Sonicbrat: Stranger To My Room
Kitchen. Label

If there's one odd thing about this latest release from the Kitchen. Label, it's the artist's name, as Sonicbrat sounds more like the kind of moniker we'd expect to see on a label like Tigerbeat6 as opposed to Kitchen. That curious detail aside, everything else about Darren Ng's debut release on the label is very much in line with what we've come to expect from the Singapore-based imprint: music of exquisite classical-electronic character that's earmarked by the label's customary taste, restraint, and sensitivity. Stranger to My Room is also distinguished by its elaborate book-styled design, with the CD accompanied by sixteen pages of photos by Helsinki-based artist Aiwei Foo.

Recorded entirely at Ng's home, the recording's eleven instrumentals generally separate themselves into two camps: some are pure piano pieces or piano settings supplemented with other sounds, whereas others are like fully balanced ensemble pieces that include piano as one element of many rather than the dominant one (e.g., “Wake Up To Sleep,” a wheezing mass whose focus is as much on marbles and bells as piano). As a sign of the music's elegance, the piano playing at times echoes the playing of Bill Evans and a few of the pieces are undeniably Satie-like in character, such as “Caesura” and “Adjacent Room,” lovely solo piano waltzes of wistful and melancholy character.

The Singapore-based Ng brings ample experience to the project, more than thirteen years of work in theatre, film, contemporary dance, and arts contexts, plus involvement in over 150 arts productions. A multi-instrumentalist, he augments his classical piano playing with melodica, percussion, strings, acoustic guitar, and electronics and is credited with all sounds on the eleven-track collection except for the violin Natalie Soh contributes to “Temporal.”

Following a particular trajectory, the album begins with “Geometry,” an early morning reverie whose sparse yet eloquent piano chords Ng sprinkles with subtle hand bell, xylophone, and violin bow accents, and gradually proceeds to gradually swell in sound as the material expands in instrumental colour (such as the violin-and-electronics-heavy lilt “Window-Framed Clouds” and the emotive title track). In some pieces (e.g., “Being Air”), environmental sounds seep into the recording to bolster its home-made quality. But as it turns out, the album's most affecting pieces are those that are marked by intimacy and less elaborately arranged, specifically “The Listening Room,” which augments Ng's delicate piano musings with haunting melodica phrases and toy piano accents, and “Temporal,” where Soh's plaintive violin acts as a natural complement to the composer's piano playing.

November 2013