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.


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: “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.

 


 

 

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)

 


 

LOST IN THE DARKNESS – The Mixtape

 

A few days ago I was listening to the beautiful and haunting album What Matters Most, released by Dakota Suite with Dag Rosenqvist and Emanuele Errante, and I was so impressed and inspired by the music I heard that I decided to prepare a compilation with songs that were capable to arouse the same kind of emotions. I ended up collecting and songs from artist of the caliber of Atrium Carceri, Kaada, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Awali, and the result is the mixtape that you can easily access through the widgets that are provided on top and on the bottom of this article.

Most of the songs of the mixtape may be characterized as dark ambient, but the mood of the compilation is not as obscure or funereal as the title might presage. What emerges is rather a feeling of desolation and powerlessness compared to those situations that we have to face by ourselves, alone with our unconscious.

The title of the mixtape is LOST IN THE DARKNESS, and it’s partially inspired by one of the songs of Dakota Suite’s new record, Now I Am Lost, which is also included in the compilation.

One recommendation: I think that the best way to appreciate this mix is with the headphones, and playing the at a sufficiently high volume.

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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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Tamara Shmidt, working under the moniker of Awali, composes music that is mixtures of soft vocals, piano and electronic experiments

 

The complete tracklist of LOST IN THE DARKNESS is the following:

  1. Vida Jättars Väg by Atrium Carceri & Herbst9
  2. Miles To Midnight by Atrium Carceri, Cities Last Broadcast, God Body Disconnect
  3. Now I Am Lost by Dakota Suite, Dag Rosenqvist and Emanuele Errante
  4. Now That You Know by Dakota Suite, Dag Rosenqvist and Emanuele Errante
  5. Whales by Awali
  6. Andata by Ryuichi Sakamoto
  7. Fundamental Values by Nils Frahm
  8. Useless, useless by Kaada

 

All of the songs were released between 2017 and 2018.

Differently from every other mixtape that I released so far, there aren’t samples and inserts in addition to the original songs. That was a specific styilistic choice given the peculiarity of the music that was included in this compilation.

 

Quick Review: “Re:Member” by Ólafur Arnalds

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 multi-instrumentalist and 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 Ólafur 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.

I felt the need to write the above as an introduction to the considerations that I developed after listening for a couple of times to the new and long-awaited album of Ólafur Arnalds, named Re: member, which constitutes 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, like me, have enjoyed all of his previous works. These music lovers will surely appreciate the attempt of the artist to evolve his music towards new grounds and to challenge himself with new paths. Re: member will not be the most catchy and enjoyable entry in Arnalds’ wide catalogue of songs, 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.

The album can be streamed from Spotify.

My favorite songs are: saman, ekki ugsa and the title-track re:member.

SOUNDSCAPES, when music designs the sound

 

One of the important things about the synthesizer was that it came without any baggage. A piano comes with a whole history of music…when you play an instrument that does not have any such historical background you are designing sound basically. You’re designing a new instrument. That’s what a synthesizer is essentially. It’s a constantly unfinished instrument. You finish it when you tweak it, and play around with it, and decide how to use it. (Brian Eno)

 


 

There is a special sub-genre of ambient music that is fully focused to the creation of sounds and landscapes, with minimal if no emphasis at all on melody, rhythm and harmony. For those who are new to this style of music, the experience can be alienating and even a bit disturbing. But under the right conditions, and with a bit of preparation, this kind of music can give very strong emotions, such as to take your breath away.

Many artists are nowadays dedicated to ambient music, everyone with his own approach and characteristics. I’m collecting the best pieces that were released in the recent times into a special playlist of mine, named SOUNDSCAPES. As many of the playlist released and managed by this blog, this is a living compilation that will be frequently updated with new tracks.

At the moment of its publication, the playlist features about 2 hours of sonic landscapes from both veterans of ambient music and a few new artists who have recently appeared on the music scene. Enjoy the playlist, follow it, and visit it regularly to check for new songs.

