The ELECTROACOUSTIC Radar (Episode #1/2019)

When I deal with electroacoustic music, the main challenge for me is always to navigate into the hundreds of artists that populate the successful “mood-based” playlist that you can find on Spotify or other platforms and select those few who are really worthy of our time and attention.

This new series of articles, called The ELECTROACOUSTIC Radar, has really the objective to present a carefully selected group of artists who have distinguished themselves for having published something really special and exciting.

This first episode introduces five albums that were released between the beginning of 2019 and the middle of March. From a geographical point of view, we have one composer from Ireland (Gareth Quinn Redmond), one from Canada (Nathan Shubert), one from France (Watine), and two from the U.S.A. (Aukai and Philip G Anderson).

Enjoy these albums and don’t forget to visit the blog periodically for new updates.



“Céim• eanna”, by Gareth Quinn Redmond


There are albums and songs that do not offer pleasant melodies or intriguing and articulate harmonies to hear, but which still manage to capture the attention of the listener for some other special feature. The recent record released by Gareth Quinn Redmond, called Céim • eanna, looks to me as one of these kind of albums. The five tracks of the LP are all characterized by extreme minimalism: the songs are mostly built from a central core of a few notes, usually played on a prepared piano, which is repeated without interruptions from the beginning to the end of each piece, until they become transcendental, almost mystical. Alongside these repeated sequences of notes, we have other environmental sounds or delicate effects that complete the atmosphere.

The result is music that is at the same time hypnotic and extremely relaxing. The Irish composer calls his style as “Environmental Music”, explaining that his goal is “to help the listeners engage with their surrounding environment, allowing them to recognise the multitude of individual pulses that comprise the world. Fundamental to the concept of Environmental Music is that instead of offering a form of escapism, this music is designed to create an intimate bond between the listener and his everyday life“. I don’t know how far this goal is attainable in our daily routines, in my case it has succeeded only partially. What’s certain, however, is that Céim • eanna is a collection of very particular songs, different from what we usually listen to, and definitely worthy of our attention. Ideally without too many expectations.



“Wilderness”, by Philip G Anderson


Wilderness, by American multi-instrumentalist Philip G Anderson, is one of those albums that create beautiful and poignant atmospheres that you can listen as a background during your daily routines or while taking some rest after a busy day. Once you launch the LP on your stereo, you will start enjoying dreamy soundscapes enriched by delicate notes played by piano, violin and cello.

There is no real difference among the various tracks of the LP and therefore you will basically enjoy a placid and nice sequence of ambient-like pieces filled with soft drones and elegant touches of acoustic instruments. The mood is generally serene, with the exception of a few moments where the atmospheres become a little darker and melancholic. That’s not the kind of LP that require a depth of analysis or particular concentration, it’s rather an enjoyable half an hour of nice and fairly accessible contemplative music.



“Reminiscence” by Aukai


Aukai is the acoustic ambient project founded by American composer and instrumentalist Markus Sieber. Aukai’s new LP is called Reminiscence, and it’s one of these albums that may have the effect capturing your attention and making you feel completely absorbed by the music.

In the short duration of 24 minutes, Aukai’s new LP offers a remarkable collection of cinematic and atmospheric moments. The tones are generally melancholic and there is a sense of persistent sadness that really reproduces the idea of distant memories, sudden emotions that we feel at the thought of a person, or an experience, or a special place.

I’ve published a dedicated review of the LP, you can check it from here.



“When You Take Off Your Shoes”, by Nathan Shubert


The musical recipe developed by the Canadian musician Nathan Shubert is relatively simple but certainly effective. We have sketches of melancholic melodies or simple loops of notes played on a prepared piano, a background layer consisting of field recordings and other noises, and, more sporadically, delicate touches of strings and clarinet. Basically, it’s the typical structure of every modern electroacoustic song. Despite that, however, the album When You Take Off Your Shoes still manages to stand out from the mass of singles, EPs and LPs that are released on every week.

Shubert’s new LP may be the perfect background for many different moments of your day: it will never require all of your attention but it will provide you with an elegant and absolutely enjoyable atmosphere.

There is on the blog a dedicated review of the album, you can find there additional information on this excellent record.



“Geometries Sous-Coutanées”, by Watine


I’m concluding this digest with one of the most particular records that I’ve enjoyed in the last few weeks.

Too often, when we think about electro-acoustic music, we have in mind serene and ambient-like compositions made for relaxing or contemplation. An album like Geometries Sous-Coutanées by French artist Catherine Watine clearly demonstrates the desire to go in a completely different direction. Forget to enjoy easy-listening melodies or dreamy and melancholic soundscapes: here the music has been composed through the identification of a group of sonic “fragments” which are manipulated, elaborated, and combined together in order to arouse an effective reshuffling of your own feelings and sensations.

If I can use a metaphor, it’s like when you start rummaging through an old box that you took out from the attic. There is an initial phase of confusion when you start picking up and putting on the floor all the different objects that were in the box. But soon after you start getting back all the forgotten memories that were associated with the things that are once again in front of you. I had a similar experience with this LP, with the difference that the objects here are fragments of piano melodies, sketches of electronic rhythms, other instruments like flutes and oboes that appear from time to time, lots of tape recordings, verses, choruses, spoken rhymes, and drones that fill the silence with sounds that are sometimes serene, sometimes haunting.



The artists introduced in this article are all contributing to The ELECTROACOUSTIC Radar, the playlist that collects the best electroacoustic songs released in 2019. My recommendation is to listen and follow the playlist because it’s going to grow with time, as soon as new good albums are released.

Some of the songs mentioned in this episode of the radar were also featured in THE WEIGHT WE CARRY, which is the third episode of a series of mixtapes that uses contemplative music to accompany a poem.


The WORLD MUSIC Radar (Episode #1/2019)

My personal statistics say that in the case of World Music it’s not so common to find records that are really worthy of attention, compared to other genres of music. But when we manage to come across a valid and meaningful album, we are usually in front of an extraordinary work of art, gifted by impressive quality and intensity. This is the reason why the list of records that I’m presenting in this article is particularly important.

In the following I’m presenting four albums of World Music that I selected among all those released in the firsts part of the year, specifically between the beginning of 2019 and the middle of March. Four artists, four different ways to intepret world music, but the same deep research for the maximum quality of the musical expression.

Enjoy this digest and don’t forget to come back periodically to check for updates.



“Bosque Magico – Tu Tiempo”, by Bosque Magico

In music, as well as in many other art forms, the fusion of different styles and cultures often produces the most surprising and spectacular results. This is certainly the case of Bosque Magico, the new project founded by German guitarist Ralf Siedhoff together with the Ukrainian oboist Mykyta Sierov. Two languages, approximately 2000 km of separation, but the two artists managed to meet on the musical level.

The music of Bosque Magico is absolutely elegant, delicate, varied and exciting. The presence of the oboe is certainly the most particular element: we are used to listening to this instrument in the context of classical rather than world music. The songs of the album range between quite different genres and styles: we have in fact influences from Indian music, flamenco, pop and jazz. For recording the LP, Siedhoof and Sierov were also supported by a group of skilled musicians: percussionists Karthik Mani (from India) and Ernesto Martinez (from Spain), drummer Magnus Dauner (from Germany), flamenco guitarist Manuel Delgado and his daughter Carmela on and bandoneon.

In short: this is a record that contains many innovative elements and it also presents multiple cultural elements fused together in an excellent manner. Not to be missed!



“Reminiscence”, by Aukai

Among the most interesting releases we had in the first weeks of the year there is an album that although originally included in the category of electro-acoustic records, it still features so many components of world music that it’s absolutely possible to mention it here. This is called Reminiscence, and it’s the new album produced by Aukai, which is the acoustic ambient project founded by American composer and instrumentalist Markus Sieber.

Reminiscence has the capacity to capture the listener’s attention with the elegance and the gentleness of its songs, which are relaxing but also engaging and moving. This album is ideal for every moment when you don’t want anything else than enjoying beautiful instrumental music, and let your mind travel.

