Posts Tagged piano

Star’s End Review: Souls Adrift, in Disrepair

Big thanks to Chuck van Zyl for his review (original post here) and support! I’m looking forward to working with him in October, for performances at the Gatherings and on Star’s End Radio. As I’ve said many times, it’s the deep listeners like Chuck, who really hear and understand what I’m trying to accomplish musically, who make it worth all the effort to get music out there in a very crowded market.

“A soundtrack from out of the middle distance, Souls Adrift, in Disrepair (73’52”) uses stillness to superb effect. Eyes Cast Down (multi-instrumentalist Greg Moorcroft) asks that you give his delicately layered performance your patience. Once we adjust our ears to the minimalist arrangements, what emerges is a slow steady tempest of sound. The five stark compositions found on Souls Adrift, in Disrepair evoke different questions from the ones we are used to. We are asked to look within, and think about what feelings and sensations we experience while listening to this album’s sustaining drones, breathing chords, and dense forms – things large enough to swallow you whole. Whatever drama does arise on Souls Adrift, in Disrepair, does not come from harmonic displacement, melodic invention, nor counterpoint, but from contrasts in the sounds themselves. Stripped of almost everything, but for the subtlest shifts in atmosphere and light, this work opens up a space for one. Moorcroft relies on a myriad of electronic processing devices to transform his guitar playing into the textural masses found on this album… and a learned musicianship to direct this technology. Beautifully restrained moments, borne in improvisation, extend in slowly decaying ripples beneath gradually undulating contours. Aural details come in and out of focus, in shades of twilight and sepulchral frost. As each tone breathes into our listening space, we feel a slow force of momentum. Near album’s end, a reverberant piano enters, repeating its question again and again. When shadows pull together, ethereal voices add to an enfolding darkness. The reason this album seems so quiet is because there are so few other people saying these things. The unadorned beauty of Souls Adrift, in Disrepair relates to human fragility. The dark alliance of unmodulated sounds imparts a haunting force. As ideas and emotions cross borders, the outside world remains an abstraction – possibly a parallel present to the loftier firmaments of the mind.”

Front Cover


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Divinations Revisited, No. 2: Ivory Sunrise

Piano - Ivory SunriseOn further review, a couple of the poems in the old Divinations series turned out to be publishable as they were… This one speaks to my musical vocation, which bloomed a little late – but at least it has

Ivory Sunrise

Old worn wooden shell
Dingy clapboard cage
 with radiant ivory egg
Piano in the house

Upright proud, beckons still
 begging no one
Calmly anticipates – nothing

Hinged bench opens to discover
 piles of printed music
Books and booklets –
 songs, anthologies

Boy exhumes a song page
Assumes the position
What are all these dots?
Chooses some keys
What are all these tones?

His mother could play
 but never did
  nor encouraged him
Later claimed the Fear of Pushing
Never breathed a word
Pianissimo so silent
 sits unplayed
It’s a boy’s life

As a dying sun fades
 so dimly yellows that page of music
Never moving, never played

As the house ages badly
– balding shingles
– windows blurring
– beams creaking
Piano, ever silent ever proud
 stands resolute without age
Piano in my home

My children in this house
Ancient groaning structure
 on its last knees
Piano in silence crying rescue
Smooth finish tickles their touch

Daughter, firstborn
 delights in a certain note repeated
Deep yellowed sheet music
 crumples to flakes

Son, unborn musician
 singer in the dark
Gleeful palms an unknown chord
Ferocious playful exuberance
Over and over he will play!

Windows blasted from their frames
 glitter darkly in the dead grass
My children laughing, I join them
 and we bash out our exultation
Piano singing shouting screaming
 its joy its release as well
Self-discovery, self-expression is our forte

This house of silent chaos
 can stand no more
Crashes down around us
Topples to earth
 impotent to prevent any more
Hopeless, unable to harm us
It is a dead thing
 best given proper burial

Even this shell collapsing
 can’t drown our ecstatics
Dust of old silent shrouds
 tarnishes nothing here now

Three children one child
Four voices one voice
All set free turned loose
 upon suspicious persons
  unsuspecting culture
   and all-knowing Creation


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Album Review: Home by Chris Russell

Album cover: Home by Chris Russell

Chris Russell has released his third album on the Relaxed Machinery label, and fifth overall. Home is a double-CD and definitely a significant step forward in Chris’ musical progression. It’s easily his most personal and intimate album yet – his own River of Appearance, if you like. That’s the parallel which immediately came to mind for me.

As with the vidnaObmana classic, the decisive factor here is the use of piano, a recording first for Chris. You could call it Ambient Salon Music, and the piano at times sounds appropriately French. The pieces’ titles each succinctly capture their feel and meaning in one word.

