Top Instrumental Albums of 2016


So, following my top albums of 2016 – here’s a list of my favourite instrumental records of the year.  And again, these are my favourites of records I have heard, there are many I have not heard.  In no particular order:

Ben Chatwin – Heat and Entropy

Federico Albanese  – The Blue Hour

Johann Johannsson – Orphee

Alva Noto/Ryuichi Sakamoto – The Revenant OST (technically 2015 but 25th December release date so I’m allowing it in my 2016 list)

Ben Lukas Boysen – Spells

Kinbrae – Tidal Patterns

Dead Light – Dead Light

Marconi Union – Ghost Stations

Western Skies Motel – Settlers

Jherek Bischoff – Cistern

Explosions in the Sky – The Wilderness

Sten Erland Hermundstad – Mountains

Seabuckthorn – I Could See the Smoke

M. Ostermeier – Tiny Birds

Jean-Michel Blais – II

Alex Kozobolis – Weightless

Top Albums of 2016

lot of records in sleeves full frame

So, it’s that time of year again.  List time.  For me, 2016 has been a great year for new music.  Some years I sit struggling to come up with 20 records that I love but this year I’ve had to spend more time deciding on my favourites.  So I’m clear from the outset, whilst undoubtedly some of the albums in my top 20 will make other end of year lists, this list consists purely of my favourite records of 2016.  As always, there’s a big mix of things in this list so hopefully something for everyone.  And I’d also say that the top 3 are pretty interchangeable.  Was not easy putting them in order as they’ve been my most played and most loved records of this year without a doubt.    But I’ve loved each and every one of these records and I hope you take time to explore some of them.  So here we go.

20. Explosions in the Sky – The Wilderness

19. Anna Von Hausswolff – The Miraculous

18. TE Morris – Newfoundland

17. Keaton Henson – Kindly Now

16. Johann Johannsson – Orphee

15. Old Earth – Lay for June

14. Swans – The Glowing Man

13. Ben Chatwin – Heat and Entropy

12. Wilco – Schmilco

11. Andy Shauf – The Party

10. Dead Light – Dead Light

9. Katie Dey – Flood Network

8. Andrew Bird – Are You Serious

7. Little Kid – Flowers

6. DM Stith – Pigeonheart

5. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

4. Katie Kim – Salt

3. PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project

2. Western Skies Motel – Settlers

1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree



Swans – Oran Mor, Glasgow, Tuesday 11th October 2016.


It’s been a long time since I wrote anything on this blog.  It was always going to take something special to bring me back to writing.  That something special happened this week amidst one of the most challenging weeks of my life.  Without going in to details, my wife and I have had to deal with legal proceedings against her, that attempt to portray the pair of us as unstable, controlling and unfit parents.  It’s been hugely upsetting for us and for my 11 year old step daughter who it also impacts upon.  However, in the mist and darkness of all of it something has shone through.  Michelle Obama said it best when she said “When they go low, we go high”.  And so we have.  After the tears stopped and calm returned, one thing was clear.  We would not be the losers in this whole ordeal.  No, we’d be closer than ever and grow stronger than before.

In the case of my step daughter and I, this strengthening of bond has been through music and an unlikely source if ever there was one: Swans.  This time last week, she told me their music was creepy.  That it scared her.  She even asked me to turn it off.  She knew that on Tuesday I was heading to Glasgow and Oran Mor to see them perform live and she said that she could think of nothing worse.  However, since the show, she has sat and watched youtube clips of them with me as I tried to explain what made them so special.  She has marvelled at their lap steel player Christopher Hahn playing his instrument with his comb – which he also uses between songs to slick back his hair.  She was amazed by the intensity and stamina of bass player Christopher Pravdica’s playing.  And she was mesmerised by Michael Gira.  A master conductor if ever there was one.  You see, my step daughter is a violinist and knows mostly about classical music, orchestras and therefore conductors.  To watch Gira live is much like watching a conductor, or indeed a director; shaping the performance, controlling the players and ensuring that the show is something unique and special.  And I loved this.  And I love that watching, understanding and learning about the musicians has altered her mind set with regards to the band and their music.  Sure, she still finds it a bit creepy but she started to understand their significance and in learning more about their music she saw the possibilities open to you as a musician in this day and age.  The ways to create and perform that a young mind may not normally think about made her explode with excitement.  She sat at our piano most of yesterday afternoon and then, in the evening, I taught her some stuff on music software too.  Her attitude changed from “the way he sings lunacy is so creepy” to “how do they make that sound or that sound” or “wow, he’s playing with a comb?!”.  The bond growing through music and all thanks to Swans and a very poorly thought out piece of legal bullying.

And so to the gig itself.