 

 


 

Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting (Brian Eno)

 


 

THE BEST ELECTRONIC MUSIC OF 2018 (so far), April 2018

This blog has been relatively silent for a few weeks, let’s now come back to a more regular production of charts, reviews, playlists and mixtapes!

The first quarter of the year has now passed and we can start having some solid charts with the best releases for each genre. Today I’m going to present you the best Electronic albums that were released in the first three months of the year. And it’s quite interesting to realize that one third of the selected LPs are debut works from two relatively young artists. The list is then completed by a the new work by a veteran of Electronic music, a remix album, an experimental duo of art pop musicians and, last bat not least, the first electronic album produced with the contribution of artificial intelligence.  Not bad, you just have to read and listen!

For everyone who arrived here through a search engine, please consider that this list was published on April 2018 and there may be newer charts available in the Electronic section of the blog. Enjoy!


 

#1) Hello World by SKYGGE

(Electro Pop)

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Benoit Carré, the French pop musician best known as SKYGGE, has led a group of electronic artists to realize “Hello World”, the first album composed with the contribution of artificial intelligence

Introduced as the first mainstream music album composed with artificial intelligence, Hello World tells the story of a group of electronic music artists guided by French pop artist Benoit Carré (also know as SKYGGE) who joined a research project in which scientists were looking for algorithms to capture and reproduce the concept of musical “style”. The result of this effort is a collection of 15 electronic songs which, well beyond the experimental concept that lies behind, are absolutely interesting and pleasing to listen to.

From a musical point of view, the album is strongly influenced by European electronic music and it is easy to recognize in many songs the contributio from well known artists such as Stromae, the Belgian DJ and producer who’s got public attention in the last ten years ago with a number of catchy electronic songs. Thanks to the contributions of so many artists and thanks to this innovation given by artificial intelligence, the LP is gifted by an impressive variety and freshness of the songs and, in the end, it’s definitely a solid and intriguing collection of modern, catchy but also forward thinking electronic tracks.

Here in this blog, Hello World was also included in the higly regarded category of the Best New Music.


 

#2) Leather Teeth by CARPENTER BRUT

(Shyntwave)

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French electronic music artist Franck Hueso, better known by his stage name Carpenter Brut. To date he has released three EPs and, in 2018, the original album “Leather Teeth”, which is his debut LP.

The world of music is plenty of cases of metalheads that at some point diverted their attention to electronic music. As a matter of fact, metal and electronic share many elements in common and although it is not just as easy as to replace guitars with synthesizers, the transition from one genre to the other has been experience many times, typically from metal to electronic and in a few cases in the opposite direction. Last year, just to give an example, we celebrated the beautiful last album by Ulver: they started as a black metal band and arrived to produce one of the best synth-pop albums ever released.

Franck Hueso, better known by his stage name Carpenter Brut, is another artist that at some point in time left his passion for heavy metal and started producing an intriguing and old-fashioned version of synthwave. After a number of EPs and one live record he eventually released his debut full-lenght album, Leather Teeth.

The LP is very particular, initially it may leave you bewildered by the use – so blatant and pervasive to be almost anachronistic – of the typical sounds and instruments from the 80s. After this initial impact, however, we’re captured by the melodies and the nice rhythms of the songs, sometimes frenetic and other times more relaxed. The fastest songs are the ones I liked the most, but in general the whole album is definitely interesting and enjoyable, as well as curious and fun.


 

#3) Anywhere But Here by POLA RISE

(Electro Pop)

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Paulina Miłosz, the Poland Electronic artist better know with her stage name Pola Rise. She published in 2018 her first debut LP, “Anywhere But Here”.

Anywhere But Here is the debut album from a new electro pop artist from Poland, Paulina Miłosz, who operates under the stage name of Pola Rise. Since 2015 she started releasing a number of singles and eventually got a record deal with Warner Music Poland, which supported the publication of her full lenght work.

