Over the eight years and almost 103 releases, the Home Normal catalog has released a variety of music genres that are vaguely under the ambient umbrella. One related form that has not seen a lot of action on the label is solo Modern Classical. With the exception of Stefano Guzzetti and the first release on the label by Library Tapes, Modern Classical has not seen a footing until now with this release from Giulio Fagiolini.
According to label boss Ian Hawgood “most modern piano ‘music’ leaves me (personally) a bit cold and detached. I generally feel there is a huge lack of soul in the music.” Giulio’s album arrived when Ian was engineering a bunch of Noise artists and needed something calm to listen to. What Ian also needed was an entry point or reference and his reference for this album is the work for Studio Ghibli by Joe Hisaishi (aka Mamoru Fujisawa).
As Ian states “The music is so simple, so direct, and just so childlike, it imbues the films with a certain old-world (or at least, not of this modern world anyway) innocence. The line between sickly-sweet and this is very fine indeed, but Joe Hisaishi always matches the mood and gets just the right amount of innocence in such a beautifully restrained way. To say the music of Giulio Fagiolini strongly left me with the same feeling as Hisaishi-san’s music, says as much as you need to know.” For an overview of Hisaishi’s work check out the Pitchfork feature here.
“Libello nell’ aria” (“Libra in the air”) opens the album with a muted playful piano piece that is slow-paced, minimal and not overly melancholic as some solo piano can be. The recording is not stark and has a warm edge to it. The music fuses high lighter notes with darker bass notes using them in tandem and then combining them. The lighter notes have a melodic almost whimsical feel to them, while the bass notes give the track depth.
“Vivere allo stato liquid” (“Live in the liquid state”) the first thing I think of when listening to this is that it reminds me of German/British Pianist/Composer Max Richter and it would fit perfectly on an album of his such as “Infra”. It is large-scale Modern Classical solo piano that is gently paced and registered in lower keys that builds up a more frantic motif in juxtaposition to the original introductory section. After a brief burst it returns to the more sedate speed and then starts up the layered section once more, this time adding a melodic section on top. The feeling for this sort of track is one for soundtrack using the piece alongside some drone or Go-pro footage taken high in the sky.
“Mentre nuoti” (“While Swimming”) there is something romantic going on with the recording. There is a distance to the recording in where it doesn’t sound right on top of the listener. You get a sense that Giulio is quietly in control of his playing and there is no need to rush, just letting the music flow. There are moments of minimal pace at the beginning and at the end. The pace starts picking up, but with a relaxed gentleness as the sections flow together. It is almost bittersweet as well, as if it’s about lost love.
“Magneti” (“Magnets”) the feel of this piece to me, feels of regret. The chords feel like that are well thought out and chosen with the utmost care and to relate the feeling that they will convey. Much like the tone to the rest of the tracks, the piano with its minor reverberation gives a warmth and melody that comes across earnestly.
“Dietro a un vetro” (“Behind a Glass”) sees a similar style to that of “Vivere allo stato liquid” where the chords are quite strident and epic. While other tracks you feel that Guilio is gently caressing the keys, you get the feeling this time around that his playing has more urgency and drive to it. This is best illustrated in the runs of keys that pick up speed that are paired with the slowly caressing style to emphasize the urgency and epicness of the piece.
“L’attesa” (“The Wait”) we return to the romantic modern classical style exhibited previously on “Mentre nuoti” where the opening section sets the tone and provides a hook or anchor for the track to return to. The pace is slow and minimal with use of light and heavier playing of the keys that help build up the mood and in a way at the end with the final section gives it a sort of resigned feel of something that is over.
“Suprema” (“Supreme”) sees a more strident opening and an initially different feel of recording, a bit more intimate, like you are in the room. This is a slight ominous feeling of dread mixed with equal portions of hope and resignation. After a brief section of silence the tone and playing of the piano change to a more quieter one before the hope briefly comes in an a melodic section before the strident playing (even more so than at the beginning) returns and leads the track back to the grounds of resignation once more.
“Dietro a un vetro” is quite a stunning record especially as debut’s go. There is a great range of material and the fact that Giulio shows great restraint in his playing shows that he is in total control. The field of Modern Classical solo piano is one that is full to the brim, but Giulio easily adds to the field without it being simply ‘another piano album’. Totally recommended.