I’ve published a dedicated review of the LP, you can read it from here.



“Elephantine”, by Maurice Louca

Another album that has caught my attention in the last months is Elephantine, the newest LP released by Egyptian musician and composer Maurice Louca, who is known also for being a member (and co-founder) of a number of formations such as Bikya, Alif and Dwarves. Elephantine was introduced by Louca as his most ambitious project to date, and in effect the LP sees him guiding a 12-piece ensemble.

The disk seems to be the result of two different compositional processes. On the one hand, we have a series of experimental songs mostly relying on the improvisational skills of the musicians. These songs are on the border between world music and pure experimentation and, to be truly honest, these are not among my favourites tracks the album. Then, there are other “classical” world music songs which are still based on the elaboration of an initial sequence of notes, but where the improvisation is kept more controlled and the development of the piece is made through the progressive introduction of different instruments. In these cases, in my opinion, the album reaches the highest, and impressive, levels of quality level. The opening track of the album, named The Leper, is representative of this second kind of songs, and it’s also one of the best pieces of the whole LP.



“Black Blank”, by Laurent Assoulen

Today, we’re very much used to listen to musical hybrids, and that between Jazz and World music is actually one of the most common ones. Nevertheless, when we enjoy a new album which manages to make us travel so naturally between different genres of music, it’s always a very nice and exciting experience.

Laurent Assoulen is a talented French pianist, but what impresses of his work is not much his technique, but rather the fact that he’s a great lover of fascinating melodies, ethnic sounds and popular tunes. And what he does with his ensemble is basically to share with us these beautiful themes by transforming them into catchy but still intriguing and poetic Jazz songs.

Assoulen’s new album, called Black Blank, features a number of pieces that reflect the modern canons of contemporary Jazz, but there are also many other songs where the pianist ventures into the field of World music, mixing the typical dynamics of Jazz with deeply suggestive ethnic sounds and melodies.

I’ve published a short review of the LP, you can read it from here.



If you liked this selection of albums, you will love THE VOYAGER, the playlist that I’m curating on Spotify with the best of World Music. Almost five hours of the most exciting and fascinating music from all over the world.


THE WEIGHT WE CARRY (Poetry in Music, Episode 3)

Inspired by a couple of particularly exciting pieces that I had the opportunity to enjoy in the recent weeks, I felt like taking up my old project called POETRY IN MUSIC, which is based on the idea to elaborate in music one composition from a modern writer or poet. I started the project in 2017 with two initial episodes, the first one featuring the verses of Dylan Thomas’ villanelle “Do not go gentle into that good night“, recited by the poet himself, the second one featuring the poignant and touching verses of “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe.

The mixtape that I’m presenting today, which may be considered as the third chapter of the serie, features the beautiful poem called “Song“, by American poet and writer Allen Ginsberg. The music includes some of the most beautiful contemplative and modern classical songs that were releaed in the last few months by artists such as Nils Frahm, Nathan Shubert and Gareth Quinn Redmond.

Enjoy the mixtape and you can follow Ginsberg’s poem by scrolling down just after the widget.






“Song”, by Allen Ginsberg (1954)

The weight of the world
is love.
Under the burden
of solitude,
under the burden
of dissatisfaction
the weight,
the weight we carry
is love.
Who can deny?
In dreams
it touches
the body,
in thought
constructs
a miracle,
in imagination
anguishes
till born
in human–
looks out of the heart
burning with purity–
for the burden of life

is love,
but we carry the weight
wearily,
and so must rest
in the arms of love
at last,
must rest in the arms
of love.
No rest
without love,
no sleep
without dreams
of love-

be mad or chill
obsessed with angels
or machines,
the final wish
is love
–cannot be bitter,
cannot deny,
cannot withhold
if denied:
the weight is too heavy
–must give
for no return
as thought
is given
in solitude
in all the excellence
of its excess.
The warm bodies
shine together
in the darkness,
the hand moves
to the center
of the flesh,
the skin trembles
in happiness
and the soul comes
joyful to the eye–
yes, yes,
that’s what
I wanted,
I always wanted,
I always wanted,
to return
to the body
where I was born.

Quick Review: “When You Take Off Your Shoes”, by Nathan Shubert

The musical recipe developed by the Canadian musician Nathan Shubert is relatively simple but certainly effective. We have sketches of melancholic melodies or simple loops of notes played on a prepared piano, a background layer consisting of field recordings and other noises, and, more sporadically, delicate touches of strings and clarinet. Basically, it’s the typical structure of every modern electroacoustic song. Despite that, however, the album When You Take Off Your Shoes still manages to stand out from the mass of singles, EPs and LPs that are released on every week.

“When You Take Off Your Shoes “, album trailer

There are many different aspects that I enjoyed of this record. The first thing that impressed me has been the overall sense of delicacy and moderation that distinguishes the music composed by Shubert. There are no moments of particular tension or exciting progressions. On the contrary, the music of When You Take Off Your Shoes is always discrete, somehow peaceful, but at the same time without never becoming excessively flat or monotonous. Another good feature of the LP is that it’s possible to appreciate quite a relevant diversity among the various pieces of the album, which gives a certain dynamism to the listening experience.

From a thematic point of view, the compositions of this LP aim to represent the relationship between the universal sound of an instrument such as the piano, and the contemporary environment that surrounds it. This is the conceptual meaning of the field recordingsm, the subtle noises and the samples that we find in most of the pieces. These, to be honest, are balanced so well that they are never excessive or too much distracting.


Stylistically, Shubert’s music is clearly inspired by authors such as Nils Frahm and Chilly Gonzales, but still maintaining its own uniqueness.

My overall rating for this album is 6.5/10. This may be the perfect background for many different moments of your day: it will never require all of your attention but it will provide you with an elegant and absolutely enjoyable atmosphere.

Among the favourite songs I can mention the title track When You Take Off Your Shoes, but also A Beacon A Pulse and the delicate Lappeenranta.


The album is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify.


Songs from Subert’s new album are now featured in many of the playlists I’m curating on Spotify: you can find them in The ELECTROACOUSTIC Radar (best of electro-acoustic music in 2019) but also in SOUNDSCAPES (best of Ambient music) and TRANQUILLITY (the 100 best modern classical, ambient and electroacoustic songs of the last few years). Enjoy!


The MODERN CLASSICAL Radar (Episode #1/2019)

Modern classical music lives suspended between the present and the past, and this is why it often manages to represent, better than any other kind of music, that concept of universal and timeless beauty. Unfortunately, very often there are self-proclaimed composers pretending to describe like modern classical music something that is, in reality, only the result of a commercial manoeuvre aimed at conquering that large share of listeners who only want atmospheric and catchy songs to be put in the background while reading the emails on the phone.

For this reason, I consider it important to know how to discriminate between valuable music and songs with exclusively commercial purposes. What I’m trying to do in this series of articles is to provide my personal contribution to this kind of evaluation which, in the end, remains absolutely subjective. The judgments that I write for the various records do not intend to evaluate the qualities and the skill of the artists, but rather to provide my personal vision of the music they have composed for their recent publications.

In this first issue of the MODERN CLASSICAL radar, I have selected four albums as representatives of the most significant events of this first part of the week. Enjoy, and don’t forget to check the playlists that are suggested at the end of the article: there is plenty of good music to listen to!



“A Different Forest” by Hauschka

There are no doubts this time: the most significant event of this first part of the year for what concerns modern classical music has been the release of A Different Forest, the new album by German composer Volker Bertelmann, who operates under the moniker of Hauschka.

The LP features a collection of pieces for piano that are stylistically closer to the kind of classical music composed by artists like Philip Glass and Dmitry Shostakovich rather than to the commercial successes that are so succesfull nowadays. Nevertheless, the music of A Different Forest has a profundity and a technical depth which, today, is definitely out of the ordinary.

The album was included in the group of the best new albums selected by this blog, and you can thus read the full review of the LP from here.



