Szymon Kaliski: From Scattered Accidents
Pill-oh: Vanishing Mirror
First things first: Kitchen.'s new releases are as exquisitely designed as others in its catalogue; on visual grounds, the Singapore-based imprint's beautiful products are in a league of their own and justify the purchase price all by themselves. In this case, the two recordings are presented as gorgeous, staple-bound booklets containing photographs along with the CDs, but what makes the releases even more splendid is that their musical contents are as satisfying.
The photographs aren't merely decorative, either: in the case of From Scattered Accidents by Polish multi-media artist Szymon Kaliski, the sixteen pages of monochrome photography by Jan Hoffmann show largely desolate and depopulated images of both urban and country life, with some of the photos viewed so up-close that their Paris context is obscured as a result. The implied notion of concentrated looking is paralleled by the sense of close listening the music invites and rewards. Using both lo-fi techniques and current digital technologies, Kaliski's settings unfold in slow-motion, even glacially at times, with treated acoustic sounds set lullingly adrift via loops. A palpable aura of decay attends the material, with crackle and dust repeatedly rising from his simple piano figures and guitar shadings. The recording is literally a sound and visual diary of a kind, as it began in the winter of 2010 and carried on for a year. Working from core musical elements, he then fastidiously built up dense sound worlds that embraced the imperfections and accidents that emerged along the way.
The tone of Kaliski's fourth album is introspective, its mood retiring. It's very much a music rooted in a sense of time and place. “Of Symmetry” challenges the conventional separation of foreground and background by having its gently surging wave sounds come to the fore and then recede, a move that in turn finds the piano patterns likewise advancing and receding. Here and elsewhere (a similar lulling effect is cultivated in “Or Detachment” and “For Stillness,” which unspool at an even slower pace than the opener), a feeling of meditative drift attends the material, and the listener finds him/herself drawn into the music's textural depths. The instrument focus largely shifts from piano to guitar in “By A Haze” and “So Indistinct” without any compromise to the overall textural identity of the project. The respective additions of Peter Broderick's violin and Aaron Martin's cello help distinguish “Interlude I” and “Interlude II” and, though their contributions do normalize Kaliski's material when compared to the other settings, the guests' playing imbues his already evocative music with even greater atmosphere. Immersion would appear to be the key word one might use to characterize From Scattered Accidents.
Pill-Oh's debut album Vanishing Mirror is clearly the more accessible and conventionally musical of the two projects. A splendid example of luscious piano-centered songcraft, the thirteen-track collection documents the collaborative artistry of electronic musician Hior Chronik and classical pianist Zinovia Arvanitidi. As the opening track title “February Tale” suggests, Vanishing Mirror plays like a collection of short stories or miniatures, each with its own tale to tale, whether it be one of joy or sadness. Infused with nostalgia, the duo's romantic vignettes are often cinematically suggestive, and while the tone of Zinovia's piano playing might draw connecting lines to Satie and Chopin, not to mention kindred spirits such as Dustin O'Halloran and Nils Frahm, her playing establishes its own distinctive character over the course of the recording. Chronik complements her plaintive voice by adding electronic textures of varying kinds as well as instrument sounds of melodica, glockenspiel, kalimba, strings, and even (during “No Regrets”) a minimal beat pattern.Zinovia's recurring sixteenth-note patterns bring Pill-Oh's music to an affectingly emotional pitch during “Notebook.” Wrapped in reverb, her haunting playing in “Floating Feather” is sweetly melancholic, while in “Stolen Moment,” her piano, heard alone at first, is gradually elevated by the addition of strings and other atmospheric enhancements. Like a lost track from the Amélie soundtrack, “Fields of Yellow Leaves” leaves an innocent and wistful impression, especially when its arrangement includes not only piano but also sparkling music box and accordion melodies. Elsewhere, the melodica's lonely cry intensifies the heartfelt sense of longing in “Melodico” and “Waking Up To A Dream,” and, as he does on the Kaliski recording, Aaron Martin brings his emotive cello presence to Pill-Oh's project, specifically the closing meditation “Promise.” “I Wake Up and You Smile” comes closest to Kitchen.'s prototypical pastoral style in adding nanaye's cooing vocal to the song's piano and kalimba elements. Sonically, the recording is a consistent delight, every piece special in its own right. Enhancing the recording are photographs by France-based Aëla Labbé that adorn the sixteen-page booklet and are as dream-like, memory-laden, and nostalgic as the music.