Pola Rise’s style of electronic music oscillates between pieces of clear experimental, nature with notes of avant-garde and improvisation, and more delicate and catchy songs, which in my opnion are also the ones that better highlight the qualities of this young artist. This album is particularly interesting because of the way in which it is able to give that “indie” feeling to songs that, in their essence, result quite linear and without any particular dynamic development. These are musical sketches, interesting and somehowe engaging, and composed with a light touch that manage to make them very easy to enjoy but, at the same time, destined to leave impercettible traces after the listening.


 

#4) Async-Remodels by RYUICHI SAKAMOTO

(Experimental, Ambient)

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Japanese multi-faceted artist Ryuichi Sakamoto released in 2017 his nineteenth solo studio album, “async“. “Async Remodels” contains eleven reworks of async’s original tracks, composed and performed by producers such as Jóhann Jóhannsson, Alva Noto, Fennesz, Cornelius, Oneohtrix Point Never, Electric Youth, and Arca.

My relationship with remix albums is generally positive, especially when there is a collection of pieces that manages to be appreciated even without the prior knowledge of the original material. Async Remodels belongs for sure to this category of albums and in fact the LP presents the work of a group of very good artists who took the challenge to confront themselves with the complex and profound songs of Ryuchi Sakamoto‘s latest solo LP, Async, released in 2017.

The idea to manipulate and alter the music of a legend of music like Sakamoto offers many possibilities, but it also exposes to big risks. To make this even more complicated, it’s important to remember that most of the tracks of Sakamoto’s last work were the result of a profound analysis that the Japanese artist made about the meaning of music: these songs were in fact the product of a conceptual exercise aimed at measuring the boundaries between the organic and the synthetic elements of music.

Listening to the remixes included Async Remodels we must recognize that many of the artists who were called to contribute not only accepted the challenge but they managed, in most of the cases, to give their personal contribution to Sakamoto’s analysis and, sometimes, the enriched the songs with new and original elements. Some tracks, such as those by Alva Noto, Electric Youth and Jóhann Jóhannsson (R.I.P.), seem to be a step higher than others, but in the end it is the average level of the record that’s very positive, making the LP one of the most interesting things happened this year in electronic music.


 

#5) Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt by MOBY

(Trip Hop)

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Richard Melville Hall, better known by his stage name Moby, became in the 90’s one of the most important dance music figures worldwide, helping bring the music to a mainstream audience both in the UK and in America. “Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt” is Moby’s fifteenth studio album.

In more than 25 years of career, American musician and producer Moby has explored different regions of the electronic world, from ambient to dance, with also a few episodes where he engaged with punk and rock (and his most recent rock releases may be also downloaded for free). But beyond the willingness to face different musical challenges, in all of these explorations Moby has always tried to give his own special contribution to the different genres he was playing with. Moby’s latest album, Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt, is clearly inspired by the sounds and dynamics of trip-hop, and the result is definitely good.

As a matter of fact, Moby has enriched the relative ease of listening of trip-hop with a special dedication to songwriting and a great attention to the details. The album in its entirety results in equal parts enjoyable and interesting to listen to, there are no evident missteps and the music, in the end, is both familiar and original. On the negative side the LP missing a really memorable song, one of those tracks with an unforgettable line and chorus. It is no coincidence, thus, that the most catchy refrain is that of the song Like A Motherless Child, which is based on a popular tunes from the past.