“Pianette”, by Bruno Sanfilippo

Within the large family of composers of modern classical music, Bruno Sanfilippo is one who has taken the good habit to release, with a certain regularity, nice and elegant records. In 2018 we appreciated his intriguing and relatively experimental work named Unity and now, just at the beginning of 2019, we enjoy his brand new LP, named Pianette, which is a good representative of that current of minimalism that has been so successful in the recent years.

One of the things that I appreciated of this LP is the general sense of kindness and elegance that emerges from the songs. There is a stylistic coherence between the tracks that doesn’t become boring repetitiveness, and it’s really a pleasure to play the record in the background while we are busy in other activities.

I have published a review of the album, you can read it from here.



“Pieces for Piano Vol. 1”, by Chris Child

Electronic producer and musician Chris Child, from the U.S., is mostly known for the music he released under the moniker of Kodomo. He’s, however, the author of one of the first albums of modern classical music that we had the pleasure to hear in 2019. The LP, named Pieces for Piano Vol.1, is a collection of simple piano pieces with the addition of field recordings and other electronic elements.

Although the album is produced and recorded in a way that it seems absolutely charming and well-executed (at least according to the current standards for modern classical music), in reality what you realize after a few tracks is that these pieces are all characterized by a disarming simplicity. Many songs look like exercises for kids who are learning to play the piano when they are in the first weeks of music school. In this sense, the choice to inserts additional electronic sounds was taken presumably in order to fill that sense of flatness and chromatic poverty that would have resulted otherwise. And the paucity of musical content becomes more evident when we listen to the full album in a single run.

By the way, the release notes explain that the LP was composed with the intention of creating something simple, intimate and quiet. If I can agree that this music is generally relaxing and direct, I personally expected something more about the actual content of the songs.



“Kreise im Wasser”, by Christian Pensel

Crhistian Pensel is a young composer and multi-instrumentalist from Germany. He started to get recognition in the modern classical and electro-acoustic scenes both as an author of movie scores but also as a leader and composer for a series of interesting musical projects.

Pensel’s newest work is called Kreise im Wasser (Circles in the water) and it’s fully dedicated to the piano. Indeed, the first reaction I had when I started listening to the album was the admiration for the fantastic sounds that were coming out from the stereo. Not only Pensel’s piano has been recorded in an excellent way for the album, but to some extent, the whole record actually seems a celebration of this instrument: the single notes, the melodies, the sequences of chords, the progressions, all seem conceived to enhance the chromaticity and richness of the piano.

Beyond this specific aspect, however, I missed some really memorable piece and also I would have expected some more emotion and tension in the songs of Kreise im Wasser. In any case, the record is interesting and pleasant to listen to, especially in the evening, at home, sitting and in dim light.



As anticipated in the introduction, there are a number of playlists that I’m maintaining on Spotify that feature meditative and modern classical music.

First of all, I’m collecting the best songs of the year in THE MODERN CLASSICAL RADAR, which is now featuring only the songs from the LPs that were mentioned in this article, but it’s going to grow as new records are released.


Another playlist where it’s possible to listen to a lot of good modern classical music is BEAUTIFUL PIANO, with 100 different songs picked up one by one in the last couple of years.


If you like music for piano and you have a predilection for intimate and thoughtful songs, there is a playlist for you. It’s called MELANCHONIC PIANO and it’s also one of the most successful playlists of mine.


Best New Music: “A Different Forest” by Hauschka

In a situation where we’re literally flooded by masses of authors who claim to play “modern classical” music but who, in true honesty, propose nothing more than easy listening pop melodies performed on a piano, the arrival of an album like A Different Forest, from Hauschka, may seem something completely revolutionary. And this is because this new work is results definitely closer to the classical music for piano that was composed in the previous century (I have in mind the Etudes by Philip Glass‘ or the Preludes and Fugues by Dmitry Shostakovich) rather than to the commercial successes that have been released in more recent times by world acclaimed authors like Ludovico Einaudi, Daigo Hanada and Joep Beving.

“A Different Forest” is the fifteenth album by Hauschka (excluding EP and remix album). The album was officially released on February 8th, 2019

Hauschka is the alias of German pianist and composer Volker Bertelmann

The surprise for me was even greater because the only single that I had the opportunity to enjoy prior the release of the LP was the song named Hike, which is curiously the most (and the only) similar to that genre of contemporary piano songs that I just mentioned, with its basic repeated element which resembles – even too dangerously – the beautiful motif from Flight from the City by Jóhann Jóhannsson.


The song Hike, in its original version and in an alternate and longer version (Another Hike), opens and closes the album. In between, the LP offers a sequence of impressive and absolutely original pieces of contemporary classical piano music. Thematically, as the title suggests, the songs are dedicated to the exploration of the world of nature, which for the author is epitomised by the image of a forest.

In A Different Forest, I’m focusing on the forest as a natural environment and contrast to the urban everyday life; to my surroundings. Where do I want to live and work? What surroundings do I need in order to feel fulfilled? By examining these questions I always come back to nature. How often have I gone for a walk and finished on the crest of a hill or mountain top, and found a new perspective on things. It’s quite a moving experience. The experience of the sublime. Realising that everything has been there for such a long time and will continue to exist, yet in contrast, our human existence is reduced to but a fraction of the earth’s history.

Haushka, from a commentary on his new LP

But what’s absolutely impressive of this LP, in my opinion. is not the didascalic aspect of the music, but the technical and compositional aspect of the songs. The music composed and played by Volker Bertelmann for Haushka’s new LP is profound and “ricercata” (any fan of György Ligeti here?). In the new pieces, we can appreciate the result of an in-depth study upon the harmonic aspect of modern music, and it’s impressive to hear how articulated sections of counterpoint flow into melodic and poetic moments of absolute beauty. I can cite as an example the song Skating through the Woods: it starts as an elaboration of an hexatonal scale but progressively, and in an extremely natural way, it evolves into a melancholic motif of rare delicacy. We experience in the short time span of 3 minutes and half an entire cultural journey that starts with Arnold Schoenberg and ends with Ólafur Arnalds. Brilliant.


Such an “evolutionary” approach is a mechanism that Haushka exploits many times in the album, it’s a sort of leitmotif of the LP. It’s as if Haushka wanted to underline how the melodies that we like to listen to, and in particular the most catchy ones, should be considered as only some particular cases among the thousand different permutations that are possible starting from the same basic set of sounds. These notes, when combined in an appropriate way, can produce sweet and delicate motifs or, when reorganized according to different sequences, other important aspects of the interaction between man and music, such as the rhythm, the chromatic contrast, or even the memory.

The fact that Volker Bertelmann wanted to deal with a more rigorous and formal approach to music may be deduced also from the fact that, unlike most of his recent works, in A Different Forest he’s not relying on his famous prepared piano, with which in the recent times he has produced some of his most interesting and experimental works. As a matter of fact, Hauschka’s previous LP, 2017’s What If, was reviewed within the electronic music section of this blog!

Hauschka, “Familiar Things Disappear”, from his previous album “What If” (2017)

Hauschka is thus confirmed as one of the most important and authoritative figures of modern classical music. And with its precious combination of formality, research and passion, A Different Forest enters the list of the most important piano records of the last few decades.

My overall rating for the LP is 9/10. All the songs are equally impressive and interesting to hear, and Just for the sake of suggesting some song I can mention: Everyone Sleeps, Ghosts, Curious, Hike and Another Hike.


A Different Forest can be streamed from Spotify, where it’s also featured in the playlist BEAUTIFUL PIANO (with almost six hours with the best music for piano of the last few years).



Quick Review: “Reminiscence” by Aukai

Usually, when I’m working on the computer at night, I like to listen to the new musical releases from the most disparate authors, and I’m not always concentrated on the music. But sometimes it can happen that I’m suddenly caught by something special: it may be a song or even just an instrument, which in a short time captures all my attention. A few nights ago this happened to me when I started listening the new album released by Aukai, which is the acoustic ambient project founded by American composer and instrumentalist Markus Sieber. Aukai’s new LP is called Reminiscence, and it really had the effect of making me feel completely absorbed by the music.