Swans have been a band since the early/mid 1980s.  I was born at the tail end of the 1970s.  Based on these two facts, I in no way claim to have been a fan of Swans since the beginning.  I am not an uber fan.  This was my first Swans show.  I’m not like the man beside me at the merch stand who spent a lot of money on rarities, on the unique and beautiful show poster and even asked if Michael Gira would be at the merch stand later on.  That’s odd I thought.  Why would he do that.  I did of course realise that the man asking the questions appeared to be a few generations older than me.  I imagine that he was there at the beginning in the 1980s as I played with my toy cars and snuck in to my brothers room when he was at school.  I imagine he’s been to countless shows to see the band over the years both in their first incarnation and since they reformed back in 2010.  I imagine he’s probably spoken to Michael Gira before and no doubt will again and that he knew something I did not at the time.  He clearly was one of the uber fans and from the audience on Tuesday night it was clear that Swans have plenty of them.  Indeed, the diversity of the audience was something I loved.  Mostly male, sure, but the age demographic showed that this was a band that had not only endured but grown an appeal to old and young alike sustaining a vibrancy and significance that most bands only dream of.  The fact that the past 3 records have been so widely celebrated is a testimony to the vision of Michael Gira for what he calls “this incarnation” of Swans.  If this is indeed the last tour that this selection of musicians will perform, then I am very glad to have been able to be a small part of that journey.  And sure enough, at the end of the show, all 2 and a half hours of it, Michael Gira announced that he’d be at the merch stand in 15 minutes to talk to people.  Where most musicians would have collapsed into a sofa, had a few beers, had a shower etc, he took the time to meet and greet.  Not something I’ve experience before and not something I expected but then they set up the stage themselves before the show so I should have guessed.  I’m just sorry I had to run for a train as I’d have loved to have met him and told him just how important the show had been to me this week.  It was a release and a relief in amongst the bull shit and it intensified my relationship with my step daughter and my love of Swans.

Of course, I’d heard tales of Swans live shows.  Stories of a man prowling the stage, stamping on people’s hands, kicking people in the face, lashing out at head bangers, turning up the heat and the air conditioning off and playing at a volume that was uncomfortable to bare.  A man who hated venues that put up signs about wearing ear plugs.  I had also heard tales of the live show being more intense than the records and an experience that would never be forgotten.  I assumed that this would be the case obviously as very rarely has music of this ilk been as good on record as in the live arena.  Mogwai being a case and point.  The live experience far out weighs the recorded one.  I’d heard of an incredible band made up of incredible musicians and a show that must not be missed.  I read that when Michael Gira started the band, he named them Swans because the birds themselves are such beautiful, graceful creatures yet harbour real volatility and he wanted the music and everything else to encapsulate this.  As the gig approached I was filled with a mix of excitement, trepidation and intrigue.  Would it be everything that I’d heard it would be?  Would there be an aggressive lunatic prowling the stage?  Would I go against the advice of Michael Gira and put those foam earplugs in my ears?  As it turns out, it was everything I’d hoped for and more.

It’s actually very hard to describe a Swans performance.  The way they set up the stage is so all eyes are on Gira.  Everyone faces inwards.  Everyone paying full attention to the conductor of the show.  As he sings he uses hand gestures to build or reduce the tension. When his hands are occupied with guitar he leans in and out to increase and decrease the noise and intensity.  All the while the bands focus is him.  He encourages each member of the band throughout with simple gestures and prodding.  At times it feels like their set is, whilst obviously something rehearsed prior to tour, an organic ever shifting organism.  Something that moves night to night, develops as a tour progresses and is never really the finished article.  The set is made up of no more than 8 tracks (I think) with many lasting more than 20 minutes. It’s a mix of older and newer music with the stand out tracks being Screen Shot from ‘To Be Kind’ and the the closer and title track from the new album ‘The Glowing Man’.  The music is primal, hypnotic and engaging.  It’s loud. It’s very loud.  But it’s not painful loud.  It’s just perfect loud.  The kind of loud that you feel first in your feet and then through your entire body as the bass and drums surge through the room and everyone in it immersing us all in wave after wave of wondrous noise.  It ebbs and flows, rises and falls, grows louder then quieter.  In the quiet comes the voice.  That voice that so creeped out my step daughter but that so perfectly fits the mood and tone of the music.  There is a focus in the eyes of Gira.  This is important to him.  It really fucking matters to him that the show is good. That the band do things right.  That people leave happy and engaged.  You can tell that he is truly disappointed when the fuse blows not once but twice and then one last time for good measure at the end of the gig closer.  He could be angry but if he is then he hides it well, thanks the audience then disappears before his meet and greet.  I think that he wants Swans shows to either create something positive for people or be the catalyst for something good.  For me, the gig itself was a massive release.  Inspirational music from inspirational musicians at the top of their game.  It consumed me for those 2 and a half hours and sent me away in to the night facing a long journey home but feeling inspired and alive despite all that had been and would be.  It was something I needed at the end of a very difficult two days for me and my family.  And beyond those days, it turned out to be the catalyst for bonding with my step daughter through music and with lots of laughter.  Despite the stories and rumours surrounding Gira, I truly believe that this knowledge would mean a lot to him.  More than knowing I enjoyed their show I think knowing the fact that it brought two people closer together through a shared love of music would matter to him.  How his music and his band turned a doubter into a believer.  Very fitting for a man who’s bands shows are as much a religious experience as anything I’ve ever experienced.   I hope I get to experience it again.  Whatever incarnation that might involve.




