New music: Poppy Ackroyd

One Little Independent have today announced the return of Poppy Ackroyd with new music for piano. Her fourth album Pause, set to be released in November, is a collection of ten pieces for the keyboard which, in the label’s words, ‘utilize the full instrument, with a mixture of inside piano strumming and playing the keys’.

Evidence of this can be seen in the new track Seedling, and its accompanying video directed by Jola Kudela. She collected small pieces of plants and leaves, submerged them in water and put them in her freezer, then observed the process of defrosting, filming it in time-lapse. The second part of the video was filmed with infrared camera. “I was trying to imagine the process of nature waking up, beginning with a seed, that then slowly transforms itself into a seedling”, says Kudela. “So, we begin with a frozen environment that encapsulates the seed – it seems trapped and immobilised by the icy world. Then gradually it starts to warm up and defrost, fighting with the power that has been holding it frozen.”

Poppy gave some background to Pause. “For previous albums almost as much of the creative process was spent editing and manipulating recordings as it was composing at the piano, however after having my son, I struggled to spend time sat in front of a computer. The only thing I wanted to do while he was still small, if I wasn’t with him, was to play the piano. In fact, much of the album was written with him asleep on me in a sling as I used any quiet moment to compose.

It therefore made sense that this album should be a solo piano album. I used extended technique – playing with sounds from inside the instrument – like I do in my multi-tracked recordings, however it was important to me that every track on the album could be entirely performed with just two hands on the piano.”

Watch and enjoy below…while looking forward to Poppy’s full-length return.

On Record – Sarah Neufeld: Detritus (One Little Independent)

sarah-neufeld

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Violinist Sarah Neufeld adds to her solo canon with Detritus, her third album. It is a substantial piece of work dating back to 2015, when Neufeld met and collaborated with choreographer Peggy Baker. The two struck up an intense understanding, but the short time working together was ultimately unfulfilling. This led to a reunion in 2019, where Arcade Fire member and Bell Orchestre co-founder Neufeld effectively faced off in improvisation with Baker, and the seeds of Detritus were sown.

What’s the music like?

As striking as the cover art. This is a powerfully affecting piece of work in which the violin is only a part of the story. Although it is a lead character, Neufeld has plenty going on around the loops and cells of the stringed instrument, with wide open effects and textures and a substantial body of percussion, inspired and executed by Arcade Fire bandmate Jeremy Gara. Bell Orchestre‘s Pietro Amato brings rich horn textures, while flautist Stuart Bogie adds deep woodwind colour.

The violin is played with the poise of a dancer, with an airborne feeling to the instrument’s commentary on Stories. With Love And Blindness has impressive depth and again a tension between the slow moving vocals and the urgency of Neufeld’s melodic cells. The Top is propulsive, flickering figures dancing up and down. Tumble Down The Undecided is a very impressive piece of work, the violin dancing across the strings as long, noble notes go across the music like tracers, all to the accompaniment of rolling percussion and the swell of cymbals. Shed Your Dear Heart is also a substantial structure, with the violin looping constantly while rolling drums march forward, more than a little ominously.

Does it all work?

Yes – and the more you listen, especially on headphones, the more you appreciate the expert layering of parts and intersection of the musical motifs.

Is it recommended?

Yes, enthusiastically. It is great to have Miller and Jones committing their friendship to record in this way, and the musical chemistry between them is clear. Hopefully this will lead to further installments!

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Switched On – Manu Delago: Circadian Live (One Little Independent)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Releasing a live album in these times of isolation is a bittersweet experience. Manu Delago will know more than most, as he has played well over 1,000 gigs – but this is the one program he wanted to freeze frame and share with his home audience.

The music centres on the European tour of Delago’s Cicadian album in late 2019, where the 18 gigs in 21 days were performed by the nine-piece Cicadian Ensemble. This is a band long in the making but with a pleasing symmetry, three players each assigned to the areas of percussion, strings and wind instruments.

The aim of Cicadian Live is to show that while electronic music forms an important part of Delago’s thinking, his musical communication is equally strong – and arguably emotionally deeper – through acoustic performance.

What’s the music like?

Every bit as enchanting as we heard on Cicadian, but with the added frisson of the live music environment. To hear these tracks evolve in the moment is to be there in the cycle with Delago himself, hanging on the next move of each of his instrumentalists.

As tracks like Draem evolve, with their striking textures, the ear is drawn to each new melodic development, each percussive layer and each twang of the string bass. Delago’s enchanting sound world benefits greatly from the intimacy of these live recordings, and the instinctive chemistry between all the players involved.

The collection Immediately creates its own rarefied atmosphere with The Silent Flight Of The Owl, one of Cicadian’s standout moments, and does not let up until we are set down 70 minutes later with B.F.G.

In the middle there are intimate moments of rare beauty, where the listener dare not breathe lest the peace be broken, and these contrasts with powerful bursts of momentum such as Almost Thirty, where a series of crescendos break out into no-holds barred freak-outs, and Zeitgeber, a blend of virtuosity and concentrated feeling which is a testament to the fine musicianship of all involved.

The brassy rasps of Satori work well, building up a head of steam, and contrast nicely with the ripples of Circadian itself, stopping time to mesmerising effect. Down To The Summit, like Almost Thirty a fully scored piece from 2015’s Silver Kobalt, captivates with its twists and turns.

Does it all work?

Yes, because the instincts and musical understanding of the nine ensemble members is compelling the whole way through. This was clearly a special tour, and it serves to hear the new tracks from the Cicadian album rub shoulders with the more established Delago output.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. The live album works even better if you have heard the studio account of Cicadian first – but if not it serves as an excellent introduction to Delago’s craft. Each track sets its own unique atmosphere but captures the attention with intricacy, craft and spontaneity.

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