One thing that caught immediately my attention when I started listening to this album was the presence of the “ronroco”, which is the plucked string instrument from Argentina that has been made famous by Gustavo Alfredo Santaolalla. I’m crazy about the ronroco: it’s at the same time warm and wild, and it allows the musician to produce beautiful and exciting arpeggios. As Sieber said once: “It has an otherworldly, mesmerising, dreamy sound. It comes from the Andes, and its sound literally provides the feel of the mountains, a sensation of space and freedom“.


The beauty of Reminiscence, however, is not just because of a single instrument. The album has in fact the capacity to capture the listener’s attention with the elegance and the gentleness of its songs, which are relaxing but also engaging and moving. This is a precious albums that’s ideal for every moment when you don’t want anything else than enjoying beautiful instrumental music, and let your mind travel.

In the short duration of 24 minutes, Aukai’s new LP offers us a remarkable collection of cinematic and atmospheric moments. The tones are generally melancholic and there is a sense of persistent sadness that really reproduces the idea of distant memories, sudden emotions that we feel at the thought of a person, or an experience, or a special place.

On the other side, however, there are a couple of characteristics of the LP that didn’t convince completely. The first is basically a collateral effect of its short duration: a few songs of Reminiscence look more like sketches, or musical ideas, than fully developed pieces. The second is that the tones and the atmospheres of the songs tend to resemble each other, and because of the fact that the best songs are those placed at the beginning of the album, one has that the grip on your attention slowly loosens as we proceed in listening.

In the end, my overall rating of the album is 7/10.

Album highlights: La Joya, Hidden Harvest, and Reframe.

Reminiscence is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed from Spotify.


Quick Review: “Pianette” by Bruno Sanfilippo

Within the large family of composers of modern classical music, Bruno Sanfilippo is one who has taken the good habit to release, with a certain regularity, nice and elegant records. In 2018 we appreciated his intriguing and relatively experimental work named Unity and now, just at the beginning of the new year, we enjoy his brand new LP, named Pianette, which is more close to that current of minimalism that has been so successful in the recent years.

Sanfilippo’s biography says that the Argentinian musician graduated from the Galvani Conservatory in Buenos Aires with a degree in Musical Composition, and that since his early years he was influenced by classical composers such as Satie, Debussy and Ravel. In 2000 Sanfilippo left his native Country and moved to Barcelona, where he effectively started his career as composer. He evidently adapted the style of the masters to the simpler and more commercial tastes of the current audience of listeners and, as a matter of fact, all of his records have the merit of an absolute ease of listening. This approach is fully confirmed in Pianette. If, one one side, this is partly due to the essentiality of the pieces he wrote for the album, on the other hand it demonstrates the ability of Sanfilippo to compose melodic motifs that are fascinating and pleasant despite their intrinsic simplicity.


The attentive listeners, and especially those who have had any direct experience with the piano, will easily understand, however, that much of the charm and delicacy of Pianette are due to the soft and delicate effects that are applied on Sanfilippo’s instruments, in particular the subtle echoes and the mechanical repetitions that are generated on each note he plays. These, which appear at first as just small alterations of the sound of the piano, in the end contribute significantly to the dreamy atmospheres of the songs, and fill the void that we would hear between the notes if the same melodies were played on a non-prepared instrument. Beyond this effect, however, the melodic development of the songs of Pianette is extremely good, as well as the sensibility that’s used by Sanfilippo to move between major and minor scales. I believe that this specific aspect of his music is brilliant, and effective, and it has nothing to do with the “smart” mechanisms that he uses to process and improve the sound of the piano.


One of the things that I appreciate the most of Pianette is the general sense of kindness and elegance that emerges from the songs of the album. There is a stylistic coherence between the tracks that doesn’t become boring repetitiveness, and it’s really a pleasure to play the record in the background while we are busy in other activities. There are of course a few tracks that stand out over the others and which may capture our attention from what we’re doing in that moment. These include the first two songs of the album: the title track and the beatiful piece Doll, which is maybe one of the best of the entire album. The last song of the LP, named Goodness, highlights that capacity to move between major and minor scales that I was introducing before.

At the same time though, there are still a few pieces in Pianette which approach that dangerous boundary which exists between minimalism and extreme simplicity. But fortunately there is always something special in Sanfilippo’s music which precludes his songs to stay on the wrong side of the line.

My rating for the album is 6.5/10.

Pianette is available on bandcamp and it may be streamed also from Spotify.



Bruno Sanfilippo is now featured in BEAUTIFUL PIANO, the playlist with the best and latest songs for piano.



END OF THE YEAR LISTS: BEST MEDITATIVE AND MODERN CLASSICAL MUSIC OF 2018 (CHART + PLAYLIST)

As I already commented in a couple of previous posts, I believe that “electroacoustic” and “modern classical” are among the genres of music that have benefited the most from the modern mechanisms of distribution of digital music, as witnessed by the universal success of “moods-based” and contextual playlist like “Peaceful Piano”, “Deep Focus” and “Relax & Unwind”. On the other hand, however, the prospect of being included in one of these playlists and thus catapulted into the spotlight of million of listeners has motivated hordes of mediocre artists to publish singles, EPs or entire albums of atmospheric and meditative music.

Fortunately, there are still many artists who are able to emerge from this mass of mediocrity through their talent and their compositional sensibility. This year, in particular, we could enjoy a really good number of excellent records and it was really challenging to isolate only ten LPs for this final chart.

It’s easy to verify that these albums belong to relatively different sub-genres of “meditative music” and therefore they represent distinct approaches to modern classical and electroacoustic. Naturally everyone can be more or less connected to a specific style of music and, therefore, the specific position of each artist in the chart could be the subject of endless discussions. What is objective, however, is that each one of these musicians has managed to compose something special, unique, and of absolute value. In this sense, I’m convinced that this selection of records is an excellent representation of the best we heard in 2018.

Enjoy the reading and, of course, listen to the beautiful pieces that were composed and executed by these great artists. For what concern the music, I’m pleased to inform that there is also a special playlist on Spotify which collects the best tracks from each one of the selected LPs.



#10) Theo Alexander, “Broken Access”

Theo Alexander is a London-born composer who specialised in the blend of tape-loop based drones with contemporary classical music.

Theo Alexander is a relatively young English composer of contemporary classical music and Broken Access is his newest full-lenght record, released in April 2018. The four tracks of the LP offer to the listener the possibility to travel across haunting and claustrophobic imaginary landscapes which develop around layers of drones and tape-loops of piano recordings.

The techniques used by Theo Alexander to produce his delicate and rarefied atmospheres are not particularly innovative and from a purely formal point of view this style of music is nowadays practiced by many musicians (too many, perhaps). What distinguishes the English artist is his extraordinary musical sensibility and an innate talent of knowing how to remove from each song all the superfluous elements, leaving just what is necessary to convey the strongest and deepest emotions. Yes, because the five songs of Broken Access are definitely emotional. This is not a kind of music that may leave you cold or neutral. Whether you are or not a lover of meditative and modern classical music, the songs of Broken Access will reach your soul and provoke conflicting feelings: peace, anxiety, abandonment. In some moments the contrast between the prolonged sounds of the synthesizers and the perturbations introduced by the other instruments reach levels of true excitement.

And this is also record that can be put on repeat mode for hours and hours, while we are at home relaxing on the couch, or working on the PC; you won’t ever get tired of the fantastic soundscapes and the delicate pieces of melody coming out from the speakers.



#9) Kaada, “Closing Statements”

John Erik Kaada is a Norwegian singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist. His musical production spans from music scores, solo albums and collaborations with other experimental artists like Mike Patton.

