When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I started making my own music seriously when I was around 14, trying out samples on a Casio home keyboard. Early influences were Jean-Michel Jarre and The Police.
What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your artistic work and/or career?
Most certainly the ones that haven't arrived yet. But of the body of work I've released so far, I would say Mystical Rhythm, My Desire, Every Soul Needs A Guide and Serene are the most accomplished personally.
What are currently your main compositional- and production-challenges?
I'm in the process of trying lots of new ideas and finishing tracks that have been burning for a while. One of my main challenges is time, due to the different types of music I'm making, and giving myself enough time between the styles to wind down and get into the next groove.
What do you usually start with when working on a new piece?
Usually, it's the melodies and the chords. I've got folders full of tracks that are just music ready for the right moment when I have the rhythm and bass ready for it.
How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
There is no separation, it's all a natural process and the ideas don't stop just because you need to do some EQing. Even during mixdowns I end up thinking of something new and putting it in. Sometimes I end up never being finished with tracks, but for the most part I would much rather wait to get it the way I want it than putting it out unfinished or ‘good enough’ - that's not my ideology.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition?
In electronic terms, structure is vital for a dancefloor and it has to have the right energy to carry it through. The space is the least important, but for very musical pieces like ambient or classical music, all three cogs of that wheel are inseparable and indispensable. They are all as one and are essential to be thought of at the same time from start to finish, otherwise ultimately the end result will fail.
Do you feel it important that an audience is able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work purely on the basis of the music? If so, how do you make them transparent?
Again, if were talking about spaced-out clubbers, the answer is no. They just want to enjoy the music, not how it's developed. This is something I've learned over the last three years - by playing keyboard solos to crowds that just want to go nuts to a bass drum! But, there will always be educated music fans out there who understand the processes and the hard work that's gone into what people hear. Making the processes clear to an audience is a fine balance between not taking anything away from the music and actually feeding them enough visual information to educate.
Dancebly jazzy, this combinition of sounds travels well through various repertoires of beats. An acknowledged hard worker, Lone's latest work harks back to combinations of new soul intermixed with elevated electronic jazz, but its better than the stuff that is being generated in the west coast which sounds like a hodge podge of half formed ideas. Here there's an orientation which is dancefloor based. Oh so necessary in these times.
Perhaps Cutler will return in the future to find out if there’s anything else left to throw after the kitchen sink; for now, Lone’s path forward isn’t a leap but a humanisation. Reality Testing is a markedly more personal record than its predecessor, and indisputably more cohesive. Unlike Galaxy Garden, there’s no sprawl here, and few of the screeching left turns that characterise his last album and the likes of the Echolocations EP. “I see it as a diary, really, a real document of the last year of making it,” Cutler said in press materials for the new album. In musical terms, that sentiment translates to a subtler application of the synth washes and digital arpeggios for which he’s known. The dialled-up hip-hop influences – “Meeker Warm Energy” could be a lost A Tribe Called Quest instrumental, and “2 is 8” hums with a perky energy born of Brooklyn summer block parties – lend the beats a weightier quality that doesn’t shy away from the mundane heartbeat of everyday life.
That’s not to suggest the album is the kind of slog that often comes when artists decide they’re too mature for fun. A producer of Cutler’s calibre can’t help but endlessly engage with a steady stream of evocative sounds, whether it’s the twinkling, Nosaj Thing-referencing tones of “Jaded”, the punchy house piano line of “Aurora Northern Quarter” or atmospheric opener “First Born Seconds”, which whirs to life with warm waves like some space-age Playstation booting up, playfully suggesting a fully-loaded sensory assault that never comes.
Amongst the album’s subtler shades, some might miss Lone’s trademark fireworks, but while Reality Testing might not bear the genre-defining feel of its predecessor, its personality and refreshing humanity provide ample compensation. Almost every detail speaks to a conscious reconnection with reality, from its apt title to the cover art, which, in contrast to Galaxy Garden’s fluorescent splurge, presents a timid self-portrait, Cutler half-obscured in front of a brutalist concrete building, with just a splash of familiar psychedelic colour. Everyday sounds – wind chimes burbling in the breeze, a fizzy drink being poured, kids screeching on the playground – drift into the recordings, as if Cutler left the studio window open to the world outside. But perhaps the most succinct summation of Lone’s triumphant touchdown on planet earth after a long period of star gazing is the vocal sample on second track “Restless City”: “When I say real I mean reality real. Meaning real real life.” Amen to that.
