In the paper, we lumped this together with John Metcalfe’s Appearance Of Colour because they seemed similar but they’re not really. Metcalfe’s album is soothe and calming and reflective of nature, Halsall is angular and unsettling, and more based in hardware.
Like Metcalfe, Halsall, a pianist, mixes genres; the album stems from a project started in 2012 exploring the traditional piano concerto in new ways. She uses two pianos, various electro-acoustical accompaniment, some jazz and rock instruments, and film.
The opening piece is Swimming With The Stone Book by Andrew Poppy who, like John Metcalfe, has worked on string arrangements in the pop world, in his case with bands such as Psychic Television, Erasure, The The and Strawberry Switchblade.
He also played bass with a rock and there’s a definite bass line in Swimming, which looks at how musicians and artists try to create something airy from something heavy and hard to move — which could be music before it’s formed or the opinion of the public about what music should be. If all that sounds a bit airy fairy, the music itself is varied and palatable — it’s the kind a nature documentary would play as it flew over dappled water. See, he’s got us going now, flying over solid objects.
That public opinion tackled by Poppy is met head on by the next piece, Naomi Pinnick’s Always Again. Two pianos are “hocketting”; that’s the word used by the sleeve notes and it means “hiccupping”. In this case, the two pianos divide a melody and each piano plays when the other is silent. It’s a disturbing effect and it starts and stops several times before calming down to more tranquil playing.
Philip Cashian’s Furore is next, furore as in “an outbreak of public anger”. The two pianos are definitely having a barney, though it’s less aggressive than the previous track. There’s possibly a broken drum kit in there, too, presumably expressive of fisticuffs. As with Always Again, it quietens. Cashian is head of composition at the Royal Academy of Music.
Closer is Hanging In the Balance by Colin Riley, which feeds piano music back to various objects to make them resonate — bass drum, snare drum, hi-hat and zither. It’s not as bats as it sounds.
Halsall takes music and breaks it down into blocks to create something new, and writing about it is like breaking it down again; it is an experimental album full of new ideas, some of them work less well than others, but it’s got a compulsive air about it, and it’s more appealing than this review might suggest (admittedly if you want Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, it’s going to be too out there for you).
The second disc is more experimental and consists of four Maché pieces, made up of building blocks contributed by a number of composers, some specially written and some being extracts or arrangements of full length works.
Out now on Divine Art’s Metier label, MSV77205.