”
Kevin Imbrechts may be from Belgium, but there is something unmistakably Icelandic in the character of the music he creates as Illuminine, a kind of atmospheric and enigmatic beauty. No wonder Sigur Ròs sound engineer Birgir Jón Birgisson took an early interest in his work and invited Imbrechts to the band’s Sundlaugin studio where he completed the recording of first album and went on to record the next two. Of course, there are other prominent strands in the DNA of his sound – melancholic neoclassical in the vein of Ólafur Arnalds or A Winged Victory for the Sullen (whose Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie has become a collaborator) and electric guitar which traces back to Imbrechts’ admiration for the more introspective work of avant-garde instrumentalist Buckethead citing ‘Electric Tears’ (Metastation, 2002) as an influence.
All of these elements are manifestly present on the newly released #3 which turns out to be the most personal Illuminine album yet as Imbrechts reveals it concerns a very dark chapter in his life during he was struggling with anxiety and panic attacks as well as being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Harrowing as that may sound, he says that writing the album was “the best therapy possible” and that it turned into a sort of “secret sound diary” which he molded to reflect the daily cycles from dawn to anxious, sleep-deprived nights and back to hopeful dawn again.
“It’s my own ‘channel’ to communicate with the world, to express feelings. Everyone can and should project their own ideas and feelings onto the music. Instrumental music is more powerful than vocal music with clear lyrics; it’s much more telling. I want to share this with the world, as I think people have to talk about these issues. It’s not easy to talk about it, but it helps.” – Kevin Imbrechts
Madeleine Cocolas is no stranger to incorporating music with other art forms. She has composed numerous works music for film, dance, and art exhibitions from painting to textiles. It should be no surprise, then, the fondness she developed for The Metropolitan Museum of Art after recently relocating to New York and on her newest album she finds a unique way to express her love for both the city and the museum while creating a highly engaging intersection between modern art, generative music, and compositional forms. The approach is best described by Cocolas herself:
“When I moved to New York City, I knew I wanted to write an album somehow connected to the city, but I wasn’t sure how to anchor it. It was probably on my third or fourth trip to The Metropolitan Museum of Art that I realized how much I loved The Met, and how much it meant to me to be there. I chose nine artworks…that really resonated with me, used custom software programmed by Gregory Long specifically for this project to analyze an image of each artwork to create sounds, and then incorporated those sounds into my compositions. Each track on the album represents an individual artwork, so the album is like a collection of individual works.” – Madeleine Cocolas
Composer & pianist Alexandra Stréliski is an artist of Polish Jewish origin who grew up between Paris and Montreal. She made her debut with the 2010 album Pianoscope, but has gained many more listeners through her work featured in the films of Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”, “Demolition”) and on HBO (“Big Little Lies”, “Sharp Objects”). After a chaotic period of upheaval in her life, she has emerged as a solo recording artist once again with a delightful new album called Inscape, a meaningful portmanteau combining the words “interior” and “landscape”. Stréliski is refreshingly candid regarding the very personal nature of the record and how she hopes it will connect with others.
“To me, ‘Inscape’ was an existential crisis. A year where everything capsized and I had to go through various interior landscapes – hectic, beautiful and painful at the same time…A piano, on its own, is a very vulnerable thing, and I want to share this moment with the listener.” – Alexandra Stréliski
Those who have followed the minimal electronic and electroacoustic music of James Murray have learned there is always a method behind the London-based composer’s work. Offering much more than simple atmospheric soundscapes, there is almost always some important conceptual arc or contextual backdrop to lend deeper meaning and, hence, deeper connection for the listener. This has never been more true than on his latest opus just out on Home Normal entitled Falling Backwards. The album is a poignant exploration of a peculiar coping mechanism Murray developed in his youth.
“When I was a child I would fall backwards, literally. If I felt life unfair or hadn’t control of my world, instead of losing my temper I’d go still, silent, bolt upright, close my eyes and just let go. At home, in public, wherever, it didn’t matter. Always backwards, vertical then inevitably, violently, not. After a few of these episodes the people in my life learnt to see the signs and usually someone would be there to catch me in time…Recent scans investigating tinnitus discovered an infarct in the back of my brain. The cognitive effects of this damage are unclear, best guess as to cause is historic trauma. I’d all but forgotten those self-destructive childhood descents, but this surprise transported me back at once to those earliest, strongest feelings, to the bitter intensity of that which first mattered most. The long free fall through darkness, the outright surrender of the will, and the delicious anticipation of impact. It’s strange isn’t it, the things we do to cope.” – James Murray
In the early stages of my discovering new realms of instrumental music (circa 2012), one of the first albums that really caught and held my attention was Canvas (Polar Seas Recordings) by North Atlantic Drift. I was mesmerized and haunted by the vast melancholic landscapes and the melding of statuesque post rock melodic structures with glacial ambient textures. Followin in fairly quick succession with Monuments (Sound in Silence) and Resolven (Polar Seas Recordings), the project entered a relatively quiet period as members Mike Abercrombie (aka Transits of Mercury) and Brad Deschamps (aka Anthéne) worked on their respective solo endeavors and growing their Polar Seas Recordings label.