Matt ‘Lone’ Cutler should be a lesson to us all. He’s someone who has ignored hype scenes, put the work in, honed his talents, built connections and tried things out until eventually the world came to him.
He didn’t start shabbily, mind: the compressed, down-tempo exotica of his first two albums, ‘Lemurian’ and ‘Ecstasy & Friends’ in 2008–9 was cool, if a little bit beholden to the Flying Lotus way of doing things, and the retro-rave of 2010’s ‘Emerald Fantasy Tracks’ hinted at what was to come.
But it’s since signing to R&S that he’s really nailed it. Alchemically combining the rave/techno vibe of ‘EFT’ with the woozy, hazy hip hop/soul of his earlier tunes, he found his own signature sound, which came to a head with the blissful 2012 ‘Galaxy Garden’ album, and then the shuffling groove and joyful gleam of last year’s completely astonishing, and still on-rotation, ‘Airglow Fires’ single (included here).
That sophisticated shuffle in ‘Airglow’ sets the tone for the album. Everything here has an exaggerated swing that’s the antithesis of relentless donk-tish-donk-tish four-to-the-floor tunes, and there are glossy pianos and muted trumpets among the synthetic sounds – yet somehow whether up- or down-tempo, it never sounds fiddly or ostentatiously jazzy for its own sake: its instant physical hit and trippy subliminals retain a connection with the sweaty basements where all club music belongs.
Cutler’s brilliance here is to tap into the hidden jazz roots of the best original Detroit techno and use that as a connecting point to hip hop, house, broken beat and a lot more besides. Or in simpler terms: he knows how to groove. Whether this will be as big a classic as ‘Galaxy Gardens’ is anyone’s guess – Lone tunes are nothing if not growers – but there’s no question that this is one of our best artists on the form of his life.
The latest offering from British producer Lone, a.k.a. Matt Cutler, tunnels through a strange middle-ground of acid house and hip hop, fusing the two dissimilar genres into a concoction that's as palatable as it is intriguing. With Reality Testing, his return to R&S Records and his first LP since 2012's superb Galaxy Garden, Cutler doesn't merely lump two differing styles together, but somehow presents them in such a way that you begin to draw similarities between the two that were previously non-existent.
At one point, the album moves from "Meeker Warm Energy," a cozy hip-hop track, to the piano-looped house vibes of "Aurora North Quarter." While both songs have no real structural similarities, they emanate the same soft glow and have the same kicks, so that one can't help but begin to connect the dots together. Even their titles suggest segues from one to the other, as meek warm energy turns into an Aurora Borealis. Couple this genre sewing with Lone's trademark 8-bit colourfulness and you've got an extremely vivid album. This is Lone's best work to date, and one that shows it's possible to keep evolving while holding onto a strong sense of identity.
Smokey and dark, shattered in pieces, clanging. Droning a floor of noise. Somehwere in there, a repetition putting order to the disquiet of days among conference calls. Modern music some say in a maze of digits. Different for me in an elastic mind way. For 2014 it makes distant sense and so I agree with its use of rhythms from the broken alarm that keeps its midnight song alive to press 1 to enter.
Punish, Honey. Pain, pleasure. The comma in the title of Vessel's second album denoting some correspondence rather than opposition between the two. On the album's cover, writhing marmorated bodies are locked in the throes of what could equally be ecstasy or agony. In Three Essays On The Theory Of Sexuality, Freud hypothesised that those seemingly conflicting sensations might be interrelated. "Anyone who takes pleasure in causing others pain in a sexual relationship is also capable of enjoying as pleasure the pain that can arise from his own sexual relations," he concludes in a section addressing sadism and masochism. It's this slippage between pain and pleasure which informs not just the imagery of Punish, Honey but also its sonics.
