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

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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 http://alexkozobolis.bandcamp.com/track/for-thelonious ). 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 last.fm – 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.
http://www.themostnorthernplace.com 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!