In a musical landscape like the current one, where all the attention seems to be aimed at writing successful singles, easy to assimilate and suitable to appear in a thousand of different playlists, the decision to realize a concept album already seems a bold decision.  In this sense, to plan about writing an entire album dedicated to the theme of death clearly appears as a commercial suicide. Given these premises, the result obtained by Kaada with his latest work Closing Statements is definitely surprising and, as a matter of fact, the album composed by the Norwegian artist stands out as one of the most successful and appreciable records of the year. On the other hand, we’re talking of a talented musician who has always managed to combine a strong spirit of experimentation with a musical sensibility that’s out of the ordinary, and the result is that most of his albums are equally intriguing to hear and, at the same time, relatively accessible.

Closing Statements is not just an album about death. The main theme of the work is more specifically the transition between life and that unkown destination that is waiting us at the end of our journey, made through the recollection of the last sentences of the dying (the “Closing Statements”).  
Surely it’s a strong and fascinating subject, but which has been addressed by Kaada with delicacy and balance. The result is in fact a collection of pieces which result profound, fascinating, but never oppressive and depressing. The album is also graced by a variety of styles and arrangements that make the work absolutely enjoyable to listen both at the level of the individual songs, but also as a single story organized in several chapters.

Musically speaking, most of the songs gravitate around a style of electroacoustic music that combines classical instruments like piano and violins with electronic, cinematic and environmental inserts. Nothing particularly original in itself and the experimental compoente, this time, seems to have focused to reach the goal of making almost imperceptible the difference between acoustic elements and synthetic parts, as if Kaada wanted to replicate, in music, that blurred and mysterious transition that passes between the last moments of life and what comes next.



#8) Dead Can Dance, “Dionysus”

Dead Can Dance is a musical project formed in 1981 in Melbourne by Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry. Having disbanded in 1998, they reunited briefly in 2005 and then reformed defintely in 2011.

I remember when I was a teenager and listening to Dead Can Dance was extremely cool and trendy. At that time the access to music was definitely more complicated with respect to modern standards and therefore, for an high school student, the act itself of buying a record of world music had the effect of giving you the fame of an expert of cultured music, at least in the eyes of those friends who used to listen Madonna and Guns and Roses. It is a fact, however, that at the end of the last century the Australian duo had achieved an impressive reputation among an heterogeneous family of music lovers, touching in some cases the status of cult band. And this happened thanks to the absolutely unique ability of Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry in transposing ancient music and ethnic elements in an extremely accessible format, without losing quality and depth. Over the years their influence has maybe shrinked a little, but their albums have always preserved the charm and the value of products of great class.

This year Dead Can Dance have released a new studio album, called Dionysus, and this should be considered in itself a special event: not only the album is the ninth of a career that is close to reach forty years of activity (with some interruptions), but it also arrives six years after the previous work, 2012’s Anastasis. Beyond the numerical aspects, Dionysus provides the fans of the band and the lovers of world music with another exciting collection of tribal fusion and neoclassical songs, all of the highest quality and with a few moments of absolute beauty.

Beyond the characteristics of the individual songs, however, Dionysus was conceived in such a way as to be heard in one single run, from the beginning to the end, without the possibility for the listener of deviating from the sequence of songs that was established by the authors. In this respect, it’s sufficient to say that the digital edition of the album has only two tracks (Act I and Act II), each one collecting different chapters of the exciting story composed by the Australian musicians.

From a purely musical point of view, Dionysus doesn’t shine for particular originality in the context of the band’s discography. On the contrary, at a first listen it may seem even a bit flat and less exciting with respect to their standard levels. The beauty of the album, however, emerges after a few repeated listens, once you become familiar with the delicate mixture of Celtic, New Age and Middle Eastern music that is provided in the LP. In part it’s true that the melodies in Dionysus are less immediate and catchy than some of the most famous songs from the band. But the fact is that in their new record Dead Can Dance wanted to represent the multicolored world of the God of Ecstasy, and rather than insisting on obsessive and dramatic rhythms, they composed a special music that captures you slowly, progressively, and which will transport you into a magical and luminous world, obscured only a few times by some dark shadow.



#7) Ólafur Arnalds, “Re: member”

Ólafur Arnalds is amulti-instrumentalist and producer from Mosfellsbær, in Iceland. Since the beginning of his career in 2004, Arnalds has released to date four LPs but many other records such as soundtracks, EPs and collaborative albums.

Probably because of my past as an amateur pianist and my boundless passion for the music of all kinds and genres, I developed an emotional connection with the music of Ólafur Arnalds as soon as I started listening to his works. I’ve been always impressed by the ability of the Icelandic composer in creating delicate, melodic and passionate songs, inspired by the melodies of the classical repertoire, which were transported, with inspiration and talent, in a new modern and “electronic” context. A moderate criticism that could perhaps be expressed about Arnalds’ music was about his recourse, in some cases, to musical expressions and atmospheres that could appear a bit too “sugary” and, to a certain extent, didactic. At least this was what I heard from some of the friends or acquaintances with whom I was trying to share my passion for this artist. Objectively, however, everyone recognizes that Arnalds has been one of the forerunner of that impressive mass of authors and composers who nowadays populate many playlists of Spotify with their melodic, minimal, but in many cases extremely uninspired and mannerist pieces.

Ólafur Arnalds’ new record, named Re: member, is the fourth LP of a discography that is very rich of singles, EP, collaborations, soundtracks and even a mixtape. What could we expect from an artist who generated so many disciples and followers if not a completely revolutionary and somewhat controversial album?

Forget the lyrical and intimate melodies of For Now I Am Winter, the beautiful mixes of strings and piano of …And They Have Escaped the Weight of Darkness, and the neo-classical inspired ambient of Eulogy for Evolution. Instead, prepare yourself for a journey into a severe minimalism that only sporadically leaves he floor to sketches of melodies. Delicate layers of sounds and simple loops create here beautiful atmospheres, and we find ourselves suspended in a cloud of lightness, which is the ideal environment to travel back into our memories, which was peraphs one of the goals of the author if we interpret the title of the album.

The casual listeners will struggle to recognize the artist in many of the songs that are featured in this collection. His touch, however, is always present and recognizable for those who have enjoyed all of his previous works. These fans will surely appreciate the attempt of the artist to evolve his music towards new grounds. Re:member will not be the most catchy and enjoyable entry in Arnalds’ wide catalogue of records, but it is definitely a new important chapter in a musical career that has always seen him as a pioneer of modern classical music rather than just a follower of trends.

As a final note, Arnalds’ new LP is also characterized by the use of the Stratus Piano, a new music system invented by the artist that generates pseudo-random combinations of notes each time he presses a key on his piano. Two years have been spent to implement, tune and refine the Stratus Piano, and I must admit that the unexpected sequences of sounds that are generated by this system introduce a further element of interest for many of the songs of Re:member.



#6) Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, “Epoques”

Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch is an award-winning French pianist and composer currently living in London. Her discography includes solo albums, movie soundtracks, collaborations and other special musical projects.

Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch is a young, talented and quite prolific artist who has gained the attention of music lovers and critics both as composer of cinematic soundtracks and for experimental electro-acoustic albums. Her musicis not easy to describe in a few words, let me just say that it’s substantially modern classical music with the insertion of electronic elements.

On last July the artist has released her second full-lenght LP, called Epoques, which provides the listener with an intriguing alternation of minimalistic solo piano pieces and more articulated songs where piano, strings and electronic inserts are mixed together and create delicate, and sometimes haunting, layers of sounds.

The album highlights the maturity but also the boldness of this young artist in processing and transforming basic and minimal sketches of music into powerful, visceral but also sometimes hallucinatory songs. With the exception of a few tracks that are relatively “melodic” and easier to enjoy, most of the album requires some special condition to appreciate in full the music that is offered to the listener. First of all you must be in the condition to dedicate the full attention to the harmonic constructs that are built by the artist, but you should be also in the mood to be guided across an adventurous exploration of the less frequented areas of modern music.

Despite the many different references that we may extrapolate from Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch’s music (Philip Glass and Bela Bartok are two of them), Epoque is in the end a unique piece of art with its own meaning in the wider context of modern classical music. Surely this is not one of the many electro-acoustic music records that are composed and played for the general public. It’s rather a small treasure of creativity and expressiveness for those who’re willing to enjoy a continuous shift of emotion between lighter moments of serenity, and grittier, obscure but impressively emotional and moving pieces.



