“18 compositions designed and created for string instruments. Violin, Viola, Violoncello, Contrabass are the protagonists of this new 7K! Compilation. 7K! is a Berlin based record label dedicated to the discovery of “new sounds” found in the classical and contemporary world. 18 new/unreleased compositions, 18 artists from all over the planet. From England to Belgium, NYC and Los Angeles, from Italy to Turkey, via Greece, Germany, Switzerland, Poland and Russia, 18 different compositions which demonstrate the different forms which “strings” are capable of assuming. 18 compositions which touch on classical, indie and drone. They ooze timeless melodies, innovate through electronic composition and touch upon pop-music. This is “String Layers”, a collection of songs that draw a varied and multicoloured narrative through the contemporary instrumental music created by string instruments.
Within the underground Modern Classical scene the majority of interest is placed upon piano as the instrument of choice. With “String Layers” the 7k! label have set about re-focusing our attention on the strings with this global compilation featuring eighteen artists and eighteen previously unreleased pieces. The real joy for me is the fact that only six of the artists are familiar to me. This album not only offers up to the listener an emphasis on strings, but also introduces a selection of new names to get excited by. Proceeded by two singles from Simon Goff and Echo Collective, the full album was released on May 29.
The beauty of compilations is the diversity on offer. Within the first two tracks this on show with the album opening with the frenetic “Secret Sitter” by Simon Goff (last seen on these pages with the Baker/Goff/Harris album “Noplace”) which is a wise decision as it sets a challenge for the other artists to follow. The album then moves onto the mournful and moving violin and viola combination on “Wistful Breath” by Echo Collective. Damla Bozkurt gives us a Violin driven piece of cinematic and romantic playing. There is very much a touch of an “old-worldy” feel to her piece as it moves through it’s various darker movements. Dobrawa Czocher is a Polish cellist and like her compatriot Resina she has a way of filling her sound with a cello sound that is in consistent movement and always changes it’s shape. Her piece “Within” is as much a Modern Classical/Drone piece as it is an exploration of texture and shape.
Hior Chronik is the second name familiar to me and his piece “Pay No Attention” demonstrates why he has found his music on labels such as Ki, A Strangely Isolated Place, and Kitchen to name a few. The piece has a strong Modern Classical feel with a weighty emphasis to the strings (in collaboration with Aaron Martin) which intensifies the pieces emotions. Innerwoud is a Double Bass player from Ghent who utilises layering to create his piece that on the opening of this track “Tebreken” sound more like investigations of sound and texture from the instrument itself rather than being obsessed with notes. As the piece moves it becomes more minimal opening up the space before a flourish at the end brings it to a near crescendo. Milan based composer Vito Gatto is a violinist and music producer who likes to mix organic and electronic elements together. On his piece “First Light” the two sound sources combine to become one which is not always the case when strings and electronics are combined, but Gatto has a way of making them both have the same essence.
Following on from her appearance on the Lady Blunt Records “Meditteraneo” compilation, Laura Masotto, who is one third of that label contributes “Before The Rising Sun” which continues with the sea influencing her work. Primarily Violin and Viola, the notes indicate electronics are involved. I can’t pick them such is their subtlety, what I can pick up is the way in which Masotto is able to convey her emotions through her music, which in this case is pure joy and love. Effe Effe is Federica Furlani and her piece “Sleepwalking” explores the more minimal and experimental side of things. Having a background in classical, electronic and electroacoustic music, Furlani brings these to the melting pot of sound creating a piece that is all these influences, but wholly it’s own. The piece is as cinematic as it is experimental and harrowing as it is emotive. Brian Senti probably has the most diverse working background of all the artists on this compilation with a past that includes Boy George and Mark Ronson. He has also worked in television scoring alongside Dustin O’Halloran (A Winged Victory For The Sullen) and it shows on his piece “Turan” which was inspired by looking at Japanese Ink wash paintings and trying to mimic the paint strokes with the pressure of a bow. Senti is a multi instrumentalist and he uses all his talents on this piece which you discover once you listen deeper.
Ceeys like Laura Masotto follow up their “Mediterraneo” contribution with their piece “November”. The piano and cello brother’s create a suitably minimalist slice of melancholic music which takes its influence from their East German past. The piece is stark, cold and with a dark rumbling underbelly which highlights the brothers playing. In some way Aaron Martin is a front runner to the string music that is more prevalent in the underground and indeed on this compilation. His work goes back to 2006’s “Almond” and has seen him collaborate with the likes of Dag Rosenqvist, Porya Hatami, Orla Wren and Machinefabriek. His piece “An Indistinguishable Presence” is as good as anything else he has done. The piece, a two part all cello one is as Martin states “is about a search for something that never reveals itself clearly.” , hence the title. Nikola Melnikov contributes “Waiting For Your Steps”. The Russian electronic producer, classical composer and audiovisual artist produces quite possibly the most personal piece on the album by referencing to something about some one close to him. The music has a sweeping feel, rooted with melancholia that drips down like fraught emotions. Darian Thomas is a Brooklyn based multi disciplinary artist who was influenced by Arvo Part’s “Fratres” and rolling arpeggiated chords. His piece “Marble” is a free form piece of violin expressionism that can only be best described as frenetic in both it’s playing and intent as Thomas explores all that the violin has to offer in soundscapes.
The Swiss violinist Tobias Preisig contributes quite possibly the most ambient of the pieces on the album with “Falling”. According to the composer the piece is about nothing, but with a dark edge. I think he is under selling it a bit as it has a soundscape that deserves exploring as it builds up engulfing his rather experimental approach to the violin as well as drawing out it’s dronal qualities. Aidan Baker was recently covered on this blog and he finds himself collaborating with BOW, a Brussels based ensemble that juggles between written composition and improvisation. The result of a chance meeting “Bryanbaum” has a very dark, drone like structure that could easily be overpowered, but instead holds back the intensities of the instruments to offer a depth to the music, resulting in a piece that feels highly considered. Himmelsrandt aka German violinist Peter Honsalek contributes “Entrückung” which translates to “Rapture” which perfectly sums up his piece. While being active since 2008, his recorded out put is not as large as those of his peers with the same amount of time being active. While this is my first encounter with his music I can only posit the reason being a high quality control. Honsalek has an understanding of the mechanisms of his instrument and his composition, which features church like organ sounds, demonstrates the hold he has on conveying emotion and engaging the listener. Finally the album is completed with the composition “Maersk” by Istanbul cellist and composer Zeynep Ayşe Hatipoğlu. Her inspiration is shipping containers on a port (hence the name of the Danish company of the same name) and the various colours, symbols and words of unknown meanings. Anyone who has passed a busy port will have come across a kaleidoscope of the various colours all stacked in a random pattern. Her piece has a dark, ominous drone like rumble with subtle accents flickering about. Consistent in nature, the piece has a kind of unsettling stillness and with an almost electrical hum like quality to it. If I were to hazard a guess as to the inspiration about the piece I would probably be leaning to one of mystery as to what those shipping containers actually contain.
Over the course of some seventy plus minutes and eighteen pieces, 7k! and the eighteen artists demonstrate the variety and versatility within string based music. They should the manner of approach, sound and external influences which either integrate with the instrument, support it or lead it into different areas. With the variety on offer there is a lot to be interested by the music on this compilation. “String Layers” is available Digitally.