The piano dominates the first disc, a strong presence in all eight pieces, lending a sense of place – of home. My two favorites here are the album’s longest and shortest tracks: Solace, a backyard sanctuary on a warm day, with the intensity ramped up at times by strings and strong bass, and relaxed by a quiet organ; and Glimmer, with bouncing hollow leads weaving a charged light-matrix, over an understated piano. Perhaps the album’s most striking piece.

Welcome opens the album with an almost Oriental feeling, aided by searing tambura-like lines, establishing a comfortable atmosphere. February closes the first disc with a quiet solo piano interlude, evoking the stillness of a sunny winter day with repeating three-note motives in the right hand.

Comfort by Chris Russell

The eight pieces on the second disc move into more ineffable and unfamiliar territory, as the title of the first, Ethereal, announces, with its long droning organ-string-pad chord and far-distant piano. Horizon has bass guitar harmonics under shimmering, reedy organ-strings and flitting synth-flute. In Dusk you can practically hear the sun setting, with a terrific, serene yet charged synth patch over clanky loose-strung bass guitar tones.

In Eventide, Chris builds up a big string synth chord, the sound of which neatly morphs, as if with the waning sun. Together Again closes the album with lots of processed birds and a soothing string pad, lending a serene feeling of homecoming.

Together Again by Chris Russell

Home flows by smoothly, but not lightly – rather, full of feeling and personal meaning. This album is a fine companion for a day… you know where. It’s available on MP3 from CD Baby, and is coming soon on lossless FLAC from AD21 Music and CDR from Hypnos. Highly recommended!

Wallpaper: Home by Chris Russell

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Album Review: Domestic Aerospace by Ensueno

Album cover: Domestic Aerospace by EnsuenoRussian atmospheric maestro Rudy Ensueno released Domestic Aerospace in mid-December 2010. Its ten pieces, ranging from under four to over twelve minutes, are very distinct from each other, their titles ranging from wistful to borderline-absurd. Each track conjures up its own world with a strong sense of place, a definite strength of Ensueno’s, as was clearly evident in his long-form Burundanga (see my review here). These voyages are often inexplicably comforting, despite the sense of strangeness lurking just over the horizon.

Domestic Aerospaces begins and ends with one-chord drone pieces. Orbits beautifully draws us in with a serene, skyward-looking chord held throughout its too-short five minutes. You know at once: this is going to be a hugely enjoyable high-altitude adventure. Wireless closes out the album with one big, fat, floating, thick-textured chord.

Orbits by Ensueno

Several pieces highlight Rudy’s love of playing piano. Haunts features piano, electric piano and bass in a vast space. I hear a vast, scarcely-lit empty warehouse in a rainy twilight – but not quite empty… high tones hang in the space like moonlight.

Rudy has a knack for titles and Natalie in Starlight is one of my favorites. Electric piano again, with a nice drone chord, and an overpowering, super-reverbed synth chord that might have fared better if toned down somewhat. Even if Natalie’s loud at times, she’s still pretty and likeable. The melodic piano of A Few Steps Away is wistful and quietly romantic.

A Few Steps Away by Ensueno

I’m probably biased towards longer pieces anyway, but the album’s two longest pieces (the only ones running over ten minutes) strongly earn my favoritism here. Rudy sets the stage so well that we’re not interested in leaving it. The longer his atmospheres churn and spiral around us, the better.

Watch is subdued, in the presence of… something. (Yes, yes – the reference is deliberate!*) A churning patch animates a quiet, droning pad. A choral synth offers a wordless commentary, with hushed reverence. There’s nowhere to go, because this presence is everywhere.

Ask the Weather Balloon takes us back up into the stratosphere. Flying synth chords of mystic substance, with a slight metallic ring and just the right touch of dissonance around the edges to keep us alert.

photo of Rudy EnsuenoTrance-Lace is another gem: a deep, swirling and dark (but not forbidding) atmosphere, inviting and compelling. A thudding two-bar rhythm kicks in like the echoing heartbeat of some huge, unknown space creature. Tendrils of dark matter writhe nearby, almost close enough to touch. A rapid blip-sequence swirls nearby before moving away. I could happily pass a deep-space day with this piece on repeat.

Domestic Aerospaces, another excellent collection from prolific composer Rudy Ensueno, is available for free download here. Rudy frequently posts new pieces in his Relaxed Machinery community blog, and we look forward to hearing further albums from him.

[* Note: In the Presence of Something is the opening track from the sublime Well of Souls album by Steve Roach and vidnaObmana.]

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