Sometimes I wonder whether electronics are some kind of an escape for classically trained musicians. If they try to express bit different ideas with a language very different from their usual, good ol’ piano or violin put too many constrains and traditional thinking in harmonies, progresses and melodic lines. Synthesizers, vocoders, processors and all the appliances that give an option to manipulate, modify and mutate come handy in such situation when an instrument is too bounding and too anticipated – especially when something extra-ordinary wants ti go out of soul.
Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm, label mates from German-based label Erased Tapes did something similar to the musings above. They met first in Berlin, later in Reykjavík to jam, to play, to experiment. What they finally evolved is an art of surprise and unexpected nature; Arnalds & Frahm picked analogue synthesizers with few quintessential synth effects and processed them through filters with some manipulations known only to them and a bunch of professionals.
Electronics are usually associated with cold, inhuman emotions, but the result of this collaborative effort is a completely opposite feeling: Stare (out on April 21st, Erased Tapes) is a soothing and highly touching piece of work. The sub-basses are warm, click-clack melodies are purely playful and all of this is poured in a slowly moving, whitely gleaming sonic liquid. It’s hard to say if the beeps in a1 should evoke glockenspiel or the tremours in a2 resemble a low-tuned xylophone; all of this is a nocturnal, yet lightly beaming mass of peacefully flowing hush.
Anja Plaschg’s impressive and aptly titled 2009 debut Lovetune For Vacuum documented an intense desire to escape from her teenage sorrows and fears into a world of her own making, pitched almost schizophrenically against the subconscious knowledge that such a freedom is impossible. As much as we might sometimes want to escape ourselves, if we wish to continue life then our internal nightmares must be overcome – or at the very least accepted. Soap&Skin, her imaginary artistic persona, knew all of that and wrapped these distorted and incredibly intense emotions into delicate piano-led and electronically manipulated ballads highly influenced by the Central European folklore tradition of songwriting.
Despite the wildly experimental nature of Lovetune For Vaccuum, the album charted highly in Plaschg’s native Austria and won the praise of hordes of critics throughout Europe. But just as Plaschg seemed to be within reach of taking her destiny into her own hands, her father died unexpectedly and happiness once again seemed to be fated to elude her. The eight recordings on Narrow capture Plaschg’s state of mind during this period and her subsequent move to Italy. Played and produced entirely on her own, it’s perhaps no surprise that the result is even darker and more oppressive than her debut.
Immediate surroundings seem to have a powerful influence over Hanne Hukkelberg’s state of mind, and certainly her music. Her impressively lovely debut Little Things was recorded in the warmth of her own home, giving the impression of a naturally playful artist secured and impressed by the subtleties of found sounds and everyday things. A rawness crept in around the edges for the follow-up, Rykestrasse 68, which documented a temporary to Berlin, while isolating herself on a remote island in northern Norway brought much braver, colder edges to her songwriting, as documented in the audacious jazz-rock experimentation of 2009′s Blood From A Stone. Hukkelberg’s belief in a concept and willingness to constantly reimagine her approach to her art provides an implicit hint of what not to expect from her fourth album Featherbrain, and that’s something we’ve already heard.