2013 Artist Picks
Jane Ira Bloom

Wataru Abe
Benoît Pioulard
Jane Ira Bloom
Blu Mar Ten
Matti Bye
Maile Colbert
Viv Corringham
Ensemble Economique
Karlheinz Essl
Farthest South
Ghost Bike
Rafael Anton Irisarri
The Jaydes
Tristan Louth-Robins
Chloë March
Lubomyr Melnyk
Mental Overdrive
Ed Osborn
Xenia Pestova
Sicker Man
Thee Silver Mt. Zion M. O.
Ken Thomson
Otto A Totland
Vitiello + Berg

Compilations / Mixes
Best of Poker Flat 2013
Evolution of the Giraffe
Danny Howells
Missing Fragments

EPs / Cassettes / Mini-Albums / Singles
Richard J. Birkin
DJ Bone
Akira Kosemura
Fabrice Lig
Lilies on Mars
Nian Dub
Snoqualmie Falls
Strong Souls

Matti Bye: Bethanien
Tona Serenad Records

A Kreuzberg hospital that opened in 1847 and that by the 1970s was no longer in use, Bethanien was eventually taken over by squatters before being developed into an artist residence. It was there, between 2010 and 2013, that Matti Bye played an old grand piano and carefully fashioned ten soundscapes that would become the thirty-five minute Bethanien. But even if the listener had been deprived of that background before hearing the album, he/she would no doubt have imagined that its material must have been recorded in some long-abandoned and dust-covered setting, perhaps a centuries-old mansion seemingly inhabited by nothing more than ghosts. Though it's hardly the only one to convey such an impression, the title track powerfully exemplifies that character, especially when its reverb-tinged piano playing is ever-so-subtly shadowed by eerie, goblin-like noises.

Bye shapes his material into suggestively atmospheric pieces by augmenting the piano playing with field recordings, live electronics, glockenspiel, accordion, mellotron, and gramophone. Titles also point in interpretative directions, with “The Piano Ship,” for example, evoking a haunting visual image that's accentuated even further by the creaks that accompany its funereal waltz musings. With the piano's warble smothered in hiss, “Eikern, 1977,” “Sternkarten,” and “Ende” play like wistful tales of longing recorded decades ago and only recently exhumed from decaying cassette tapes.

Though piano obviously forms the music's nucleus, the accompanying sounds play a major part, too, especially when the piano is so steeped in those complementary details. Textural embellishments assume a larger role in a number of settings, among them “Across the Sun,” the sole piece to include contributions from another, in this case additional samples by Joel Danell. In “Across the Sun,” bell tones and electronics punctuate the music's piano-laden mists, while “Brought Into Light” couples its lilting piano patterns with wind whooshes and a faint, flute-like murmur (the mellotron, perhaps?). By now, it should be obvious that Bye's preferred mood is melancholy, elegiac even, and his tempo of choice ponderous. Bethanien is therefore anything but a boisterous and uptempo set—which is not to imply that's a depressing drag of a listen, either. It is, in a word, lovely, a stirring and elegant set of humble, waltz-styled soundscapes.

January 2014