Seb Gainsborough's own definition of Vessel as "physical music to be played loud on sound systems", has similarly framed his work in terms of bodily experience. His debut, Order Of Noise, released in 2012, was exactly that: a series of bruising, concessive takes on techno and dub. That physicality has also come to inform the creation of Punish, Honey. Speaking to the Quietus' Rory Gibb in The Wire last year, Gainsborough described the liberating nature of switching off his computer and recording live with no overdubs. Within dance music, the rejection of software for hardware has become a firmly entrenched narrative, suggesting a return of the repressed. But here the liberation Gainsborough ascribes to working with physical instruments comes from an instinctive need to experiment by introducing more variables (and then "start fucking with them" as he goes on to explain) rather than any fetishism for components.
On Punish Honey, Gainsborough has realised this desire for tactility. His approach to the album's production resembles that of a Foley artist, with most of the album's sounds created with a number of handmade instruments. But equally, the album seems to be a deconstruction of that approach. On the opening track 'Febrile', the first crash of cymbal comes after 12 seconds of silence: jolting and mocking us like a rimshot punctuating a joke at our expense. As the percussion comes to a crescendo, both muscle and metal are worked to their limits. In much the same way, the screeching and harsh string sounds - apparently created from handmade "harmonic guitars" - on tracks like 'Drowned In Water And Light' and 'Kin To Coal' give an immediate sense of the tension and force being applied to them. Gainsborough seems to be testing not only what his crude instrumentation can withstand, but also his listeners.
Punish, Honey, the follow-up to the Bristol producer’s muted debut, Order of Noise, roils along a sequence of tortured biological rhythms. Gainsborough promises illness with opener “Febrile”, a minute and a half of silence disrupted by sudden clatters of percussion, but the songs that follow feel more like motion sickness than a spiking body temperature. Seven-minute centerpiece “Anima” batters its moving parts around a thin but unrelenting bass line like insects swarming the only streetlight in a remote farming town. “Red Sex” seems to point to Joy Division’s “She Lost Control” with its gusts of steam and industrial thumps, but quickly upends its own mechanical stability with queasy, winding synth lines. It breathes like an organism experiencing an unconscious adrenaline response, sick despite itself, brewing a slow panic.
Like his fellow UK fearmonger The Haxan Cloak, Vessel can be hard to listen to by yourself on a full stomach. But there’s a sense of play inside Punish, Honey that also calls to mind James Holden’s brilliant record from last year, The Inheritors. That mischievousness might actually make this a scarier album; at least Haxan Cloak’s Excavation was straightforward about aspiring to horror. Gainsborough doesn’t give up the game so easily. Like a wild animal, his work is furtive and unpredictable. At points, it’s even fun; despite its uneasiness, “Red Sex” could easily scan as a banger in the right context, and there’s a strange, subtle yearning to the cellos that creep behind the drums on “Drowned in Water and Light”.
Gainsborough gets that what makes Dickinson’s poetry so haunting isn’t its melancholia but its refusal to explain itself. Punish, Honey moves forward powered by the tension between what it keeps hidden and what little it shows.
For decades now, new electronic music hasn’t evolved - it’s simply mutated. Countless producers are emerging, with the underground crafting billions of hours of stubbornly similarly constructed (and admittedly very often just as compelling) loop-based beats, while a glance at the top 40 reveals how the electronic mainstream is still stuck in the same early-Noughties summer in Ibiza - needless to say well away from the radar from ‘proper’ critics. One would’ve thought that digitisation would fuel innovation, but the sonic spectrum of electronica’s remained pretty steadfastly intact. Big beats, washes of synth, arpeggiated melodies, buzz saws and sub bass - it's all as rich as ever, and yet stagnant. And then along comes Vessel.