 

#6)  I can feel you creep into my private life by tUnE-YaRdS

(Experimental, Electro Pop)

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Singer and percussionist Merrill Garbus and bassist Nate Brenner are today the two permanent members of tUnE-yArDs, an art pop project which has arrived to the fourth LP of an interesting discography

Merrill Garbus, the US singer and songwriter who operates under the moniker of tUnE-YaRdS, never showed so far any lack of creativity and inventiveness. Indeed, from the beginning of her career she has maintained a minimalist approach to the choice of instruments and music styles almost as if she had the fear of covering, with an excess of effects and instruments, the essence of the motives and the ideas she was transforming into music. And even if this approach maybe precluded the largest audiences, i.e. those that are typically less corageous and less prepared to go beyond those well-established and conventional musical styles, she has still managed however to leave her mark within the indie scene of the last decade.

tUnE-YaRdS’ last album, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life, sees longtime collaborator Nate Brenner become an official member of the project, with the duo confirming more or less the same approach of Garbus’ previous releases. Electronic hypnotic beats remain in fact the baseline over which we enjoy Garbus’ eclectic and thrilling vocal lines. The musical performance is not always up to the experimental ambitions of the duo, but where the desire to explore manages to find an adequate sonic vehicle, their songs can offer a very pleasant escape from the monotony of our routines.


 

 

 

Best New Music: ALL MELODY by Nils Frahm

 

There are some records that we appreciate for the songs they contain, while others release all their value when we consider them as a single work, articulated perhaps into different tracks but in any case oeprating as correlated elements within the same music score. All Melody, which is the last work by German composer Nils Frahm, belongs to this second category. The experience that I had with this album can be summarized as follows: the first time I listened to it, this work left me quite indifferent: there were for sure a few moments of great elegance and delicacy, but there was no song that generated any particular emotion. I left the record playing in background (in repeat mode) while I was busy preparing some document, and after a while I started to realize that part of my thoughts were turned to the music, carried away and enjoying all the whispered melodies that this album is plenty of. And at that time, all of a sudden, the crystalline beauty of this work was finally revealed to me. And I eventually 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 susceptible to movements that occur outside the field of view, in the same way these tender notes gather together in a perfect melody only when the focus of our mind is not completely focused on the musical structure of the song.

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From a musical point of view, this album by Nils Frahm is characterized by very slow rhythms and an extremely minimal approach to composition. The typical elements of his 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 his discography. But be careful, if the compositional structure is so essential, the tonal and dynamic aspects of the songs are absolutely rich. The sounds that come from the album are warm, soft, absolutely engaging. The artist has used a large number of different keyboard instruments, a few of them generated synthetically, 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. One of the typical characteristics of Frahm’s music – which is here exalted in an astonishing way, almost magical in some points – is the capacity of this musican to transform, gently and impercetibly, conventional piano and organ sounds into electronic elements. The picture is then completed with the nice and original introduction of choirs and wind instruments.

In the broader context of Nils Frahm’s discography, All Melody is the first one produced after the construction of a special recording studio inside an art house in Berlin (which was so important for the album that it’s the subject of the LP’s cover). It took two years of work to complete the preparation of this room according to what were the strict requirements of Frahm, and if this album is the first result of the project, we can only wait with expectation and excitement to the upcoming albums that will be made there.

Since the day Nils first encountered the impressive studio of a family friend, he had envisioned to create one of his own at such a large scale. Fast forward to the present day and Nils is now the proud host of Saal 3, part of the historical 1950s East German Funkhaus building beside the River Spree. It is here where he has spent most of his time deconstructing and reconstructing the entire space from the cabling and electricity to the woodwork, before moving on to the finer elements; building a pipe organ and creating a mixing desk all from scratch with the help of his friends. This is somewhere music can be nurtured and not neglected, and where he can somewhat fulfil his pursuit of presenting music to the world as close to his imagination as possible. (Bandcamp)

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Funkhaus Studios, Berlin.

 

All Melody was released on January 26th, 2018, by Erase Tape Records



 

Best New Music: MILES TO MIDNIGHT by Atrium Carceri, Cities Last Broadcast and God Body Disconnect

Sometimes, when you start listening to a new album, it may happen that the music you hear is so interesting and original that you find yourself completely enthralled by the music and you’re magically transported into another parallel dimension. Last day I was working on a document on my computer, with the music from this new album Miles to Midnight playing in my headphones. All of a sudden I found myself in another strange place, I literally felt like walking in an unknown territory, in a dark and impenetrable fog and with a pulsating rhythm coming from the distace. This was the effect generated on me on the first time I listened to this incredible and mesmerizing album.