In Conversation – Julia Kent


Was worried that this would get lost after the closing of the mini50 website.  Fortunately I still have a copy in word.  So for those that missed it.  enjoy

After years spent performing and recording with other artists including Antony and the Johnsons, Canadian-born, New York City-based cellist Julia Kent found her own voice. She has released 3 solo records to date, has composed a number of original film scores, as well as music for theatre and dance performances. She has toured throughout Europe and North America, including appearances at Primavera Sound in Barcelona, the Donau festival in Austria, Meltdown in London, and the Unsound festival in New York City.  Having met her at Zemlika Festival, Latvia in 2014, Julia kindly agreed to take part in the first conversation piece for mini50 records. Her new record ‘Asperities’ is released via Leaf Label on 30 October 2015.

TSP: What first attracted you to the cello, is it the only instrument you play and when did you make the decision to produce your own solo work rather than only compliment the work of others?

JK: I’ve played cello forever, and it is the only instrument I play…sometimes I wish I had other instruments at my disposal, and of course I wish I’d learned to sing…but I really love playing cello; it always feels as though it’s my voice, somehow…it has such a range and such a variety of timbres.

I’m so happy that I made the decision to focus on making music on my own…I’ve been so lucky to have the chance to play with some amazing artists, and I’ve learned so much from them. But making my own music has been an incredibly rewarding journey…it took me a long time to get around to it, but I’ve learned a lot through it as well. I feel as though being able to connect to people emotionally is the primary reason to make music, and it’s amazing to get a sense of that.

Especially with instrumental music…I feel as though when people connect to that, emotionally, it’s really special because it’s a nonverbal, very unmediated kind of emotional connection. What are your feelings about purely instrumental music versus music that’s expressed through voice and/or words?

TSP: I was totally captivated by your performance because I love the cello as an instrument. I find cellos and pianos to be similar in their versatility. I am not sure there are many instruments that can capture simplistic beauty the way they can? The combination of your music and that venue just seemed to complement each other perfectly. How important is setting to your music/performances? I suppose both in terms of when you are writing and performing. I often find I have to have the right environment to work in.

Have you ever thought about adding voice in to your work? You say you wish you had learned to sing but you have worked with some tremendous vocalists… have you ever been tempted to have a track with a voice in the mix? Not necessarily vocals with lyrics, but a voice or voices (choral)?

You say that emotional connection is the primary reason for you making music and I agree with you. I think connecting with people, through music, is an experience not replicated in other walks of life and such a wonderful thing. I once heard Jeff Tweedy say that a music concert is what church, in its purest form, should be…a coming together of people in an emotional and almost spiritual way. But the whole vocal versus instrumental thing is interesting. As somebody who creates both it’s a fascinating question about how people connect with music. I guess that having a vocal in a track gives the listener something to grab hold of instantly. Instrumental music to me has always been more of an investment time wise. I think that much is often clear at performances. Most instrumental shows I have been to are filled with people attentatively listening to the performance. Not talking, just listening and absorbing. I suppose the same is true of listening to instrumental music on a stereo. You have to engage with what you are listening to or the music can pass you by. There is so much to soak up and understand. And I guess it’s easy to let it pass by if you don’t invest time. A vocal sucks people in immediately because they want to hear it, know the words, sing along. I don’t imagine many people walk along whistling a Julia Kent tune (no offence) but they might walk along singing Karma Police or something. I don’t know. Personally, I am as moved by Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as I am by ‘By The Throat.’ I think you get out of music what you put in as both a performer and a listener. But with instrumental music you sometimes have to put in more because it’s not always designed to be easy for you. What are your thoughts?

JK: The setting is so important for me for performance, in terms of a sense of atmosphere and the way places can create their own energy. I play a lot in Italy, and often the performance venues are so beautiful, especially the gorgeous old theatres that contain so much history. in the summer, sometimes i play outside in small towns, which can be really special, because everyone in the town comes to the concert: the boundaries between audience and inhabitants, and public space and performance space become totally blurred.

For me, making music really is about connecting. I feel lucky to have the sense of being able to make a connection when I play, maybe because of the cello, which is an instrument that seems to speak to people. It resonates, somehow…

And it’s true what you say about piano and cello: with piano, it’s wonderful to have that whole harmonic range under your fingers, and of course you never have to worry about pitch (!) but it seems like the hardest thing in the world to make a piano sing.

And that carries to your next question, about voice vs. instrumental music: having been fortunate enough to have worked with some incredible vocalists, I would never attempt to sing, myself.

For me, singing is the most immediate form of expression, but, when you sing, I think you have to be totally unselfconscious about the way you’re expressing yourself. Or you have to have an amazing vocal technique. Or perhaps both.

Personally, I’m always happy to have an instrument mediating for me! I do feel as though I’m missing that instantaneous connection you can make with an audience through your voice. But, playing cello, you are in a way making music that’s within the range of the human voice: that’s why I love it as an instrument.

When I’m writing music, I often find the melody and the harmonies first, vocally, and then figure them out on the instrument. I’d love to write for voice someday…but not for my own…

TSP: Having been in bands most of my life all I was ever used to was small venues, pubs, clubs etc. I guess in a band situation, with the lights down that’s ok. However, playing in the church in Latvia, for me, was special. I don’t play live often now and that was such an eerie setting, which worked perfectly for graveyard tapes. in terms of my own piano compositions, I don’t feel confident enough as a pianist to sit and play in front of an audience really. So I have avoided performing as glacis to date. I love the idea of playing live but it’s hard enough to get people interested in what I do, let alone secure places to play!