Punish, Honey is a giant leap for British electronica, but perhaps only a small step for Vessel. While the surface of his last full length, Order of Noise certainly retained the semblance of an archetypal album of dark, dub-influenced instrumental productions, it harboured a far deeper and broader sense of sonic exploration than its user-friendly aesthetic let on. Elsewhere, his contributions to various projects under the Bristol-based Young Echo crew’s umbrella swept almost-archetypal trip-hop tunes under a murky veil of glitches and submersible noises, and his Killing Sound project with fellow Young Echoers, El Kid and Jabu, abstracted the structures of ambient techno into unexplored dark gothic depths. Punish, Honey takes the menacing undercurrent Vessel established on Order of Noise, and melts away the more recognisable, round-edges of dub and dubstep-influenced forms and techniques, ultimately replacing them with the sharper edged scrapes and whirrs of industry. It’s not languid, smooth and dreamy; it’s sharp, heavy and tangible, and steeped in vicious eroticism. Vessel’s focus has irrevocably switched from the visceral, to the physical.
Era dia 19 de setembro de 2014, uma noite de sexta-feira quente em Belo Horizonte, em que um cantor pega pela primeira vez o seu violão em público, encara a plateia, geralmente pouco numerosa por ser uma estreia, e canta. Nesse caso acompanhado de uma banda. Dessa vez tendo como repertório seu primeiro disco, lançado há um ano e meio – é essa a distância do primeiro ato para o primeiro show, mesmo tendo figurado em algumas das listas de melhores do ano de 2013. Nessa noite não tinha pouca gente para ver o cantor e sua banda. A Casinha estava cheia.
É curioso e adequado que a estreia tenha sido em BH. Curioso porque, depois de realizar “Esses Patifes” em meio a uma vida nômade, Ruy Sposati acaba por fincar os pés na capital mineira para fazer mestrado em Comunicação na UFMG. Segue sua jornada na luta pelo direito fundamental dos índios: a terra, e, de tabela, a vida. Também adequado por dois motivos: há alguns anos BH dá sinais de que pode florescer uma nova cena independente e autoral. Nisso, a Casinha presta um serviço inegável. O coletivo/centro cultural/produtora ocupa uma casa multi-funcional no Barro Preto, bairro famoso pelo comércio popular de roupas e tecidos e próximo ao centro da cidade, e tem marcado seu lugar na vida viva da cidade, servindo de palco/laboratório para incontáveis estreias. Além disso, moram em BH pessoas que são co-responsáveis, de muitas maneiras, pela afirmação do Ruspo cantor. Marina Ribeiro e Alexis Gotsis têm uma banda chamada Os Amantes Invisíveis. Ruspo e Os Amantes se conheceram pelo MySpace e em 2010 Ruy quase entrou para a banda. Calhou de BH reunir as condições ideais de temperatura e pressão.
A noite de 19 de setembro começou quatro ou cinco meses antes quando se reuniram pela primeira vez para os ensaios, no entorno dOs Amantes Invisíveis. Marina nos vocais e teclados e Alexis na guitarra e nos samplers são os pilares, aos quais se somam Gustavo no baixo, Geovane no trompete e Gabriel no cavaquinho. As coisas só engrenaram mesmo e foram tratadas com mais seriedade quando pintou o convite da Casinha. A formação ao vivo não fica devendo em nada e ganha muito com o contraponto lindo da voz de Marina, a que Ruy se refere como sendo uma dádiva.
These contemporary playful and vigorous violin solos by this talented italian musician have provided much thoughtful accompaniment during the last half year and I'm continually surprised by their twists and turns. But I can find very little written about Cotone and this unique set of 18 short pieces for violin anywhere on the Internet despite their strong attraction. I also haven't been able to find an interview with this intrepid musician so I can get his take on his music and get a glimpse of the life that created all this music that's become my companion during a year of personal laud tranquility. Though I do know he is a member of an avant chamber ensemble Gatto Marte which constructs eclectic music of many influence. Energetic, pensive music.
Where did your interest in music come from? I have been interested in music since I was very young. I never had any pressure to practise or anything, but I still spent quite a lot of time figuring out the black and white keys. I also played the guitar, and I was totally fascinated by drums. I have no idea where it came from, it has just always been there. It gives me tremendous pleasure, every day, every concert, every recording, every rehearsal. I guess that must be the reason.