Beyond the description of my transcendental experience, it’s not easy to explain in a few words the what’s inside this LP. On the bandcamp page where you can get the album, the music of Miles to Midnight is presented as “Dark Noir Jazz Ambient”, but in my opinion even this quite complex characterization still doesn’t manage to express the true essence of the music. Let’s try to say that the eight songs of the LP offer the listener with a special version of dark and melodic ambient, which is developed over an infrastructure of drones, orchestral elements and field recordings that generate beautiful, fascinating but also intricate and thick soundscapes. The general atmosphere is obscure, the main emotion that is felt is something like anguish. But the effect is so intense that it becomes an incredible experience, something that one wants to repeat, again and again. In spite of the particular style of music, in fact, the album is not annoying or boring. Indeed, it’s quite the opposite.

Miles to Midnight is the result of the collaboration among three important representatives of modern music.

Atrium Carceri is the musical project created by the Swedish composer Simon Heat, who’s also the founder of the music label Cryo Chamber, the one which produced the album. Heat is specialised in dark ambient music and in addition to the records he produces as a soloist under the moniker of Atrium Carceri, we find him involved in many other collaborations and in other musical groups. The role of Simon Heat in the composition of the songs of the album is evident: the main characteristics of Atrium Carceri’s music are in fact the main constituting element of Miles to Midnight: slow rhythms and desolate atmospheres.

Cities Last Broadcast refers to another Swedish artist, Pär Boström, who composes ambient music under a number of different names (principally Kammarheit, Cities Last Broadcast and Hymnambulae). We are in front of another artist who’s particularly focused with the representation of abstract and disquieting worlds. In addition to his musical activity, in fact, he’s particularly appreciated as illustrator and painter, and his works often deal with the same subjects that we find translated into music within his musical projects.

God Body Disconnect is the only musical project of this trio which is based outside Sweden. Bruce Moallem, the artist behind this work, is based in the U.S. and he arrived to ambient music after an initial career as a drummer in a brutal death metal band named Dripping, which was active for a few years between 1999 and 2001. If the main themes of the musical exploration of God Body Disconnect are typically the same as the other two projects that we have just mentioned, the music composed by Bruce Moallem as a solo is often enriched by the presence of a narrative voice, which we can’t find however in Miles to Midnight.

Listening to this record is not easy – if not for expert ears – to recognize the individual contributions of the three participating artists. And this is perhaps the best sign that this collaboration was really successful and that every one of the three musicians was in condition to contribute to the creation of something new and absolutely original.

In summary, it’s clear that Miles to Midnight is not a record that you can play when you have some friends at dinner, or early in the morning as you prepare to go out, unless you have really special tastes. But there are many other moments in our days in which it can be pleasant and liberating to abandon the reality that we face in our daily routines and be transported into a dark and mysterious world like the one created by these three artists.


 

The Most Beautiful Song of the Year

from the album Kaiho by KAUAN

(released September 22, 2017)

 


Lahja (Gift)

Aikaa on, vai onko sittenkään
kaikkeen siihen tärkeään
mitä voisi tehdä
ja mitä tahtoo nähdä

Kello mittaa tunnit päivien
vaan mikä mittaa elämää
syntymästä asti
kohti kuolemaa

Et voi ostaa mistään aikaa
kerjätä tai lainata
saat ajan aina lahjana

Ei kukaan hallita voi aikaa
pidentää tai lyhentää
aikaa voi vain lahjoittaa

It’s time, or at least it is
for everything that matters.
What could you do?
and what does he want to see?