Perhaps there is a connection between instruments and place? I don’t know how to explain this but cello and Italy seem to have some deep historic connection that perhaps makes performing there different to performing in Brooklyn? Perhaps the rich history of Italy and cello connects with people on a level that it doesn’t in other places? Is where you perform affected in this manner? Do you feel people are more receptive to your work in certain parts of the world? it certainly seems to me that the music I create resonates with those outside of the UK and in mainland Europe more than elsewhere. Italy in particular as it happens.

Piano is a truly wonderful instrument. But, like I said, I know my limitations as a pianist. Listening to truly wonderful pianists really is an incredible experience. I suppose that is true of the most technically gifted performers. What interests me most though is creation, not necessarily performance of others work. I am guessing you have experienced both. Are you drawn more towards your own work and creations as opposed to forming part of somebody else’s compositions or do you find both equally rewarding?

I have always found voice to be an instrument in its own way and actually the key thing is finding how to use it best to suit what you do. I am most drawn to those artists whose vocal is part of a sound rather than technically beautiful. I do wonder if it’s why I find most female voices a bit dull. I don’t mean to sound negative on this front but I tend to find that female vocalists usually have such beautiful voices and perfect deliveries. I am drawn more to the less beautiful. Wayne Coyne, Jeff Tweedy, Neil Young, Dylan, Martha Wainwright, Tom Waits, Beth Orton, Bjork. For me, these are all performers who have learned how to use their voice. I don’t think they necessarily have amazing vocal techniques – or perhaps they do – perhaps by developing their own style that works within the context of their work and as an instrument within the work, they have developed an amazing vocal technique? Anyways, from my own perspective, I often look to use the voice as another texture. It’s interesting to find melodies with the voice first. I get that. I often just sit down and play. See what happens. Sometimes it’s nothing. Sometimes it’s lots. How do you approach writing?

JK: I really can’t believe had to leave Latvia without seeing your show…I’m sure it was amazing!

That church was an incredible environment…it’s so special to play in places like that that where the history and the acoustics and the atmosphere really influence the performance. It’s also a bit like that with recording, for me. Recording studios, although of course they’re acoustically optimal, can often feel so sterile. When you get to record in a place that’s maybe not sonically pristine but really has a vibe it makes for something special, I think…

I’ve got to say that sometimes playing my carbon fibre cello in certain places I feel a bit incongruous. I played recently in Cremona in a beautiful theatre and of course made the obligatory pilgrimage to the Stradivarius museum. after that, when I took out my cello I felt as though I had to apologize a bit for sullying their glorious tradition with this high-tech instrument! But, in a way, everything evolves…even the Cremonese instruments were modified to suit modern playing style. For me, the carbon fibre cello is just another evolution. And seeing those beautiful instruments preserved behind glass in the Cremona museum (even though I think they are played regularly) is a bit sad. They are simultaneously fragile and so powerful, because of their history and the way they bear the traces of everyone who’s played them: they really have souls.

But, honestly, I don’t really consider myself a classical musician in any way, even though I play an instrument that’s associated with classical music. At least, with cello, there’s sort of a newish tradition of people like Arthur Russell and Tom Cora and Oscar Pettiford and David Baker stretching the expressive boundaries of the instrument. And I am so happy to have the chance to make my own music. It’s amazing to collaborate, of course, but I find working alone to be really freeing.

I totally agree with you about voices! The “imperfect” voice is for me so much more expressive, always, than something that has been auto tuned and compressed and polished into something that is supposed to approach perfection but really just can sound totally soulless.

My writing process is very much…a process. Sounds as though I work the same way you do. Sometimes I have something specific in mind, but often I just see where I go. That’s why, for me, working with looping is a great tool. I’m always interested in textures and layering and unexpected harmonic results. The only trouble with looping is that it’s so additive…I’m always trying to subtract…

TSP: What I loved most about the church was the lack of heating! My main love of the festival was how people came together to make it special. This tiny place in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere and yet the church was packed and all the events were packed. It was just something truly special to see and be a part of.

I completely agree with you on the recording front. The graveyard tapes records were kind of a mix of working in studios at the university and then at matt’s flat. I always feel I perform better in a relaxed/familiar environment so the sessions at matt’s felt great. The vocals to white rooms were recorded in his kitchen! How does place affect your records? Does even the recording environment seep in to your work/change your work?

It’s a bit like using a digital piano versus an acoustic one. How does the sound change with a cello? I am not sure there is a digital piano that truly captures the sound or feel of an acoustic one. You can add all the effects you like but that natural reverb and feel just cannot really be replicated – in my opinion. Is this an issue with cello or do you feel your carbon fibre cello is close enough? Do you have acoustic cellos back home that you play?

One cellist I find truly inspiring is Richard Skelton. I am not sure if you have heard of him? If not then you should check out Landings as a starting point. I am sure you will have heard of him though, so just ignore this if you have!