In our first interview we did a while back, you mentioned that you started out on electric organ and synth. What was the instant you first got to play on an acoustic / grand piano and what made it so appealing to you? I remember very well the first time I tried an acoustic piano. I was perhaps ten years old, and I went to the house of the church organ player in my hometown to borrow a synthesizer. He had a piano. I tried it, and I found it totally boring. I mean, it didn't have any buttons, no rhythms, no different sounds to chose from or anything. The synth I borrowed was almost equally boring to me. It was a Yamaha DX7, it had no rhythms, the sounds were unfamiliar and strange, it didn’t sound like anything I knew. At that time I still preferred the house organ, I guess. It was just a few years later that I had my first real experience with the piano. An English organ player, who was also a jazz pianist, lived in my home town for a few years. He became my first teacher. We played ”Summertime” in C minor, over and over again. He also introduced me to Oscar Peterson. From then on, I was sold.
Was this the moment you knew that you wanted to live your life as a musician? No, that moment came when I was about 17. I attended a music college in Stange at the time and I also played in a big band in Hamar, the Odd R. Antonsen Big Band. One of the teachers at Stange, the guitarist Jarl Åsvik, also played in the big band. This was a very inspiring time, and I especially remember some magical concert experiences, where Jarl and I really connected, as musicians sometimes do on stage. From then on, I knew.
You've mentioned the influence of Brad Mehldau and Keith Jarret. How would you describe their respective importance respectively for you? Actually, I haven’t listened so much to Brad Mehldau, but I have still been compared to him many times, by other people. I suppose this is because we in some ways are operating in a similar segment of jazz piano playing. Perhaps we also share some references and idols, who knows. I've had the pleasure of hearing him live a few times though in the last years, and I absolutely loved it. He has a fascinating presence in his playing which only the greatest performers have.
Keith Jarrett on the other hand, has probably been my main influence for many years. I was almost shocked when I first heard the My Song album, with Jan Garbarek, Jon Christensen and Palle Danielsson. I still regard this album one of my absolute favourites. I have tried not to copy him too much, though, even if it's hard not to. His playing is very characteristic. Also with him, I am extremely fascinated by his presence, his way of keeping the thread and the focus, and the flowing sensation in his music. There is so much going on beneath the surface when Jarrett plays. For me, he is one of the absolute greatest artists of our time, regardless of genre or art form.
A surprise recording by a choral group I should have known much better based on their true renditions of Pärt’s choral music on this new album. Stephen Layton, the director of Polyphony, exhibits a knowing and sure hand guiding the group through spiritual and aural delicacies composed by this contemporary composer of high regard. This is late night music. Goalllll.
From Gramaphone Magazine via Polyphony's website:
It should be said, before anyone has the chance to object to the appearance of yet another disc of Pärt’s choral music, that this one is something special. In part this is because of the choice of repertoire, which mixes the familiar and the less-often heard, and includes two first recordings, and in part it is because of the exquisite sound produced by Polyphony.
The lesser-known pieces include Peace upon you, Jerusalem and Morning star, here given outstanding renditions that exploit the ensemble’s crystalline upper voices to perfection. Another of Polyphony’s strengths is their diction, and this is more than evident in their beautifully fluid and very moving renditions of the highly text-driven The woman with the alabaster box and Tribute to Caesar. Pärt’s setting of the Lorica of St Patrick, entitled The deer’s cry, is also text-driven but in a very different way, and what appears initially to be merely eccentric proves to be an extraordinarily profound and rich response to the words.
The hypnotic Virgencita, a prayer to the Virgin of Guadalupe in Spanish, is altogether more curious – the melodic line of the first section irresistibly suggests a slowed-down tango – but its conclusion, the final iteration of ‘Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe’ is surely one of the composer’s most arresting conceptions. The other first recording is of the oddly titled Alleluia-Tropus. This is in fact a setting of the apolytikion to St Nicholas set in Slavonic, with the addition of the word ‘Alleluia’, meaning that it is not usable liturgically, and it was originally scored for choir and eight cellos. It’s as curious as Virgencita but has a similarly stunning climax. The disc ends with a wonderful rendition of Da pacem, Domine. Highly recommended.