Clock measures the hours of the days
but what is that measures life
from Birth
to Death

You can not buy the time,
beg it or borrow it.
You always get this gift as a gift

No one can control time,
extend it or shorten it.
Only time can donate itself.


 

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Kauan is a typical case of a band who had to face a long and articulated journey through different genres before landing on the shores which at the end proved to be the best suited to convey the poetry of their music.

Started as a black and doom metal band, this group of musicians from Chelyabinsk, in Russia, first transformed their sound into a blend of post-rock and neo-folk, and eventually arrived to play an incredible combination of ambient music and atmospheric minimalism. The abandonment of metal sounds was already initiated by the band with the spectacular 2015’s album Sorni Nai, which is still one of the most incredible and thrilling LPs of the present decade (and the album is available for free at high quality on Kauan’s bandcamp page).

This year, with their new album named Kaiho, the process is now completed.

It’s not immediate to find a proper category for the music that is being played nowadays by these poets of modern music. But at this point we really don’t care. What really matters, in fact, is that we are in front of a musical masterpiece, an album that is capable to make you fly into magical soundscapes and feel pure and breathtaking emotions.
I will always express my gratitude to Kauan. What they have given to me in the recent years with their music is something unique and special.


 

 

 

Whispering Melodies. Music for meditation, relax and concentration

There are moments in our busy days when all that one needs is to switch off any distracting equipment, lower the light, and let the thoughts roam free without any haste, no pressure, no trouble. For these special moments I have created a playlist with the best meditative and relaxing music that was published this year. You’ll find here great artists of minimalism, ambient and soundscapes like Peter Broderick, Erik Wøllo, Shastro, Balmorhea and many others. Enjoy this playlist and check it our periodically because the tracklist is updated as new songs are released.


 

Best New Music: ALL TOGETHER AGAIN by Peter Broderick

All Together Again, released on 17th November 2017, is the new solo record from American composer Peter Broderick. The LP collects in a single place all the works he was commissioned to write during his first decade of career.

This group of oddball works does indeed include a couple pieces written for weddings (“Our Future In Wedlock and The Walk”), and a song someone asked me to write as a gift for his wife on their first year wedding anniversary (“Emily”). And indeed, there’s a 17-minute piece written to accompany a ferry boat ride in Istanbul (“A Ride On The Bosphorus”). A few of the pieces were written for films (“Robbie’s Song, Atlantic and Seeing Things”), and one for a kind of interactive installation (“Unsung Heroes”). (Peter Broderick, Erased Tapes)

The interesting thing about this album is that despite being a collection of pieces conceived for different purposes and in different moments, they all manifest the same musical sensibility and the charm that have become distinctive features of the style of Broderick’s production. From a musical point of view, his music belongs to that category of compositions where nothing is excessive: every note, every chord every beat, every layer of music is there because the song couldn’t stand without. This is music stripped of any redundancy. Soundscapes and delicate melodies that are perfect to accompany the movements of your thoughts.

One of the most particular pieces of the LP is A Ride On The Bosphorus, an epic 17-minutes long piece that was commissioned for an art project. The author explained: “Towards the end of 2013 I was contacted by an Irish artist named Fiona Hallinan. Fiona described to me a project in which she was selecting different journeys, from a chosen point A to point B, and asking musicians to create musical scores for these journeys. She then created an App which, once downloaded, would allow the user to listen to the score whilst in the vicinity of the journey it was for. She asked me if I would be interested in taking part, and in particular if I would create music for a 17-minute ferry boat ride in Istanbul. Amazingly enough, I had been on that exact ferry not too long before, and it was a beautiful journey that left quite an impression on me. I have amazing memories of creating this piece of music, which I consider one of the most joyous and upbeat things I’ve ever made…

In the video below you can enjoy the track and revisit the experience that generated it.

 

Other recommended tracks of the LP are Unsung Heroes, If I Were a Runway Model and The Walk.


