When we got a chance to speak with Poppy Ackroyd this past summer, she was about to release Sketches, an album of solo piano reworks of material from her first two studio albums as well as pieces from an upcoming new work. Now that album has arrived, erasing any possible vestiges of doubt that she is one of the most innovative and exciting artists on the experimental classical scene and a truly distinctive artistic voice.
Resolve finds Poppy building and expanding upon her dynamic and percussive approach to playing the piano in ways both conventional and unconventional. It also find her collaborating in the studio for the first time with other musicians including Manu Delago (Bjork, Cinematic Orchestra, Anoushka Shankar) on hang, Mike Lesirge (Bonobo, Andreya Triana) on clarinets and flute, and Jo Quail on cello. It is a vibrant and mesmerizing record with a positive impetus behind it.
“Resolve is about the determination to embrace the good things in life whilst dealing with unexpected and challenging difficulties. Finding the light in the dark, facing sadness and loss head on, and developing a growing inner strength.” – Poppy Ackroyd
Italian composer Luca Ciut has created numerous scores in recent years for movies, theater, and dance and worked with both Golden Globe and Emmy winning filmmakers. Inspired by his experience living in Los Angeles, his 2013 debut album of original compositions entitled Seventeen Million Lonely Angels was originally planned as a solo piano record accompanied by field recordings but ended up embracing a variety of additional instruments. On his second album, however, it is just the man and his piano unraveling a very personal and intimate journey in 13 songs, an opus which Ciut dubbed Per Te Solo Per Te, Per Me Solo.
“For you only for you, for me alone. And there is a space in between, a comma. Light, but present. There are things we do for someone else and other things we do for ourselves. And it is not always easy to make them go by the hand, without tugging each other. Words often mingle, they want to take the upper hand, compete to arrive first.So I tried to use a scale where the two arms felt the same, same weight. And if this did not happen, I would start again, to weigh. Because this album is also: for me only for me, for you alone.” – Luca Ciut
When Chris Bartels chose the name for his Elskavon project he formed a neologism from a pair of Icelandic words – elska meaning “love” and von meaning “hope”). It was not only a message he would weave into his compositions, but a nod in the direction of Sigur Ros, one of his key influences when he started to write ambient music. All of this comes together in a very direct way in this video premiere of “Offers of Peace” from his upcoming fourth album Skylight. Love and hope would no doubt be foremost among the emotions Bartels feels toward his children and the song is specifically dedicated to his second child Oliver (whose name actually means ‘offer of peace’). The Icelandic connection is reinforced by some truly gorgeous video footage provided by friend & filmmaker Ryan Gates to accompany the music.
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.
Discovering new artists via streaming platforms is not only the province of curators and listeners. It is also a way that artists can discover one another and, occasionally, these discoveries can open the doors to collaborations that would never have otherwise happened. Such is the case with Fabian Rosenberg (aka Klangriket) and Sjors Mans. After encountering each other’s work on Soundcloud and conversing over the wire about music & sound gear, they developed a piece entitled “Sarem” (listen here). It was a good enough experience that the two musicians felt they wanted to co-locate and see what they would come up with if they shared the same room while writing. So, Fabian left his hometown of Stockholm to visit Sjors at his Amsterdam studio.
It was the piano that first captured composer Alina K’s imagination as a child in Lithuania. Having moved to London with the intention of further developing her piano
playing skills and performed at the opening ceremonies of the prestigious Vancouver Fashion Week, she recently took the bold decision to leave a steady work in the world of luxury retail to focus full-time on her music. This has led to her first collection of music to be formally released, an EP due in early February of 2018. Produced by Nick Tauber, who has worked on bestselling albums for Thin Lizzy, Def Leppard, and Marillion, Awakening will feature selections from fourteen original compositions that she recently recorded at the famous Abbey Road Studios. The first track from the album, the aptly titled “New Beginnings”, premieres today and allows listeners to experience the uplifting beauty and direct emotional appeal of her elegant compositional style.
“I want to create music that transcends boundaries. My compositions come from my heart and I am so happy to see them bringing joy and positivity to the audience.” – Alina K
vaghy (Tamás Vághy) is a Hungarian composer and pianist who is making an appearance as a newcomer on the modern classical scene, but is no musical neophyte. Surrounded by his father’s old tapes and vinyl, his love of music came at an early age. Having developed into a multi-instrumentalist with a taste for a wide variety of genres, he performed in thousands of concerts from clubs to large festivals including serving a the keyboardist for the well-known Hungarian rock band Anna and the Barbies. During these years, in the quiet environs of his bedroom studio, he indulged a passion for classical music. After seeing a Nils Frahm video several years ago, Tamás was inspired to bring this more personal work into the public sphere, performing live sets in 2016 and again in 2017 in support of Frahm’s own worldwide Piano Day event.