The idea of subtraction versus addition is interesting. I guess the loop does make that whole thing tricky. I often find the spaces in tracks to be the most interesting. The moments of silence and pause. What is it that is being said. Often those silences have the biggest impact on me. Do you record as you perform – with the loop – or is the recording process more about layers and allowing yourself the freedom to subtract and not be dictated to by your loop pedal?

JK: Yes, the Latvia festival was really special! I feel as though I play in a lot of places where people, both promoters and audience, come together in these really amazing environments, and there’s always a beautiful synergy between the energy of the people and the energy of the place. I just played last weekend at Topolo, which is a tiny village close to Udine, in Italy, with only 20 or so inhabitants. A small group of dedicated and lovely people have been doing this amazing festival there for 22 years. People come from all over to play and to listen, and the people of the village are really involved as well. I played in the woods, with the crickets…

I do love recording at home; it just feels really comfortable and really intimate and I think for sure that’s reflected in the music. I feel as though I can take more time and more risks, in a way, because I’m in control of the process.

My carbon fibre cello is totally a conventional acoustic cello…just made out of carbon fibre. It’s got its own sound, of course, like any string instrument. I use it for touring mostly because it is just too nerve-wracking to check a wood cello, which is what I do when I travel. I can’t afford to buy a seat, which is the safer option. Travelling with a cello is always an adventure…

I do know and love Richard Skelton’s music…I think I have “landings”…but please let me know if you have other recommendations!

I actually don’t record using looping, because it’s hard to make it work as a plug-in in protools. Basically I write using looping (I use software, not a pedal), then, to record, I recreate the looping process, so things change a bit, then to play live I have to recreate the recorded recreation! So it’s sort of a circular process. But the way things evolve is always interesting. And, yes, it’s so true what you say about silence. Silence is the most important part of sound, sometimes.

Piano Day – Alex Kozobolis Mix


So, as well as taking part in the conversation with glacis and featuring in A Closer Listen editor Richard Allen’s top 10, Alex Kozobolis was also kind enough to pull together this mix of piano composers that have inspired him over the years.  In his words some of these artists reassured him that others would listen to his work whilst others got him really into the piano.  It’s a great mix, so enjoy.  And do check out the work of Alex when you get a chance.  It’s mesmeric.


Piano Day – Richard Allen

Richard Allen runs the wonderful music site A Closer Listen.  I am a massive fan of his site and the music he writes about.  To coincide with Piano Day I asked him to contribute his top 10 records in which piano is the main ingredient.  Here is his list:

Nils Frahm – Wintermusik (EP)

‘Olafur Arnalds – Eulogy for Evolution (Album)

Kashiwa Daisuke – Program Music I (Album)

Max Richter – The Blue Notebooks (Album)

Dustin O’Halloran – Opus 37

Abel Korzeniowski – Becoming George

Yasushi Yoshida – Greyed

Rachel’s – Water from the Same Source

Hauschka – Tanz
Alex Kozobolis – For Snow (EP)
And since he put forward his top 10, I suppose I should put forward mine – though a couple have piano as a feature rather than a driver:
Olafur Arnalds – Eulogy for Evolution
Nils Frahm – Felt
Goldmund – Famous Places
Dustin O’Halloran – Lumiere
Lubomyr Melnyk – Corollaries
The Alvaret Ensemble – s/t
Max Richter – Infra
Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto – Insen
Brambles – Charcoal
Alex Kozobolis – For Snow


Piano Day – Conversation – Alex Kozobolis and glacis

Yesterday was of course Piano Day.  The 88th day of the year.  A celebration of all things piano.  As such, we have this little conversation piece between Alex Kozobolis and glacis for your enjoyment.

Alex Kozobolis is an English based artist.   glacis is Scottish artist Euan Millar-McMeeken.

EMM: Back in 2012, A Closer Listen compared my work to that of Nils Frahm, Dustin O’Halloran and yourself. This was my first experience of your work but I took it as a massive compliment. Looking at your work specifically, which composers do you feel most in tune with compositionally and aesthetically? Is there anyone that stands out above the rest as an influence on you as a pianist?

AK: I remember that review you mention very well actually as it was the first time my name had really ever been used to draw comparisons to anyone else’s music . It also, obviously, introduced me to your work as glacis, which I listened to and enjoyed . In fact I just had your Tohu Va Vohu score on again, beautiful and atmospheric.