#5) Poppy Ackroyd, “Resolve”

Poppy Ackroyd is a composer from London, currently based in Brighton. Classically trained on violin and piano, she makes music by manipulating and multi-tracking sounds from these and other instruments.

British composer and multi-instrumentalist Poppy Ackryod has achieved in the recent years a certain popularity both as author of a couple of solid and precious solo albums and as member of the music project Hidden Orchestra, that we have often mentioned in these pages.

Ackroyd’s music was initially characterized by the rigid choice to limit the instrumentation to only piano and violin, that were recorded, post-processed and mixed in her songs. During the years, however, the sonic range of has gradually grown, and in Poppy Ackroyd’s latest album, Resolve, we may appreciate the contribution of additional instruments and also the presence of a couple of guest artists. Violin and piano remain at the center of her music, but there are now other elements that expand the dynamics of the songs.

Stylistically speaking the sound conceived by the British artist for her new LP remains almost tied to the classical canons of electro-acoustic music and  if we exclude a few brief moments of experimentation, the album is extremely linear and accessible for a  mainstream audience. The songs of Resolve, however, are so warm and beautifully intimate that the lack of depth and intensity are totally compensated by a sense of overall ligthness and enjoyability that spreads from every track of the LP. Listening to this album unleashes in our mind a spirit of cautious optimism and, in this respect, the simplicity of the arrangements and the fluidity of the harmonic architectures make the songs of Resolve capable to hold us in a tender musical embrace. These are precious moments of quiet and serenity, and everyone knows how important they can be, in certain moments, to help dealing with the complications of our real life.



#4) Chilly Gonzales, “Solo Piano III”

Jason Charles Beck, professionally known as Chilly Gonzales is a Grammy-winning Canadian musician. Mostly known for his albums of classical piano compositions with a pop music sensibility, he is also a producer and songwriter.

I’ve been listening for so many years and I still get excited by the music written and performed by Chilly Gonzales, the canadian pianist, composer and entertainer who has contributed to the revival of the modern classical genre. As an amateur pianist I also learned some of the songs from his two previous albums for solo piano and therefore since the first day I heard about his new album my expectations were literally skyrocketing. And from the moment when I could eventually get my hands on his new LP, it played almost uninterruptedly for a couple of months in my music player.

Solo Piano III is the third collection of short instrumental pieces for piano that has been released so far by Gonzales, who also declared that the new album will be the last chapter of his Solo Piano project. Some of the thirteen tracks of the record – probably the most beautiful ones – were already shared by the author a few months before the official release of the album, and this has somewhat mitigated the surprise effect.  Anyway, being Solo Piano III the third installment of a cycle that Gonzales started as early as 2004, it was certainly not the surprise that what we were looking for in the new record, bur rather the confirmation of the ability of such an incredible and histrionic artist to compose pieces that are so pure and delicate to become, in the end, timeless.

A lot has already been said about the uniqueness of Gonzales’ musical style and the naturalness which he shows in writing music that it’s “classical” in structure and feeling, but which brings inside a modern sensibility and also a “popular” approach to piano music (the Erik Satie of our times, someone said about Gonzales). What we can say is that the last chapter of the trilogy doesn’t depart from the sounds and the style that we already heard in the initial two albums of the project and, as a matter of fact, a few tracks seem taken directly from the previous works from the author. Some difference, rather, can be found in the overall architecture of the album. If the first two Solo Piano records were characterized by a lightness and an overall fluidity that made each one of them appear like one single flow of cristalline beauty, the new album seems to proceed a little more intermittently. It looks like Gonzales is now trying to persuade the listener to focus the attention on the individual pieces and the specific characteristics of each song.

There is a little less accessibility in Solo Piano III with respect to his first two works, but in return we have more incentives to go deep into the dynamics of the individual songs. This partially compensates for the lack of novelty and surprise, I mean in comparison with the reactions that were generated by the first chapter of the project. That said, however, the overall value and enjoyability of the album remains very high and at this point we feel only the relative sadness due to the fact that – if the author will keep his promise – there won’t be a further follow-on to this wonderful and unique musical project.



#3) Dakota Suite, Dag Rosenqvist, Emanuele Errante. “What Matters Most”

Dakota Suite is an english band formed in 1996 by Chris Hooson and David Buxton which has specialised in writing singer songwriter songs characterized with ambient and cinematic soundscapes.

One of the most fascinating aspects of music is that there are works made to convey positive feelings and therefore capable to brighten up your days, but at the same time there are many others that insist on emotions like melancholy, sadness, desperation, but still result enjoyable and interesting to listen. What Matters Most, the album born from the collaboration among Dakota SuiteDag Rosenqvist and Emanuele Errante, belongs definitely to this second category.

The main feeling that emerges from the songs of What Matters Most is something very close to profound sadness or, even better, to that particular emotion that we feel when the pain for an important loss becomes the awareness that nothing will be the same. And this is not something which remains in the surface and flows on your skin without leaving a trace. The music that was composed by the artists is precious, extremely emotional, it manages to interact with the deepest parts of your soul, and you still feel the chills even after the song is finished.

The songs of What Matters Most are relatively different one from the other, but all of them share a few common elements which give a sense of strong expressive continuity and stylistic coherence throughout the whole album. Almost every song, for example, sees the dominant presence of one single musical instrument, typically the acoustic guitar or the piano, which is assigned the task of drawing the melancholic arpeggios or the delicate melodies that constitute the backbone of the song. Around the main instrument we hear gentle touches of strings, sometimes a wind instrument, and ambient noises. Everything contributes to create the rarefied and beautiful atmospheres that, in the end, are what binds together all the tracks of the album. Some songs have also lyrics and the nice alternation between the parts with the voice and the instrumental sections adds a further element of dynamism and internal variety to the LP, together with some crescendo that occasionally arrive to break the moment of stasis that was created by the instruments.

In true honesty, however, we couldn’t expect anything less than exceptional given the presence of Dakota Suite: the band from Leeds has always released albums of rare beauty as only the great musicians can do. Despite the undisputed skills of the artists involved in this project, the album took a long time before being completed. The reason is clear, however. It’s sufficient to listen with attention one single song of the LP to appreciate the maniacal care that was applied to every details, and also the effort that was spent to reach the impressive balance which exists among all the individual instruments.



#2) Nils Frahm, “All Melody”

Nils Frahm is a German musician, composer, and record producer. He is known for combining classical and electronic music and his discography already features nine LPs, four EPs, and many other releases as soundtracks and collaborative albums.

The experience that I had when I first listened to All Melody, which is latest work by German composer Nils Frahm, was not totally positive: there were for sure a few moments of great elegance and delicacy, but there was no song that caught my attention or generated any particular feeling. I left the record playing in background while I was busy writing some document, and after a while I started to realize that part of my thoughts were turned to the music and I was definitely enjoying the subtle melodies that this album is plenty of. All of a sudden, the crystalline beauty of this work was finally revealed to me and I also understood the meaning of the title of the LP:  these are pure melodies, rarefied musical lines that slowly and gently emerge from the white noise that surrounds us, like that phenomenon of lateral vision which makes our eyes more susceptible to the movements that occur outside the field of view.

From a musical point of view, this album is characterized by very slow rhythms and an extremely minimal approach to composition. The typical elements of Frahm’s music, which are the combination of analog and digital instruments and the perfect fusion of electronic and modern classical styles, are all present, but the architecture of this work is so bare and essential as we didn’t hear for long in his discography. But be careful, if the compositional structures are so essential, the tonal and dynamic aspects of the songs are absolutely rich. The sounds that come from the album are warm, soft, engaging. The artist has used a large number of different instruments and in global terms we observe here a progressive distancing from the simple piano – which has been for long at the heart of Frahm’s music – to embrace an extremely wider and articulated palette of sounds. All Melody confirms also one of the typical characteristics of Frahm’s approach to electro-acoustic music, which is the capacity to transform – almost imperceptibly – conventional sounds of piano and organ into electronic elements. The picture is then completed with the nice and original introduction of choirs and wind instruments.