The roots of Keith Kenniff’s Helios project go back to 2001, well before he graduated Berklee College of Music in 2006 (the same year he released the timeless and much-loved ‘Eingya‘) and before he began making piano-based modern classical music as Goldmund or collaborating with his wife Hollie as Mint Julep. It goes back to before he began composing custom music for some of the biggest brands in the world including Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Starbucks, Disney, Samsung, & more. The music has evolved over the years and the location has changed (the Kenniffs have been based in Portland, Oregon since 2008), but the composer who deferentially uses “Unseen Music” as the umbrella name for all his projects, still likes to make quiet music at night using the same mini-cassette recorder (“a lovely little imperfect way to treat sounds”). And from those quiet nocturnal experiments comes another sumptuous and warmly enveloping Helios record entitled Veriditas, a title taken from a term coined by medieval abbess and philosopher Hildegard von Bingen as a fusion of two Latin words: green and truth. Though her concepts were quite theological in nature, Kenniff found inspiration in the word’s more abstract connotations.
“While I’m not a very spiritual person as it relates to a religious belief, I do feel an overwhelming connection between the aesthetics I find pleasing in my experience of nature and my experience of writing music.” – Keith Kenniff
Jane Antonia Cornish is an award-winning composer who grew up in England and lives in New York City. In addition to being the first female ever to win a British Academy Award (BAFTA) for music and her growing list of film credits, she has a fine catalog of exquisite and deeply affecting albums which gains a new addition with the recent release of Constellations. As with last year’s Into Silence (2017, Innova), Cornish once again presents us with an overarching narrative of transcendent beauty woven from the purest of sonorities by an impeccable ensemble, but the cosmic theme gives her quiet new pathways to explore in the dimensions of space, time, and light.
Now based in Melbourne, Australia, Zoltan Fecso‘s musical evolution began as he grew up in Budapest, studying classical piano from an early age and then discovering a fascination for electroacoustic music while at university. Seeking to fulfill a unique vision of performing live with acoustic guitar and electronics, Zoltan had an opportunity to work with renowned luthier Ian Noyce in the creation of an acoustic guitar with MIDI capabilities capable of fusing organic instrumentation with endless possibilities of electronic programming. It turned out quite the success, leading to a busy period of industry recognition, an artist residency, live performances, a viral video, recording under a variety of monikers, and engaging in music technology talks throughout Europe.
Not all protest music is loud and angry. Sometimes it is simply an affirmation of the positive in the face of the negative, an advocacy of quietude and beauty in the face of rancor and violence, an embrace of reflection over confrontation. Such was the case with Max Richter in 2003 when he composed The Blue Notebooks against the backdrop of global protests against a war in Iraq. Though this conflict was very much on Richter’s mind at the time, the music he created was devoid of specific geopolitical references and aspired to a broader and more holistic view. Intertwined with the words of writers like Franz Kafka and Czesław Miłosz, what Richter came up with was an introspective meditation on violence and war that transcends any particular historical context.
“I wanted to invite the listener in, allowing them space to reflect, rather than be beaten into submission. The world is tough enough, and I don’t want to add to the brutality. Over the years, I’ve realized that there’s a balance to strike, and that actually, as our world spins into something quite threatening that’s increasingly based on loud and vicious rhetoric, I want to talk about quiet protest” – Max Richter
Composer and pianist Marika Takeuchi has been involved with music her entire life. She began studies in classical music at the tender age of three in her native Japan and, at age 18, went on to study composition at Shobi Music College in Tokyo and do early career work for Japanese national radio and Universal Music Japan. In 2009, she moved to the United States to study film scoring at Berklee College of Music and saw the release of here first solo album ‘Night Dream’ before graduating in 2012. Since then, she has continued to work on a wide variety of projects as a composer, pianist, orchestrator, and arranger while continuing to release solo recordings such as ‘Impressions’ (2013), ‘Rain Stories’ (2014), and ‘Colors in the Diary’ (2016) which was produced by Windham Hill founder & Grammy-winning producer Will Ackerman and features cellist Eugene Friesen and Boston Symphony Orchestra violinist Si-Jing Huang. Continue reading