In terms of composers I feel aligned /in tune with the obvious one would be Nils Frahm (particularly in his more sedate state) but there are others. A good friend Harry Edwards who I’ve had the privilege of working with musically a couple of times is a composer I both greatly respect but also one I feel musically aligned with (at least in terms of his more minimal/ non electronic work too) .
As for piano based influences – the main one without a doubt is Thelonious Monk (attaching a link to a more overtly monk inspired improvisation ). I gleaned a copy of Monk’s Dream from a forgotten corner of a friend’s bedroom back in the very early 2000s and remember listening to it profusely – in retrospect I think what I really loved about Monk was his ability to delve into discordance and somehow rhythmically remove his playing from the time of many of the tracks he was playing to yet ultimately resolve and redeem. I definitely wasn’t aware of that at that time but I think that’s probably been his most enduring musical influence on me.
How about you and influences? Musical plans for 2015?
EMM: It was kind of cool. I think it introduced us to each other’s work and also put us in contact, which was good and was nice to be compared to those artists too.
I possibly feel feel most aligned to Nils Frahm and Goldmund in that even when I am working on something with more depth to it I am constantly battling with the idea of a record that captures the simplistic beauty of the piano.  I love when things sound real.  Like you can hear everything that happened during the recording, be it a chair squeak or a bird singing outside.  I always want to capture that.  I think we are on a similar wave lengths in the music we align our work with.
As for influences.  That’s a tricky one.  It’s probably really uncool to say Einaudi or Olafur Arnalds but being honest it was their work that made me want to sit and write piano compositions.  I had spent so long in a band and listening to alternative music it was refreshing to start listening to modern composters and classical music again.  From there I just started to sit and play and things sort of happened quickly.  I never really expected anyone to pay attention to glacis. so it’s been a lot of fun.
Musically this year I have a number of glacis related work.  I have finished a solo album and also nearly finished a collaboration album with Ed Hamilton.  These will both hopefully see the light of day this year.  I am also working on a record with William Ryan Fritch, my wife Ali and artist Gregory Euclide. This might not be finished this year but it is a very exciting project. aside from glacis I have a project with Ben Chatwin (Talvihorros) called Blood Language and that record is close to completion. So it’s busy but exciting.
How about you? How did your composition with Anna Rose Carter come about?  Any plans for working together further?  And what other things can we expect in 2015?
AK: Ah yeah man, I’m 100% with you on things sounding real.
[my earliest EPs were on two very opposing ends of that spectrum – one (theme for an empty playground) was recorded through Logic on a MIDI keyboard using a steinway piano sound, while the other (the whisper) was recorded on an actual Steinway – the exact same one that was used on Take That’s first album (according to my friend who got me some free studio time) ;] .. in retrospect i dislike both of them and find them equally artificial – the midi one for obvious reasons but also the steinway one for its hyper-polished / detached sound.. eventually, and as you say – encouraged by artists like Keith Kenniff and Nils Frahm, began to appreciate soundscapes that were true to reality 😉 ]
And not at all uncool man, I’m not a massive fan of Einaudi’s work (Olafur’s i love, living room songs being the pinnacle of his output for me) but i do definitely understand and relate to the idea of other composers encouraging you to pursue composition.
The Anna-Rose collaboration actually dates back to 2013 – we’d met the previous winter at an ambient music festival in Cologne and stayed in touch.. I suggested a musical meet up and that’s where the track came from – she sat at the left side of the piano and I took the right, we played for a couple of hours.  Some bits were highly forgettable, others worked ;] we decided to make a video for the track (which resulted in the improvisation being given its title) but it was the editing and processing of that video which delayed the release so much.  Was fun and would be good to try something together again.
2015 – glacis plans sound great and will definitely look forward to hearing, am a big fan of Ed’s work + also Gregory Euclide’s artwork is stunning.
As for me and 2015 – I’ve got an EP queued up for physical release with Future Sequence, 4 tracks, compositions again as opposed to the last few years of improvised material. Can’t wait for that to come out to be honest , it’s been hibernating for ages (2013ish).  I think my biggest musical goal for this year would be find people to play live with, aka some sort of band.
Do you get/take opportunities to perform your compositions live?
EMM: I always found it difficult because I didn’t have access to a real piano and only had a digital so my early work – Lost Again on Waking – is on a digital.  Whilst I am proud of the compositions the whole thing sounds digital, not real enough, and it’s polished and crisp.  I guess when I started to let things be real it felt right.
I think Einaudi was just that.  A starting point and inspiration to sit and compose.  I have not really continued to follow his work having been drawn towards the work of more contemporary composers, I suppose. but he definitely was an inspiration. I also agree about Living Room songs but I would say Eulogy for Evolution was the one that got me first.  So simple and yet so stunningly beautiful.  I understand why some people think his work is obvious and “pop” but I think it engages in such a beautiful way and when something does that it’s not something you can easily ignore.
I came across Anna years ago and bought one of her EPs, it came as a micro cdr and she sent this fucking amazing thank you postcard with it.  Have tried to follow her work since then because i think she’s an exceptional talent.
As for playing live.  I am not sure I know how to be honest!  And no, nobody has ever asked me to perform as glacis. I think a lot of my work is collaboration so if i were to work live as glacis I’d have to figure out exactly how to do that! The collaboration piece with Ed is something I’d love to play live but as with everything, the people I work with are usually miles away.  I’d love to try and I’d really love to be asked.  None of my projects get asked to play live.  Graveyard tapes went to Latvia last year for the Zemlika festival, which was amazing but other than that I don’t think I’ve been asked to play a show in 5 years!
Would be great to do something in Edinburgh that focused on piano music or the world of experimental modern compositions we all operate in. It’s just wondering if there is a market for it. There should be.  Everyone loves mogwai so you would assume that carries through into a more experimental cross section of fans as well as more mainstream focused fans?  I don’t know.  Digitalanalogue – an Edinburgh artist – may make things better up here though as he’s on a pretty mainstream, well respected, label and may draw more attention to the music we all create.
Do you think you will get up to Scoltand any time to play some shows?
AK: Yep, you’re right, Eulogy was great – in particular 0040 was a big inspiration to me early on as well.  I mean I’d been composing from 2005 but hadn’t really thought solo piano would be anyone’s kind of thing til hearing other people like Nils and Olafur around 2009/2010 so that’s when I started to take it seriously and think *some* people may actually be interested in listening to what I was trying to do.
That’s great about the Latvian festival man, but i do hear you on the not knowing how / nobody asking part.
A couple of times I’ve been asked to play over the years have always coincided with other big things in my life that I’ve had to choose between. Also, as much as I love making and playing music I’ve always been way too conscious of other people when playing live and as a result the music has always suffered – its something I’ve tried to work at on and off but like you I also don’t have a piano so that means practice is intermittent at best – I’d love to go into cafes with pianos and just practice/play without being phased by any audience but I’d like to get my playing back up to a certain level before that – kind of a vicious circle if honest. Not good enough to practice in cafes with pianos therefore don’t practice in cafes/bars with pianos therefore feel less good therefore feel less likely to go and practice on a public piano…its something I’m very conscious of and am trying to, however slightly, counteract … so yep, that may answer the scottish gig question – would love to tour and play but probably not just yet !
