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In the winter of 2017, pianist and Headphone Commute editor-in-chief Mike Lazarev began an intriguing remote collaboration with Uwe Zahn, better known in experimental music circles as Arovane. Over the next year and a half, the two kindred spirits developed a musical language of their own that has taken form this summer in the release of Aeon on the enigmatic Eilean Rec. imprint. In his London studio, Lazarev would record minimal piano pieces, often late at night, sometimes with the windows open, seeking to capture every sound resonating from the instrument. Zahn then delicately deconstructed these recordings, extracting not only the notes themselves but even the brush of fingers across the keys, the fall of the hammers, or the ‘breathing’ of the strings thus turning them into morphological units for the formulation of new means of expression,

“We both aspired to delve into this instrument and play with all of the sounds living within, as heard from the inside. Many ideas would come from Uwe in the form of a sketch, an aural vocabulary, or a sonic brochure, which I would interpret through a pair of closely placed microphones. There are even fewer melodies and even more spacial pianism on here than in my previous solo reductionist works, which Uwe so masterfully extracted with his experienced ear. In this incredible partnership, we have discovered a new dimension within the piano…”Mike Lazarev

Continue reading “Track Premiere: Unendlich, Endlich by Arovane & Mike Lazarev”

When Sony Masterworks releases ‘Reveries‘ by Rob Simonsen in September, it will technically by a debut album, but the Los Angeles based composer’s work should be well known to many.  Having worked with Mychael Danna on movies like 500 Days of Summer (2009) Moneyball (2011) and Life of Pi (2012), Simonsen has gone on to score a number of major independent and feature films such as The Way, Way Back (2013),The Spectacular Now (2013), The Age of Adeline (2015), The Front Runner (2018) and Captive State (2019) to name just a handful.  The album has a rather rich backstory as one might imagine for a composer as experienced and well-traveled as Simonsen, and the more one learns about it, the more apparent what a labor of love Reveries represents.  By his own account it is both a return to Simonsen’s roots escaping into and exploring the piano as youth as well as to an aesthetic he encountered and developed an affinity for while working in Paris and Berlin in recent years.

“I came back to LA and thought, I want to have those conversations here. I want to be able to go to a church and see a little concert. I want to connect more with people doing interesting explorations, and thinking deeply about their art.”

The music shows a clear kinship with the intimately immersive work of such composers as the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, Hauschka, Hildur Guðnadóttir, or Dustin O’Halloran (A Winged Victory for the Sullen), artists who journeyed albeit in the opposite direction, that is to say one of beginning as solo artists before entering the world of film & TV soundtracks. This is clearly evident in the somber, reflective beauty of “Spectre” which debuted along with a dramatic video treatment earlier this summer.  And now the profoundly emotive “Coeur”, the album’s second single, along with part two of a continued visual story are here to be enjoyed in an exclusive premiere.

Continue reading “Video Premiere: “Coeur” by Rob Simonsen”

CEEYS_HIddensee_coverCEEYS is a portmanteau coined from the names of the primary instruments used by brothers Sebastian & Daniel Selke to perform their minimalist modern classical compositions – the cello played by Sebastian (‘violoncelle’) and Daniel’s piano and vintage synthesizers (‘keys’). Their latest album now out on the Neue Meister imprint is the final chapter in a triptych centered around growing up in Europe’s largest prefab estate in Berlin-Marzahn-Hellersdorf, East Germany and living through the dramatic political & cultural changes that transpired during the collapse of the GDR and the reunification with the West.

The album is called Hiddensee, referring to the small but picturesque holiday island in the Baltic Sea just west of Rügen, a “sweet little land” (‘Söte Länneken’) with an unspoiled beauty that attracted such artists & intellectuals in the early 20th century as Albert Einstein, Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, and Sigmund Freud and which served as both a popular vacation destination and a haven for dissidents throughout the GDR era.

“After the Peaceful Revolution in 1989, the subsequent fall of the Berlin Wall and all through the 1990s, the area kept its contradictory atmosphere of vibrant euphoria and underlying melancholia. As we strongly felt the need to incorporate all different aspects of these turbulent times into our work, we decided to release them in a series of records over the next years to come. While CONCRETE FIELDS was dedicated to our childhood behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s, WÆNDE was a collection of impressions regarding the sudden fall of the Wall – the moment of change that is shaping us to this very day. Now we turn to the no less intense 1990s – for us, those years bring to mind family trips and our sheer amazement for the vast beauty of the world.” – CEEYS

Continue reading “A Sense of Place: Hiddensee by CEEYS”

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When we first met Japanese composer & pianist Daigo Hanada, it was his 2017 debut Ichiru on Moderna Records, an album written in Berlin and Tokyo over the course of a year and recorded with only an upright piano and a pair of microphones. This summer, Hanada returns to the label with a beautiful EP in a similar vein entitled Ouka, a new collection of seven intimate vignettes full of oneric charm. Once again, there is an elegant simplicity to Hanada’s work, a balance between melody, harmony, and space that is easy to listen to but takes a special touch to achieve.