A good friend and active supporter of instrumental music as the creative force behind the revered Headphone Commute (a huge influence on Stationary Travels, btw), Mike Lazarev has more recently revealed himself to us as a fine composer of solo piano music with a pair of mini-albums released on 1631 Recordings. Completed in New York before a move to London and intended to be listened to as the second half to last year’s Unhinged, the forthcoming follow-up entitled Dislodged offers ten exquisite pieces that explore “the outer reaches of spatial and reductionist pianism”.
If the two albums comprise a journey, it would seem (and we would hope) it is on a path to healing. Muted, wistful, and plaintive Dislodged may be, but the track titles hint at peace and recovery while sweet melodies and the occasional flourish of other instruments as well as a TV interlude add a sort of warmth to the proceedings. One might imagine the dark face of a building at night in the heart of the city where a single window glows with light and, as we peer inside and tune our ears to sounds coming from that direction, we get a glimpse of the composer having a dialog with his instrument. Intimate and personal perhaps, but expressed in a universal wordless language that anyone who has experienced detachment, isolation, or heartache will instantly understand. Continue reading
No matter how many solo piano pieces I listen to, I never cease to be amazed how musicians can channel so much of their own individual character through the same single instrument and weave so many intangible qualities into the notes and hammer strokes. As I listened to the music on Tristan Eckerson‘s new album Disarm, I found myself laboring to articulate what those intangibles were – that is until I read his bio.
The composer is currently based in the lovely mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina but was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and has lived, traveled, & studied in places as far-flung as Charleston, South Carolina, San Sebastian, Spain, San Francisco, California, & Seattle, Washington and has performed in multiple groups on both U.S. Coasts recording with members of the Ray Charles Orchestra, writing string arrangements for the Magik*Magik Orchestra, and performing at numerous music halls & festivals. And then it suddenly seemed obvious what I was hearing woven in and around the notes was a kind of restlessness, a sense of wanderlust and hunger for new experience.
Earlier this summer, French pianist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Dominique Charpentier released an EP consisted of five songs each of which was developed in less than two hours. He chose this format as an experiment in form and a personal challenge. While compressing the creative process into a fixed time always risks an uncertain outcome, in this case it produced an enchanting quintet of piano-based pieces with a touch of melancholy and a touch of musette so as to weave a spell of melancholic and nostalgic romance in the space of twelve minutes.
Inspired by the music, the folks at Piano & Coffee have created a video to accompany songs using a montage of grainy, sepia-toned footage shot around a bustling 1970’s Paris turning “Esquisse IV” into a plaintive scrapbook of shared memory. Continue reading
If you visit the Soundcloud page of Lebanese sound producer and visual artist Maiya Hershey, you’ll find a veritable menagerie of beautiful experiments in ambient & electronic music and other sonic ephemera constructed from piano, loops, and voice. There is arguably enough material there to have allowed her to cobble together a complete album, but her full-length debut demonstrates she was willing to be patient enough to develop something truly substantial and cohesive. Tides is presented as a fictional story whose protagonist is an unseen creature born from deep waters that “inherited all of human consciousness and memory” and it possesses all the strange, otherworldly beauty such a concept portends.
With her 2012 debut ‘Escapement’, Brighton-based composer Poppy Ackroyd entered the same rare air as such esteemed innovators of modern classical and electronic music as Nils Frahm and Hauschka. Classically trained on violin and piano, she creates utterly mesmerizing music by manipulating and multi-tracking sounds primarily from these two instruments in sometimes unconventional ways, an approach she expanded upon with her second album ‘Feathers’ in 2015. This year she brings us a flurry of new projects to enjoy starting with her new mini-album ‘Sketches’ in which Poppy reinterprets pieces from her first two records as pure solo piano pieces along with several new compositions. She also has a brand new full-length album in the works for release in November and all this in the midst of performing as part of Hidden Orchestra, who themselves have a wonderful new record out called ‘Dawn Chorus’. I am ecstatic that Poppy was willing take time from her busy schedule to answer a few questions for Stationary Travels readers and thus kick-off the very first in our new series of artist interviews called Duologues.