What do you do outside of music man + do you find it impacts on it?
EMM: Yeah, I think I had similar thoughts. I hadn’t really started composing my own pieces at that point but I heard eulogy and thought – maybe there is something I can do. I know my limits as a pianist. so I was drawn to that elegant, simplistic beauty – still am – and started to compose. I am no Lubomyr Melnyk (not many are) so whilst I love more technically gifted pianists I still find the really simple beauty of a piano appeals the most.
It’s a two part problem.  Nobody asks me to play live and then, if somebody did I don’t know what I would say, like you, I lack confidence in my own playing and would have to practive very hard to feel comfortable delivering my compositions. But it’s also got a lot to do with the other side of things – when it comes to subtle electronics etc I am just not there.  So part of my issue is how do you take simple piano pieces, perform them live and keep an audience engaged for the duration of a set.  It’s something I would love to solve but I’ve never had to address as nobody has ever approached me to play live.
Outside of music I am mostly with my family and kids. They keep me very busy so it certainly impacts on the time I have to write music/work on music. But you know, at the same time I find my family pretty inspiring and they provide me with the support and encouragement to play. My youngest boy loves piano as well so I do find myself sitting at the piano with him now and again and it makes it feel even more important in some ways. Not sure that makes sense!
You are a photographer as well as a musician right? How do the two disciplines compare/contrast? Do you find similar themes running through your work and are you inspired by your photos to make music and vice versa?
AK: Makes complete sense man, sounds lovely.  Great that they are so supportive too.
I do work with photography and film too, yep, initially I viewed them all as quite disconnected but the more I did the more I realised I was attracted to similar things in the different fields.
Essentially, the interplay between composition and improvisation – perhaps more obvious in music but still equally applicable, I found, to photography and film. Not sure if this is the same for every composer but for me at least – everything I’ve ever composed has emerged from improvisation , and everything I’ve improvised has usually been anchored in some sort of composition, beginning middle end type thing. So I guess on a subconscious level composition and improvisation have been inextricably linked for me – and this is something which I feel really keeps me photographing. That mixture of control and freedom, the ephemeral meeting the permanent.
Also – the greatest benefit to finding a link between the different fields I work in is that I no longer seem to feel so desolate when I’m shut off from one of them – my relationship with the piano has been on / off at best, usually at the mercy of circumstance, and as much as I hate not having played one for nearly 18 months (a couple of sporadic half hour sittings aside) the senses/thought processes that music embraces and utilises feel somehow validated by the other pursuits. but the truth is I do miss music, a lot.
My goal would be to find a way of regularly working in the areas I love and feel alive in but until then I guess it’s about seeing that life in the seemingly unconnected parts.
I guess to answer the thematic side briefly – for me the link would definitely be the relationship between light / darkness – manifested as dynamic/narrative variation in the music and more literally in the photography .
Tell me – out of curiosity – do you enjoy listening to your own music ? I meet composers on both ends of the spectrum and am always intrigued to know where people position themselves / why .
EMM: I would say, for me, all my compositions are improvisations.  More than that though, a lot of what I have done to date has been about collaboration. I guess Tohu va Vohu was about that in that my compositions were a response to what I was seeing and how it made me feel.  Similarly, the project I mentioned with my wife, William Ryan Fritch and Gregory Euclide is a similar idea.  We have this collaboration starting with me, having William work on those pieces and then having my wife translate those into writing then back to me (simplistic explanation!) – it’s a fascinating process and experience. Most of the writing of that, for me at least, comes as a reaction to what I have read.  It’s not so much about composing as about improvising/reacting. I may be wrong but it feels much like photography – and I am no photographer – where you are reacting to something you see and trying to capture that as perfectly as you can without agnosing over it, like if the moment is missed then maybe the photo opportunity will be missed?  .
Anyways, I would love to work in music full time. I have been lucky enough to have had Graveyard Tapes work used on a short film in the USA earlier this year so I can see the possibilities even if I cannot, and do not necessarily know how to, reach them full time.
When it comes to my own music I am torn.  Sometimes I listen to things I am working on and think it’s all utter rubbish. And sometimes it’s all I want to listen to.  But that’s during the making of the music.  Whether it’s a conscious decision or not, I don’t really listen to my own work all that often once it’s complete but I hope others do and will continue to with the new music I am producing a the moment.
AK: I think you’re completely right about reacting and attempting to capture the moment, in both photography and music. I guess with composition its that exact process but with the added luxury of hindsight and the ability to travel back to those moments and tweak them (I guess the risk then lies in the potential for over-tweaking, or as you put it “agonising over it”)
Good stuff on the short film using your music, its encouraging when those things happen – and again as you’ve put it – they don’t necessarily map the way for us but they do give us some glimpse at the possibilities out there potentially waiting. A couple of years ago a director got in touch with me having heard some of my music on – it eventually resulted in me composing a 6 minute track for this interactive web-documentary he was heading up.  It was a labour of love for him and a real privilege to be part of but again as you’ve said – it showed me another world that one day perhaps I could find some more permanent place in. if interested (its a beautifully put together site/documentary about a small community in Greenland forcibly relocated by the US army in the 50s)
Excited to hear more from the collaboration with Ed, but particularly the album with your wife and William / Gregory. The literary element sounds particularly exciting!
I guess with piano day approaching and us talking about performance and stuff I may try to head down to rough trade on sunday at brick lane, they’ve got an open piano slot from midday (and then Erased Tapes are taking over with some of their artists). Shame we can’t both go, would be a nice opportunity for us to not only meet but also to implement some of the things we’ve spoken about.
EMM: I think music, and art in general, as a labour of love has so much value. Tohu va Vohu was an animation piece that I never got paid for. Nor did I expect paid for it.  I think with that I saw the brllliance of Jamie Mills art and was just really excited that he asked me to collaborate on it. And that for me is as valuable as gopro paying Graveyard Tapes for the use of our music. I suppose the idea that people paying for your music to allow you more time to make your music – and buy a real piano! – is just very appealing to me at the moment. I would like time to become better at piano, to learn more about technology and how to use it and to generally just improve at being a musician.
The work with Gregory, William and Ali is very exciting. It’s a slow process but it’s very rewarding. Hopefully we will have something complete this year.
It has been great to talk. I am not a big fan of interviews per se because of the format and how they are so dry and stale. I think conversation pieces are far more interesting both for the reader but also for the people conducting them. I learn much more about an artist from this form of communication than from sending a list of questions to be answered in your own time. The way this sort of conversation develops feels much more organic and natural and I just think makes for a more interesting piece.
But I guess there does have to come a point when the conversation ends!