Arvo Pärt is one of the few living composers to find popularity beyond the borders of classical music. R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe and Bjork are big fans. Although the 78-year-old musician usually shies away from acclaim and the media, he is currently attending a festival of his music in New York and Washington, and he made time to talk about his music, bike riding and bells.
Pärt is a major composer, and I was a little nervous meeting him. So I brought along a bell for good luck. I set it on the table between us and gave it a little tinkle.
"Oh, this is a good beginning, thank you," he said in his heavily accented English.
Pärt likes bells, literally and figuratively in his music. He also likes space and silence. Fans tend to use words like "timeless" to describe his contemplative music. But for Pärt, time has deep meaning. In conversation, as in his music, he takes his time to unclutter his thoughts. They come out like poems.
"Time for us, is like the time of our own lives," he says. "It is temporary. What is timeless is the time of eternal life. That is eternal. These are all high words, and so, like the sun, we cannot really look at them directly, but my intuition tells me that the human soul is connected to both of them — time and eternity."
Pärt has gravitas to burn. But he didn't start out that way. As a kid in Soviet-era Estonia, he practiced on a battered old piano and rode his bike around the town listening to Finnish radio broadcasts. I told him that I strapped a transistor radio to my bicycle when I was a kid. "It's very interesting," he responded, with a slight twinkle in his eye.
Early on, Pärt wrote thorny, atonal music in the style of the day. But in 1968 he hit a wall. He went nearly silent for eight years, and when he returned, it was with something completely different. Slow, pure, simple, yet powerfully focused is how conductor Stephen Layton describes the music: "If you had to give an aesthetic for his compositional output, less is more is certainly it," Layton says.
A choral specialist, Layton has recorded two albums of Pärt's vocal works (a third is scheduled for this fall). Layton says after the complicated music that dominated the mid-20th century, Pärt's new style, with nods to Gregorian chant and Renaissance music, wiped the slate clean. Part of Pärt's breakthrough, Layton says, came from hearing just three notes in a supermarket.
“ Silence is like fertile soil, which, as it were, awaits our creative act, our seed.
- Arvo Pärt
"Over the public address system one hears the sound 'doo, doo doo' " — Layton sings three descending tones — "'Could so-and-so please go to till No. 25?' Now that sound is called a triad in music, but it's actually the building block of all music in the Western world."
Pärt realized the beautiful simplicity of the triad and ran with it. He called his newfound style "tintinnabuli," a word referring to little tinkling bells. Another ingredient in the recipe is silence.
"On the one hand, silence is like fertile soil, which, as it were, awaits our creative act, our seed," Pärt says. "On the other hand, silence must be approached with a feeling of awe. And when we speak about silence, we must keep in mind that it has two different wings, so to speak. Silence can be both that which is outside of us and that which is inside a person. The silence of our soul, which isn't even affected by external distractions, is actually more crucial but more difficult to achieve."
If you are working with the music of JS Bach since some time, you will know that there is an incredibly wide spectrum of interpretations available. This is true even for the same type of work.
Take the St Matthew Passion as an example. If you compare the 1950 version of Herbert von Karajan (Vienna Symphonic orchestra) with the more recent recording of Philippe Herreweghe and the Collegium Vocale Gent, one might believe in the first instance that the two recordings cover two altogether different pieces.
This is also true for JS Bach's keyboard music. Next to differences in the individual style of each (serious) interpreter, the growing community of musicians who focus on the latest development in understanding historical performance practices has widened the variety of "how to play Bach" enormously. Just compare Tureck's and Egarr's interpretations of the Well-tempered Clavier - the results are materially different and it is astounding how approaches have changed over the years.
What can we derive as musician from this development? My view on the matter is that there are only limited grounds to put something into the "wrong" drawer merely because it does not follow historical practices. JS Bach's music is quite abstract by nature, and is open to a wide spectrum of interpretational approaches. Such, I would be careful to rule out certain approaches based on an academic understanding of how the music was (might be?) played some 300 years ago.
