The surge in popularity towards Modern Classical or piano based music can largely be attributed to the likes of Nils Frahm, Olafur Arnalds, Stefano Guzzetti, Bruno Sanfilippo, Library Tapes and others with their inspirational works of the last decade and a half. Essentially they re-framed the piano and brought it into a modern context. With such changes in popularity in the instrument there will be a surge in people inspires by those names mentioned above. Sometimes this can contribute to a glut in a particular style and artists have to create a point of difference in their works for them to stand out. This the second of three releases that will be covered over the next few posts is a perfect example of an artist putting their own stamp on their music and showcasing the beauty that is inherent in this form of music.
Giancarlo Erra releases his album “Ends” through UK label Kscope which is owned by Snapper Records and bizarrely finds itself as a sister label to Grindcore/Death Metal/Black Metal label Peaceville (amongst others). Kscope styles itself as a progressive label which includes signings such as Porcupine Tree and Tangerine Dream. With Giancarlo Erra they have in their roster a captivating artist and impressive solo debut.
“I decided to call the album ‘Ends’, because each end is in actuality the possible start for something new (in both music and life). This isn’t always easy to accept, and it’s something I often struggle with. The album title is a reminder and an encouragement, plus it’s an appropriate name for my solo debut which explores a different kind of music for me.”
“Comprising a suite of eight thematically linked instrumentals, “Ends” deploys sparse piano patterns, synth textures, eerily beautiful string quartet performances , and subtle electronic pulses to create a compelling whole that establishes Erra as a composer of rare sensitivity and singular purpose. Freed from the constraints of writing songs and creating frameworks for his long-running post rock collective Nosound, with “Ends” Erra has delivered the purest distillation of his musical vision.”
Erra is no stranger to being a solo artist. His earlier releases on Kscope were with his band Nosound which evolved out of his solo demos. This release further proves his composition skills and ability to draw in the right players to bring his work to fruition. For this release he is complimented by a Danish / Icelandic quartet comprising Elis Marteinsson (violin), Krista Sverrisdóttir (violin), Nicolaj Nielsen (viola) and Quynh Lephan (cello).
“Ends III” introduces the electronic components that will make their presence known throughout the record. Initially by the opening of the track you could be falsely thinking about listening to a purely electronic work, but its the insistence of piano and the strings that draw out from the metronomic sound palette and contrast the styles, that creates a nice blend. The piece has a travelogue like nature which you could imagine in the end credits of a film with a character seeing the world go by. The beat propulses the piece in the most subtle of ways before almost exploding at the end. The emotions get heightened, but are always in control.
“Ends II” Erra’s repetitive piano, the mournful melancholy of the strings, as well as electronics including a theremin like sound make this piece feel deep with emotion. The most prevalent one is of despair. Each of the joining instruments and sounds share a similar tone, that is heading towards the bleak side of things. It’s almost as if the introspection is too hard to bare.
“Ends I” for this piece Erra creates a track that feels more Ambient orientated than Modern Classical. The track is very linear, there are no peaks and troughs , instead Erra composes a piece that balances drones with strings, creating a wavy feel. Bass drum beats signal a change in the intensity of the track, that while the form of the track remains the sane, the intensity ever so slightly increases. The track initially sounds fragile with distant piano lines before soothing strings unfurl with a similar loop feel to the piano.
“Ends VII” is when Erra and the string quartet gather together to shine. The simple fact that a handful of musicians making a piece that has the physical impact of a full orchestra is impressive. The strings take the lead in the piece with the cello holding down the bottom end while the violins and viola layer the sound causing it to soar and float. Much like the cello, Erra’s piano playing is slightly overshadowed by the strings, but it causes you to fully focus on it. The strength of it is revealed in the middle ‘breakdown’ of the track where it thrives and leads the rest of the piece through more cinematic orientated territory. The essential two parts to the track and the way it comes across to the listener is as if there has been a change and this track is the representation of it.
“Ends V” looped electronics, minimalist piano stabs that reverberate and counteract the strings brings forth a piece that is the most sonically dense if the album thus far. The mood is pensive, as if a storm is swirling around a person, be it emotions or deep thought. This track highlights Erra’s musical background as it heads closer towards, but still at a distance, from Post Rock. The fact that Erra takes this direction is both because of his musical history, but also because it leads the album away from heat being purely modern classical.
“Ends IV” returns us to the droning cinematic works that have been heard in part of the tracks on this album. However, this time this elements are most pronounced creating a swirling, moody piece of cinematic neo classical drone. The music oscillates and floats resulting in a thick bed of sound. Cascading electronics or possibly manipulated guitar provides a looping rhythm for the sweeping strings and drones to circulate. While they do provide a focal point, it would be interesting to hear a stripped back version of the pure drone works.
“Ends VI” Strips the music back to piano and strings and it shows how powerful this combination of instruments are. The music is revelatory in the way it oozes with emotion, depth and maturity. The mood is deep and introspective with a slight bit of light in the tunnel. Both the strings and piano share a similar tone with the strings just coming out ahead on the mournful side due to the way they weep. The epic nature of the track is benefited by its close to seven minute duration as the piece is given time and space to breath while it moves between and returns to movements. No knowing his previous music I would be inclined to think that the past two decades have led him to a place where music of such quality and grandeur is the result of all the music he has composed in the past.
“Ends Coda” brings the album to a close with a large electronic infused framework that melds with the strings to create a piece that blends the two, but never feels like the parts are bolted together. Ominous in nature, with a mixture of minimalist electronics and maximal string drones, the track is an interesting one to end an album on. Maybe I read too much into first and last tracks as vehicles to lead you through the album and to beyond it, but I probably would have switched the order as the effect of “Ends VI” for me, would be a more potent final statement. Don’t get me wrong, I like this track, but would have it in a different order.
Like the album I covered previously (“lass Island” by Richard Luke) this album is one for repeated listening. Erra and the string quartet easily weave their magic throughout the album, resulting a genuine contender for the annual best of lists at the end of the year. Some of the album’s vividly cinematic soundscapes will be used in a forthcoming documentary film by Australian film-maker Dion Johnson.The album can be purchase on CD/LP and Digital here.