Piano Day – Day 5 – Lubomyr Melnyk

I am not sure what to say about this man.  I think his playing speaks more about his gift than I ever could.  And it’s in his piano pieces that I am absorbed.  Not so much when his work employs the use of vocals.  In a similar way to Olafur Arnalds recent work, the vocals detract – for me – from the incredible technical abilities of the man.  Like Frahm and Arnalds, he is signed to Erased Tapes but unlike Frahm and Arnalds he is a much more complex pianist.  Not to say the other two are not technically gifted – Frahm, at least, is an incredible pianist – but where they seek space within their music, at times Melnyk’s work is suffocating with its intensity and unrelenting pace and nature.  And it’s in these moments that we see the true genius of the man.  Gifted wouldn’t come close to doing him justice.   The continuous waves of sound he creates are hypnotic, transporting you away from real life and in to a world he has created for us to exist in for the duration of his work.  It’s spell binding.  Which is of course, the intention.  His style sets him apart from his contemporaries and yet, sits him firmly in the same bracket.  To see this man live would be an incredible experience.  One I hope will be possible in the not too distant future.  See for yourself.


Piano Day – Day 4 – Dustin O’Halloran

Dustin O’Halloran may be better known these days for his work as one half of A Winged Victory for the Sullen.  Fair play to him too because the duo have garnered a reputation for creating wonderful soundscapes laced with piano over the course of their two albums to date.  It’s hardly surprising that such attention fell upon the pair though given their respective backgrounds as musicians.  And it is in his solo guise that I first discovered his wonderful piano compositions.

Reading about guys like O’Halloran does make me feel like a fraud.  Like him, I started playing piano at the age of 6/7 but unlike him my thoughts turned to grunge and being cooler than I ever was whilst he was off composing his own piano pieces, enrolling in music school and developing his skill and craft.  My limitations as a pianist I am acutely aware of, so I love to listen to the beauty created by people like O’Halloran and tap in to the idea that more often than not, it’s the beauty you create and not the technical gift that you own.  With O’Halloran it’s obviously both and I adore his work as a solo artist.  Yes, he’s moved on and A Winged Victory do appear to be the focus of his work with his last solo album surfacing in 2011.  However, as a pianist his work as a solo artist, as well as AWVFTS is stunning and something you should definitely invest in.