Having said that, I believe that one can of course differentiate between good and bad performances (and 100 shades of grey in between). The key aspects to make such categorization are consistency, thoughtfulness, having an overall concept to the work, and of course excellence in execution. Frankly, given all the new things that are out there, I have difficulties to listen to Karajan's recordings of JS Bach's music, at least longer than it takes to see where he is coming from with respect to a particular piece. However, Karajan clearly knew what he was doing, and while his style may - today - not be everybody's cup of tea any more (at least regarding Baroque music), his mastership in conducting the greatest large orchestras in the world can be felt in every second of the recordings.
Thus I believe that whatever the approach is, if it is done well, it is worth listening to. There is no need to be 100% historically correct, and just because somebody performs JS Bach's works on modern instruments, or interprets trills different to what seems to be the latest understanding of scholarly researchers, it does not mean the performance is without value.
In any case it is a good thing to understand many different types of interpretations. Before finding one's own language in playing Bach, a broad spectrum of records and live performances should be listened to. This includes interpretations on historic instruments. To know the latter clearly helps to improve the overall understanding of the music, its phrasing, embellishments etc.
To summarize: A great interpretation of a work which is as complex as the Well-tempered Clavier can only be achieved based on a deep analytical understanding (of the entire work, not just 1 or 2 fugues), balanced stylistic decisions, thoughtful choosing of tempo and articulation, consistency, and of course flawless execution (both technically, and musically). This is true for both "romantic" approaches and interpretations on the clavichord.
Like most pianists, Pierre-Laurent Aimard studied Bach’s seminal “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” the two books of paired preludes and fugues in all the major and minor keys, when he was a student. But when, at 19, he became a founding member of Pierre Boulez’s Ensemble InterContemporain, the important modern music group in Paris, Mr. Aimard turned into a new-music specialist. Bach was among the composers he put on the shelf during those years.
Since then, though, he has been playing and recording everything, even the Beethoven piano concertos. And Bach. In 2008 his Deutsche Grammophon recording of Bach’s “The Art of Fugue” was an improbable chart-topper on iTunes. His recording on the same label of Book I of Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier” has just been released, and is also available on iTunes.
Mr. Aimard, 57, is in the midst of an international tour playing Book I of this work. On Thursday at Carnegie Hall, he gave probing, austerely beautiful accounts of the 24 Preludes and Fugues of Book I, nearly two hours of intellectually formidable music, for a sizable audience.
To prepare, Mr. Aimard spent a seven-month sabbatical at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin, an experience he has talked about in recent interviews.
From the chatter at intermission, it was clear that many Bach fans in the audience had heard the pianist Andras Schiff’s two recitals in fall 2012 at the 92nd Street Y, when he played both books of “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” Mr. Schiff, who plays as if channeling the composer, performed the work from memory and did not use the sustaining pedal. Mr. Aimard used the printed music, a choice that is not only acceptable but, arguably, appropriate. Certain works, like Schumann’s restless Fantasy in C, are almost beyond the realm of the score. But the Bach preludes and fugues look as beautiful on the page as they sound.
In the familiar Prelude in C, which opens Book I, Mr. Aimard played with rippling grace, using ample pedal and allowing the sonorities to mingle. In the Fugue in C, paired with the prelude, he laid out the theme (the subject, in fugue terminology) with reserved but sensitive directness. This performance set the tone for Mr. Aimard’s overall approach.
These works are astonishing achievements in the physics of music. Yet simultaneously, as a complex fugue evolves — for example, the long four-voiced Fugue in A minor — Bach turns this rigorous genre into a profound emotional journey.
For some tastes, Mr. Aimard’s playing might have been a little too concerned with the physics of the music. At times his sound was dry and his articulation a little pointed. I was fascinated by the way his ear, so attuned to contemporary music, could search out the pathbreaking aspects in the pieces, like Bach’s forays into wayward chromatic harmony, and his penchant for skittish fugue themes that hint of the pointillist writing of Schoenberg.
