A member of Canadian music group Timber Timbre from 2008-2012 and a part of Agnes Obel‘s touring band from 2013-2014, Mika Posen records her solo work under the name of Merganzer. Her new album Montage released on So Sorry Records last October is a spellbinding collection of painterly vignettes and neoclassical reveries which Posen wrote primarily during a residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island in 2015. On the album, she employs violin, viola, cello, piano, and effects to realize her own musical visions which she characterizes as “a rumination about place and self, an atmospheric rendition of transition, and an impression of the idea of home”.
The EP is often overlooked when it comes annual round-ups, but this format continually provides us with memorable outsize moments and the year in music would not be the same without them as these 16 releases demonstrate.
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.
“it was unspoken, hence unheard
unwritten, and in turn unread
but in between each silent word
i have resigned to all i’ve said”
“All I’ve Said” is the sixth and final entry in Moderna Record’s Fall Single Series, a collection of minimalist piano-centered pieces by a globe-spanning roster of musicians: Jacob David (Denmark), Hiroco.M (Japan), Adam Daudrich (Canada), n-So (US), Richard Luke (Scotland), and ending with Mike Lazarev (England). In addition to being editor-in-chief of Headphone Commute, one of the leading online magazines covering ambient, experimental, & instrumental music, Mike is a London based composer & pianist with who has released solo albums on 1631 Recordings as well as a stellar collaboration with Uwe Zahn (aka Arovane) for the Eilean Records project just this past summer.
To cap off this beautiful conclusion to the series, Mike collaborated with Jessie Rodger, a visual artist & director from South Wales who specializes in filming music & dance, and Greek freelance dancer Nancy Nerantzi to create a captivating video against the dramatic background of the Cornish coast. Less than three minutes tick away on the clock before it comes to end, but the tender melody, stunning cinematography, and expressive choreography come together to create a moment that lives outside of time.
Square Peg Round Hole is a percussion-driven instrumental trio based out of Philadelphia, PA. Members Evan Chapman, Sean M. Gill, and Carlos Pacheco-Perez all met while studying at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and formed the project around the inventive use of drum kits, vibraphone, samples, found objects, synths, and vintage analog keyboards to develop a style that draws on elements from post-rock, electronic, ambient, and contemporary classical motifs. Coming off their exhilarating self-released album Corners in 2013, it was the band’s second record, Juniper (2016, Spartan Records) that garnered them some national attention. Composed in rural Maryland and remote Wisconsin, the album unveiled a more abstract, introspective approach but still retained some of the directness and vibrancy of the debut as it was recorded almost entirely in full live takes.
Alex Lockwood‘s ‘Test Subjects‘ is a short documentary that tells the story of Frances, Emily & Amy – three aspiring research scientists coming to terms with the ethical dilemmas and wrenching emotional burdens associated with conducting animal testing in the ostensible interests of bettering human health. The music for the film was scored by American composer & multi-instrumentalist Aaron Martin and follows his collaboration with From the Mouth of the Sun partner Dag Rosenqvist on the soundtrack for 2017’s acclaimed independent film ‘Menashe‘ as well as his score last year for William Armstrong’s inspiring mini-documentary ‘Adam‘.
While many of us are still savoring the kaleidoscopic panorama of It Billows Up released by Brooklyn-based trio Sontag Shogun this past spring, the band delivered a pleasant surprise along with the turning of leaves in the form of a new EP called Floréal. It is a introspective “mini-suite” in a distinctly autumnal mood that once again finds Ian Temple, Jesse Perlstein, & Jeremy Young in compelling form with their alchemical fusion of foley & tape treatments, organically derived textures, painterly solo piano compositions, and ethereal vocals.
Presented in a cassette tape format, side A belongs to a single immersive composition entitled “Photographs from a moving car” featuring guest vocals by Finnish composer & musician Lau Nau, while side B unfolds in three parts – the moving title track, the collagic “Plaid Lines”, which features the voice of Canadian artist Ora Cogan, and the hauntingly beautiful “Lament” which is featured here in a touching video created by multi-disciplinary artist Joshua Miller using old found footage shot while on a road trip across the United States with his ex-partner. Though deeply personal in origin, the music and visuals combine to powerfully convey themes of both nostalgia and solastalgia in an especially moving and relatable way.
Composer Logan Nelson has as worked on films like Green Book, Dear White People, and other Netflix shows, scored over 40 short films, two web series’, and a video game, written on commercials for companies like Google, Nexus, IBM, & Prudential and just finished up collaborating on a documentary epic about Mt. Everest produced by National Geographic and Sony including a live orchestra recorded in Budapest. That might sound like the CV of a veteran composer, but Nelson was still still a senior at the USC Thornton School of Music when he was named the Best Young International Composer at last year’s World Soundtrack Awards.
Come January of next year, Nelson will be releasing a solo EP entitled Lavender Echoes which branches off from his extensive film work to explore his interest in “blurring the lines between live instrumentalists and electronic atmospheres” in a more abstract way. The album was recorded in Los Angeles with the members of the Calder Quartet who formed its “backbone” as well as electroacoustic harpist Lara Somogyi and Nashville-based violinist Shawn Williams all of whom gave Nelson a rich tapestry of sound to work with for his endeavor.
“It’s a process that quite literally defines ‘Lavender Echoes’… I think this process is analogous to what technology can do to beauty; taking neither a positive nor negative perspective, but a perspective of manipulation. I hope that the EP represents an honest portrayal of my relationship with music, musicians, and space; and perhaps gives a perspective on the modern definition of beauty through the lens of technology.” – Logan Nelson
Right from the off it seems, Scottish pianist Mhairi Hall‘s albums have blended traditional and contemporary music while maintaining a close connection to the local landscape. She famously took a grand piano to the top of Cairngorm Mountain to celebrate the release of her trio’s debut album and, along with Patsy Reid, arranged a composition to evoke the contours of that same mountain. On her forthcoming new record entitled Airs, Mhairi continues in this vein but in a quieter and more reflective direction as she performs new arrangements of traditional Scottish slow airs alongside her own original compositions in a seaside setting.
“I have always loved slow airs, many of which come from the rich song traditions of Scotland and have been passed down through families and friends at gatherings over many decades. It is a beautiful thing to take a very old melody or song and turn it into something new, with colours in chords and textures, giving it a new life on a completely different instrument that maybe didn’t exist when the original melody was composed.” – Mhairi Hall