In the broader context of the author’s discography, All Melody is the first one produced after he built a special recording studio inside an art house in Berlin (you can see it in the LP’s cover). It took two years of work to complete tthis room according to what were the strict requirements of the artist, and based on the result we hear in his record we can for sure wait with excitement to the upcoming albums that will be recorded there.



#1) Luke Howard, “Open Heart Story”

Luke Howard is considered today as one of Australia’s foremost practitioners of contemporary classical music. His discography features solo albums as well as a number of interesting collaborations.

Everyone has experienced that magical situation when the music you’re listening seems perfectly matched with the images that – in that specific moment – are passing in front of your eyes. And everyone knows that the perfect symbiosis created between images and music remains somehow attached to the notes you hear, so that every time you’ll listen again to the same songs you will feel a special chill on your skin, as if you were travelling back in time to that special and unique moment of your life. Last summer I was driving alone, at night, along the country roads of Puglia, a beautiful region in the south of Italy, and while I was passing through the evocative and haunting fields of olive groves, the car stereo was playing the beautiful songs of Open Heart Story, which is the last LP published by  pianist and composer Luke Howard. Perhaps because I was about to reach the family after a long period of separation, perhaps because the night landscape was so fascinating, the fact is that Howard’s music, in that day of my life, gave me a wide range of emotions that were so strong that I will never forget that ride.

Anyway, is this personal experience the only reason why Open Heart Story is here in the first position of the chart? The answer is negative. As a matter of fact, after many listens of the LP I can say without any doubt that the value of Luke Howard’s record is absolute and objective. This is heavenly music that has the capacity to make you feel connected to the world around you, or to recover from your memory some melancholic moment of your past.

On the other hand, in his relatively brief but intense career the Australian composer has refined  an expressive ability that’s really out of the ordinary, and having experimented with relatively different genres such as contemporary classical music, ambient and instrumental minimalism, has put him in a position where it seems extremely easy for him to identify, for each song, which is the style and the specific arrangement which fit best with the particular feeling that he wants to evoke with the music. It is no coincidence, then, that the journey through Open Heart Story becomes an exciting and engaging ride across many different feelings, and it is surprising to see how easy we move from a melancholic piece for piano solo to a more articulated song with layers of strings, drones and gentle touches of percussion instruments, passing through moments of pure and crystalline musical poetry.

Another characteristic which I love of this album is how the music composed by Howard remains absolutely simple, but this simplicity is disarming and profound at the same time. It’s really like listening to elementary melodies that touch the strings of your heart, or reading between the most exciting pages of your memories. An Open Heart Story, in all senses.



As already introduced at the beginning of the article, you can enjoy the best songs from the selected albums in a special playist that was assembled on Spotify. Two songs from each record, more than 90 minutes of pure beauty.



Quick Review: “Dionysus” by Dead Can Dance

I remember when I was a teenager and listening to Dead Can Dance was extremely cool and trendy. At that time the access to music was definitely more complicated with respect to modern standards and therefore, for an high school student, only declaring the intention to invest your money in an LP of world music gave you the fame of an expert of cultured music, at least in the eyes of those friends who used to listen Madonna and Guns and Roses. It is a fact, however, that at the end of the last century the Australian duo had achieved an impressive reputation among an heterogeneous family of music lovers, touching in some cases the status of cult band. And this happened thanks to the absolutely unique ability that Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry had shown in transposing ancient music and ethnic elements in an extremely accessible format, without losing quality and depth. Over the years their position in the global music scene has maybe shrinked a little, but their albums have always preserved the charm and the value of products of great class, and enjoyability.

This year Dead Can Dance have released a new studio album, called Dionysus, and this should be considered in itself a special event: not only the album is the ninth of a career that is close to reach forty years of activity (with some interruptions), but it also arrives six years after the previous work, 2012’s Anastasis. Beyond the numerical aspects, what really amazes of the new record is that the prodigy which has been carried out by the band in their long history manages to renew itself at each chapter of their exciting career. Dionysus, in fact, provides the fans of the band and the lovers of world music with another exciting collection of tribal fusion and neoclassical songs, all of the highest quality and with a few moments of absolute beauty.


“Act II: The Mountain”, taken from the album “Dionysus” by Dead Can Dance

Beyond the characteristics of the individual songs, it’s important to say that Dionysus was conceived in such a way as to be heard in one single run, by following a linear path from the beginning to the end, without the possibility for the listener of deviating from the sequence of songs that was established by the authors. In this respect, it’s sufficient to say that the digital edition of the album has only two tracks (Act I and Act II), each one collecting different chapters of the exciting story composed by the Australian musicians.

This choice is certainly risky as it precludes the listener to have direct control over which parts of the album he wants to listen, or just to skip a song. When Dionysus starts to play from our stereo we basically embark on a journey where every stage follows the previous one, exactly in the way the authors have determined for the correct evolution of their musical work. On the other hand, the balance between the different acts and chapters is excellent and I never found myself bored of one specific track and eager to move on to the next one. This mechanism, although  antithetical to the modern paradigms of music sharing, for which all songs should be as short and immediate as possible, seems to work very well in the case of this specific genre of music, and it perfectly fits with Dionysus.

From a purely musical point of view, Dionysus doesn’t shine for particular originality in the context of the band’s discography. On the contrary, at a first listen it may seem even a bit flat and less exciting with respect to their standard levels. The beauty of the album, however, emerges after a few repeated listens, once you become familiar with the delicate mixture of Celtic, New Age and Middle Eastern music that is provided in the LP. In part it’s true that the melodies in Dionysus are less immediate and catchy than some of the most famous songs from the band. But the fact is that in their new record Dead Can Dance wanted to represent the multicolored world of the God of Ecstasy, and rather than insist on obsessive and dramatic rhythms, they composed a special music that captures you slowly, progressibely, and which will transport you into a magical and luminous world, obscured only a few times by some dark shadow.

Therefore, to approach the album expecting to discover the new hit in world music will only lead to a great disappointment. If instead we abandon all preconceptions and let ourselves be carried away by the beautiful sequence of songs that the two artists have composed for us, we’ll be surprised to see how intriguing and full of emotions is the journey into the fascinating world of Dionysus. And you want to start it once again as soon as it ends.

The new album by Dead Can Dance can be streamed from Spotify where the single chapters of the LP are also available as separate tracks.


“Act I”, taken from “Dionysus”, the new album by Dead Can Dance



Dionysus is featured also in The Voyager, the playlist that I’m curating on Spotify with all the best and latest songs in World Music.



MUSIC FOR PIANO: a selection of the best pieces for piano released in 2018

Among the musical genres that have benefited the most from the worldwide diffusion of the modern platforms for the distribution of digital music, there are electro-acoustic and minimal music. Thanks to universal success achieved by famous Spotify playlists such as Peaceful Piano, Piano Ballads and Piano in the Background, we’re literally invaded by hundreds of new composers promoting their pieces for piano. Unfortunately, however, such proliferation of artists had the collateral effect we often come across to self-proclamed piano artist whose main talent is not the music, but rather the capacity to intercept the trends and to satisfy the tastes of the casual listeners.

In my endless research for the most beautiful songs I bump into a lot of insignificant music. As a result, finding truly valuable songs for piano music has become increasingly difficult, and that’s basically the reason why I like so much to select and collect every single good piece I come across.

Browsing into the entries of my collections I identified a group of songs that are among the best pieces for piano released since the beginning of the year. Fortunately this list doesn’t exhaust the number of good songs that were released in 2018 and other articles could easily follow this one. The songs in this page, in any case, provide you with an excellent representation of the status of contemporary piano music.


 

Saman, by Ólafur Arnalds, from the album re:member.

 

Rays of Light, by Tigran Hamasyan, from the EP Rays of Light.