Mr. Aimard had fun with the pieces as well, as in the Prelude in D, with its spiraling stream of 16th-notes in the right hand, and the Prelude in B flat, which came off like an impish, quasi-improvised toccata. At the end, after the quietly monumental Prelude and Fugue in B minor, the audience remained silent for a spell, letting the experience sink in, and only then broke into a rousing ovation.
I used to visit all the very gay places Those come what may places Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life To get the feel of life from jazz and cocktails
The girls I knew had sad and sullen gray faces With distingue traces that used to be there You could see where they'd been washed away By too many through the day twelve o'clock tales
Then you came along with your siren song To tempt me to madness I thought for awhile that your poignant smile Was tinged with the sadness of a great love for me Ah yes, I was wrong, again I was wrong
Life is lonely again and only last year everything seemed so sure Now life is awful again a trough full of hearts could only be a bore A week in Paris could ease the bite of it All I care is to smile in spite of it
I'll forget you, I will While yet you are still burning inside my brain Romance is mush stifling those who strive I'll live a lush life in some small dive And there I'll be, while I rot with the rest Of those whose lives are lonely too
Though it was written in the '30s, "Lush Life" was not recorded for public release until Nat "King" Cole sang it in 1949 with a free and easy feel. Since then, it's become one of the most standard of pop standards, with no signs of fading away. It was even a highlight of a recent Grammy Awards gala, performed by Queen Latifah.
"Lush Life" conveys such a vast range of emotions that more than 500 musicians have explored it. Some, like Joe Henderson playing solo saxophone, have chosen a hushed approach, while singers like Nancy Wilson have given it a shot of drama.
"Lush Life" seems simple, but it's quite complex — emotionally and musically, with a very unusual structure. It even gave Frank Sinatra a hard time when he tried to record in 1958. He gave up on the song, laughing that he would "put it aside for about a year." But he never did return to it.
"Not everybody could sing it," says Andy Bey, a celebrated jazz singer and pianist with a strong personal connection to "Lush Life," a song he has returned to repeatedly throughout a 55-year career. "A lot of songs had verses and refrains, you know, but it's like a mind boggling thing. It's not about 'ring-a-ding ding' when you do "Lush Life."
"It's about somebody's life. There's a worldliness, about a person who has lived. You really have to kind of understand the story and try to keep the mood, keep the focus."
The pun in the song's title suggests that "Lush Life" might be speaking of a life of elegance, or of boozy despair. In both senses, the song reflects the life of the man who wrote it. Billy Strayhorn was the piano prodigy Duke Ellington recruited in 1938 to compose material for his band. Through a 30-year, on-and-off relationship, Strayhorn wrote many of Ellington's most memorable and sophisticated tunes.
"He was like Duke Ellington's right-hand man," says Bey.
Strayhorn was born in 1915, and fell in love with classical music before developing a fascination with jazz. Growing up in a working-class neighborhood in Pittsburgh, he dreamed of a more cultured and cosmopolitan way of life. He was only 16 when he began to write "Lush Life," which he first called "Life Is Lonely" — and which we now know as "Lush Life."
In fact, the words Strayhorn wrote as a teenager predicted the life he did eventually lead. He did become a socialite, he did make it to France. And he did become an alcoholic.
The song's lyric reveals both poetry and a maturity that's surprising coming from a teenager. It also seems to suggest another significant side to Strayhorn's identity: his sexual orientation.
Bey quotes the first line of the song — "I used to visit all the very gay places..." — and adds, "Who knows? He might have been thinking about the gay bars, but I think it was something broader than that, because he was too broad of a person. I see it as places that are happy and carefree and gay."
As his biographer David Hajdu wrote, Strayhorn was a minority three times over — African-American, gay and open about his homosexuality. His offstage role in Ellington's band made it possible to avoid the public spotlight.
"I think he loved taking a back seat," Bey says. "Because that way, it gave him the freedom to be himself, even though it might have hurt him, because he wasn't given the credit that he deserved as an artist. Billy had the strength and the balls to come out and be who he was."