Continue reading “Video Premiere: Follow Me to the Moon by Daigo Hanada”

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For their latest record entitled It Billows Up, Brooklyn-based avant music trio Sontag Shogun sought to capture the essence of their live performances on record through the use of collaborative techniques and modular compositions they had developed while on tour in Europe, Japan, & North America in 2016/17. The end result is a kaleidoscopic pastiche of music and sound, an au courant panorama of compositional and improvisational elements blended with foley art and human theater into a singular hypnagogic narrative by the band’s three members –  Ian Temple (piano), Jesse Perlstein (electronically treated vocals, field recordings), and Jeremy Young (analog oscillators, reel-to-reel tape loops, and beats made only with contact mic’d objects & surfaces).

Continue reading “Sound Impression: It Billows Up by Sontag Shogun”

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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. Tess Said So combine piano, percussion and electronics with non-classical sounds and techniques, infusing their sound with pop, jazz, ambience and minimalism.

With I Did That Tomorrow (2014) they introduced their unique creative partnership, a vibrant collection of tracks that defied the apparent limitations of their chosen format. The same improvisational spirit, bold elegance, and impeccable musicianship that made such a resounding first impression shone just as brightly on their 2016 follow-up Scramble + Fate and now we are about to be treated to it once again with imminent release of Piaf’s Boyfriend, an ode to people they met while recently on tour.

The new record which will be available on CD & digital beginning May 31 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. In this interview kindly furnished by Hayden Berry of Preserved Sound, Rasa & Will talk about writing an album that captures the personas of different people they met or who left an impression on them along the way.   Continue reading “Duologue: A conversation with Tess Said So”

Veins_Cover_3000pxBorn in East Berlin to actor Klaus-Peter Thiele and painter Rosemarie Rautenberg, Valeska Rautenberg grew up living and breathing creativity and has followed that path throughout her life. She started working as an actress at the age of eleven and continued starring in movies and television shows on & off while at school and later during university. During her teen years, however, she discovered music was her true love and since then she has engaged in all aspects of it as an instrumentalist, singer, composer, producer, and teacher.

Rautenberg has also performed in a wide array of settings from pubs & underground clubs to gala events and major venues, but her latest release is an especially personal and intimate one. Part of a series of releases that began in 2017 after taking some time off to tend to her personal life, Veins (Songs for Piano, Wind, & Water) is a collection of four beautiful piano-based vignettes inspired by early morning walks on the streets of Berlin and being attuned to sounds that can easily be drowned out when the city is bustling.  Continue reading “Video Premiere: “Wandering” by Valeska Rautenberg”

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 photo by Arūnas Naujokas on Unsplash

This special edition of The Listening Room features the Soundcloud selections playlist compiled from the many wonderful tracks uploaded for Piano Day 2019. You can also find recommended piano recordings released earlier this year by Hauschka, Adrian LaneBruno Sanfilippo, Julien Marchal, Bruno Bavota, Tom Blankenberg, and Lullatone as well as Piano Day releases by Mikael Lind, Akira Kosemura, Kyle McEvoy, and Garreth Broke. Finally we’ll peek ahead with previews of upcoming albums by Alex KozobolisJohannes Hirschmann, Tristan Eckerson, and Tom Adams. It is nothing less than a movable feast for piano music lovers. Happy listening!

Continue reading “The Listening Room (Piano Day 2019)”

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Minneapolis composer Chris Bartels has been writing ambient music under the name Elskavon for a decade and this past year was arguably one of his most productive with the release of Skylight and numerous collaborations and work supporting the burgeoning indie classical scene in the area along with artists like Jacob Pavek, Philip Daniel, and John Hayes. Not only that, but the Bora York indie pop project fronted by Bartels and wife Rebekah are in the process of developing a new album as well.  Sounds like more than enough to keep even the most restlessly creative musician busy, does it not? Yet, somehow Bartels has found the time & energy to put yet one more iron in the fire with Blurstem.

The project was born as a piano-centric offshoot of Elskavon. Chris and Rebekah were gifted an old spinet piano when they bought a house in 2015. Always slightly out of tune, a little dusty sounding, and very much imperfect, the instrument had a character that Chris wanted to explore. He cut up an old sweater and taped it to the strings, so as to avoid waking up their children at night and ended up writing so many new songs on this spinet that he felt the need to start a whole new project.  Fittingly, the first single from the album that resulted is premiered here on Piano Day.

Continue reading “Premiere: Rubrik by Blurstem + Brique A Braq”