 

The three Best MINIMAL PIANO Albums of the Year: Bevig, Hanada and Kosemura

We’re witnessing in the recent years that most of the composers of melodic music are using the piano as a tool for exalting simple, delicate and elegant melodies, leaving far away the virtuosity and the harmonious complexities of the past, that are basically those characteristics which have made the piano – for many years – to be regarded as the prince of the instruments. I can’t say how much of this clear trend is the result of a precise stylistic choice of the artists rather than the result of a general reduction of the ability to listen to and concentrate on music.

In any case, in the great mass of works of little value which don’t show any respect for the listeners’ ability to interpret music, there are still some compositions that stand out for their ability to go beyond the easy melodies and the simplicity of the arrangements. These albums, unlike the others, use simplicity and minimalism as a mean of transmitting emotions and passion, and not the purpose itself of composing music (as is often the case with mediocre artists).

I’m presenting here the best three works of the year that are built around the concept of minimalism and piano music. Despite the essentiality of their musical structures, these albums leave a deep trace in the soul, a sort of afterglow of tenderness, class and elegance that remains with us after turning off the music player.


 

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Joep Beving, Prehension

 

The story of Joep Beving testifies the impact that social media and modern streaming services may have on the success (and sometimes the failure) of a new artists. This Dutch musician recorded some of the original piano tunes that he used to play for his family, distributed them online, and eventually sparked a stratospheric interest from hundreds of thousands of Spotify subscribers. At that point, contended by a number of record companies, he released this year a second record, Prehension, which confirmed the class and talent of the artist.

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The style of Joep Beving follows the successful stream of modern classical and contemplative piano music, but just because of the fact that this genres begins to be definitely inflated, to emerge from the mass becomes even more difficult. The short compositions collected in Prehension reach the magical point of equilibrium where accessibility of the melodies matches with class and style. All the musical attributes of Bevings’ compositions float in that delicate balance between minimalism and delicacy where every additional  element would make the sounds redudant, but anything less than that would compromise pleasure and smoothness of the songs.

I call it ‘simple music for complex emotions. The world is a hectic place right now and I feel a deep urge to reconnect on a basic human level with people in general. Music as our universal language has the power to unite (J. Beving)


 

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Daigo Hanada, Ichiru

 

Daigo Hanada is a young and talented Japanese pianist and composer, born in Tokyo but based in Berlin. Hanada released on last February a little masterpiece, named Ichiru, where he plays delicate and minimalistic melodies on a simple upright piano.  The album contains a collection of relatively short but deeply captivating piano moments (intimate vignettes), which collectively show how sometimes the simplicity of arrangement and the immediacy of the melodies may generate an immediate connection between the author and the listener.

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This is definitely one of the most lovely albums we heard so far in 2017.

Each melody is warmly inviting and instantly memorable while an impeccably restrained touch and minimalistic aesthetic ensures the sentiment never becomes too saccharine. In fact, the more one listens, the more comforting it becomes like a late-night conversation with an old friend. (Stationary Travels)

 


 

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Akira Kosemura, In the Dark Woods

 

Japanese composer Akira Koseumura has recently reached the important milestone of 10 years of well-regarded career in modern classical music. In such time he has achieved a respected position in the music scene because of his ability to mesh together minimal tunes played on the piano with field recordings, other acoustic instruments and also electronic soundscapes. Kosemura’s music has always been extremely delicate, some call it “sparse”, and according to many more suitable for a musical background rather than made for deep and concentrated listening. Personally, I’ve always appreciated his style, which represents for me a magical way to flee into a serene world, free from all those complications and problems of our everyday life

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Kosemura’s last album, In The Dark Woods, maintains all the typical features of his music and it contains a beautiful collection of intimate and delicate pieces, most of them playing aroung a few simple piano tunes. The LP is focused on the concept of finding comfort in the darkness and it is maybe one of the most introspective works the Japanes arthist made so far.