 

In Metaphor, Solace, by Luke Howard, from the album Open Heart Story.

 

The Roughest Trade, by Nils Frahm, from the EP Encores 1.

 

Sesal, by Kristoffer Wallin, from the album The River.

 

Present Tense, by Chilly Gonzales, from the album Solo Piano III.

 

Nagorno Mist, by Vusal Zeinalov, from the EP Beauty of Kura.

 

Martello, by Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, from the album Epoques.

 

Continuum, by Michael Logozar, fromt the album Kaleidoscope.

 

Faithful, by Chad Lawson, from the album Home Sweet Home: The 2018 Lore Variations.


 

 

Quick Review: “Epoques” by Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch

Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch is a young, talented and quite prolific artist who has gained the attention of music lovers and critics both as composer of cinematic soundtracks and for her experimental electro-acoustic albums. The music played by the London based artist is not easy to describe in a few words, let me just say that it’s substantially modern classical music with the insertion of sparse but effective electronic parts.

On last July the artist has released her second full-lenght LP, called Epoques, which provides the listener with an intriguing alternation of minimalistic solo piano pieces and more articulated songs where piano, strings and electronic inserts are mixed together and create delicate, and sometimes haunting, layers of sounds.

 

 

The album highlights the maturity but also the boldness of this young artist in processing and transforming basic and minimal sketches of music into powerful, visceral but also partially hallucinatory songs. With the exception of a few tracks that are relatively “melodic” and easier to enjoy, most of the album requires some special condition to appreciate in full the music that is offered to the listener. First of all you must be in the condition to dedicate the full attention to the harmonic constructs that are built by the artist, but you should be also in the mood to be guided across an adventurous exploration of the less frequented areas of modern music.

Despite the many different references that we may extrapolate from Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch’s music (Philip Glass and Bela Bartok are two of them), Epoque is in the end a unique piece of art with its own meaning in the wider context of modern classical music. Surely this is not one of the many electro-acoustic music records that are composed and played for the general public. It’s rather a small treasure of creativity and expressiveness for those who’re willing to enjoy a continuous shift of emotion between lighter moments of serenity, and grittier, obscure but impressively emotional and moving pieces.

You shall definitely try the experience of playing this music at high volume on your headphones, at night, with nothing else to do than stay relaxed and feel the chill on your skin.

Epoques is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify.

Standout tracks: Martello and Fracture Points.

 


 

Best New Music: WHAT MATTERS MOST by Dakota Suite, Dag Rosenqvist and Emanuele Errante

One of the most fascinating aspects of music is that there are works made to convey positive feelings and therefore capable to brighten up your days, but at the same time there are many others that insist on emotions like melancholy, sadness, desperation, but still result enjoyable and interesting to listen. What Matters Most, the album born from the collaboration among Dakota Suite, Dag Rosenqvist and Emanuele Errante, belongs definitely to this second category.

 

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Singer and guitaris Chris Hooson is the founder and leader of Dakota Suite, the Leeds-based formation that has become famous for their songs filled with ambient and cinematic soundscapes.

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Swedish sound artist Dag Rosenqvist has released more than 30 albums in which he creates musical landscape through the combination of elements of drone, improvisation, and noise effects

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Emanuele Errante is a composer of ambient electronic music from Pomigliano D’Arco, in Italy. Since his debut in 2006, he has released four LPs.

 

The main feeling that emerges from the songs of What Matters Most is something very close to profound sadness or, even better, to that particular emotion that we feel when the pain for an important loss becomes the awareness that nothing will be the same. And this is not something which remains in the surface and flows on your skin without leaving a trace. The music that was composed by the artists is precious, extremely emotional, it manages to interact with the deepest parts of your soul, and you still feel the chills even after the song is finished.

 

 

The songs of What Matters Most are relatively different one from the other, but all of them share a few common elements which give a sense of strong expressive continuity and stylistic coherence throughout the whole album. Almost every song, for example, sees the dominant presence of one single musical instrument, typically the acoustic guitar or the piano, which is assigned the task of drawing the melancholic arpeggios or the delicate melodies that constitute the backbone of the song. Around the main instrument we hear gentle touches of strings, sometimes a wind instrument, and ambient noises. Everything contributes to create the rarefied and beautiful atmospheres that, in the end, are what binds together all the tracks of the album. Some songs have also lyrics and the nice alternation between the parts with the voice and the instrumental sections adds a further element of dynamism and internal variety to the LP, together with some crescendo that occasionally arrive to break the moment of stasis that was created by the instruments.

In true honesty, however, we couldn’t expect anything less than execptional given the presence of Dakota Suite: the band from Leeds has always released albums of rare beauty as only the great musicians can do. Despite the undisputed skills of the artists involved in this project, the album took a long time before being completed. The reason is clear, however. It’s sufficient to listen with attention one single song of the LP to appreciate the maniacal care that was applied to every details, and also the effort that was spent to reach the impressive balance which exists among all the individual instruments.

A special mention is necessary to praise the impressive performance of Chris Hooson, Dakota Suite’s guitarist, singer and leader of the band. The contribution he gave to this album is absolutely remarkable and much of the emotional impact of the songs is due to the beauty of his voice and the elegance of his guitar arpeggios.

What Matters Most is an excellent work, there is no doubt about that. Of course you cannot play it in every moment of your day, but it may rest in a corner for when we’re ready to immerse ourselves in the beautiful melancholy of its music.

The album is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also on Spotify.

 


 

 

BEAUTIFUL PIANO

It started as a simple place where to collect nice and delicate pieces for piano, and in a short time it has become one of my favorite playlists for the moments when I need to disconnect from the thousand thoughts on what I have done and what I have to do. That’s the magic of music.

Beatiful Piano is the playlist I manage on Spotify for celebrating the beauty of piano. All the tracks have been “handpicked” one by one over the years, and it’s impressive for me to recognize that today the playlist exceeds four and a half hours in duration. The rule that I gave myself to update Beautiful Piano is simple: no compromises on quality. The playlist features only the best songs, whether these are from new artists or legends of modern classical or electro acoustic music. Compared to many other playlists that are circulating on Spotify there will probably be less frequent updates, but on the other hand I want to provide my listeners with only the best and “forward thinking” piano music.

Enjoy it, follow it, spread the word.

 

 


 

Quick Review: “Broken Access” by Theo Alexander

Theo Alexander is a relatively young English composer of contemporary classical music and Broken Access is his newest LP, released in April 2018. The four tracks of the LP offer to the listener the possibility to travel across haunting and claustrophobic imaginary landscapes which develop around layers of drones and tape-loops of piano recordings.

The techniques used by Theo Alexander to produce his delicate and rarefied music are not particularly innovative and, from a purely formal point of view, this style of music is nowadays practiced by many musicians (too many, perhaps). What distinguishes the English artist is his extraordinary musical sensibility and an innate talent of knowing how to remove from each song all the superfluous elements, leaving just what is necessary to convey the strongest and deepest emotions. Yes, because the five songs of Broken Access are definitely emotional. This is not a kind of music that may leave you cold or neutral. Whether you are or not a lover of meditative and modern classical music,  the songs of Broken Access will reach your soul and provoke conflicting feelings: peace, anxiety, abandonment. In some moments the contrast between the prolonged sounds of the synthesizers and the perturbations introduced by the other instruments reach levels of true excitement.

And I would like to conclude by saying that this record can be put on repeat mode for hours and hours, while we are at home relaxing on the couch, or working on the PC;  you won’t ever get tired of the fantastic soundscapes and the delicate pieces of melody coming out from the speakers.

Broken Access is available on Bandcamp or can be streamed from Spotify.

My favorite songs are the first two tracks of the LP: Palliative and Hammer Frenzy.

 

“Haunting” is a lazy and inaccurate way to describe one’s sound, except when you’re talking about London composer Theo Alexander. Layers of piano echo on top of each other to create an ancient, claustrophobic sound that sounds eerie and beautiful (from the press quotes of the album on Bandcamp)