dw019 - Formication - Pieces for a Condemned Piano

Landschaft - Alan Walker (c) 2007

"Pieces for a Condemned Piano": A 23 Skidoo / Chris and Cosey like collection of organic studies taken from recordings of a discarded piano. In Formication’s words "…we gathered 13 samples using various field recording techniques. The wooden keys, stripped bare, had swollen in the rain and so playing the instrument in the usual way was out of the question. Instead we forced the music from the strings in other ways." Not a duff moment on this tightly controlled suite of work. The CD is packaged in a super jewel case, the Rolls Royce of packaging, with comprehensive sleeve notes and a photographic insert of the wonderful gilt piano frame. I put the CD on auto-loop and listened on headphones all morning, an experience I recommend. Pure brain food. The CD opens with "On the dying pathway", a short (7 mins) exposition; after dark a primitive machine creeps out of the shadows, finding the condemned piano, discovering primitive disjointed rhythm in the remnant parts. The best kind of sample based music is where you do not know it is sample based music, as exampled here. "The final Stage of Trauma" is distant ambience, insect skittering and a thick soupy reverberance, transitioning into a mournful loop of melody. This is a very well paced and structured chunk of mood music. 8 minutes of thought provoking sonic cotton wool. "Exit" is deep-sea reverberance, drifting through a kelp forest, a compelling little loop that stitches together a very insidious progression – the sort that systems music achieves – where the beginning is different to the end and you can’t quite work out how and where the changes happen. Distant bells and seductive metallic chimes underpin the piece. Shoals of fishes swim between the fronds. Surface, take breath of air.

Ikecht - Leon Vlieger (c) 2007
And so it was that I would like to focus your attention on the following album. Released on the .net label Dark Winter in 2005, the story behind this album is interesting to say the least. On a cold evening in August, in an unspecified village, Kingsley Ravencroft and Alec Bowman chanced upon a deserted piano. The sounds that they managed to wring out of it were then taken into the studio and transformed into this record. In three songs, spread over 45 minutes, they give their swan song for this piano.

The first two songs by themselves are already interesting ambient compositions, interwoven with calm plucking and hammering on piano strings. Then follows the brilliant "Exit", a 30-minute soundscape that hypnotises through the use of a repetitive loop and lingers in your mind, long after it has finished. I recommend you listen to this song on a pair of headphones with the volume turned up. What a fantastic record!

Don Rosco (c) 2006
(This is) some ambient. It’s important to remember, I think, that ambient shouldn’t just be music without beats. Brian Eno sez: ”Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”

Of course, it’s easy to do the ignorable part, but a good bit harder to do the interesting bit.

This track (Exit) really nails it. The first time I heard this track it was background music; the second time my ears pricked up every now and then; the third time, my eyes were closed, I stopped what I was doing and I went for the ride. It’s a long track, and is a bit reminiscent of Basinski’s ‘Disintegration Loops’ - a ‘riff’ which ever so gradually morphs through time. I love that unchanging / changing thing.

It’s also licensed under Creative Commons, so share away. Thanks to Statto from Subvert Central for the tip."

Wire Magazine (c) 2006
These are pieces not just for, but formed from, a condemned piano. The members of Formication chanced one night upon a piano, left for dead in a pub car park. The instrument had already been ‘prepared’ by the effects of wind and rain, so that it’s swollen keys couldn’t be played in any standard way. As such, the sounds here are already those of an instrument being played against the grain of convention. Formication later worked and re-worked the recordings into ‘Pieces For A Condemned Piano’, processing the material so that at times it’s source is unrecognizable. The attack of strings being struck disappears into slow waves of pure reverberant texture.’

Landschaft (c) 2006
Formication with whom I have been exchanging emails (see 20 January 2006 blog), kindly sent me a review copy of their "Pieces for a Condemned Piano". Packaged in a sumptuous round edged jewel case. The parcel came in a wonderful cardboard envelope thingy, the address label incorporating the formication insectomorph logo and addressing details in a clean grey sans-serif font. I had to tear the box to get it open, and for this chap who keeps his Peter Saville sleeved Factory Records immaculate 20 something years on this was somewhat of a trauma. However, ripped, the box will be retained as a record of the moment that is Pieces for a Condemned Piano and makes my copy of the "product" unique. The CD insert comprises a photo of the frame of a piano against a black/near black background. Black and Gold. I've always marvelled at the innards of a piano, and recall early sonic experiments, age 5, strumming and xylophoning the stings of my grandparents' upright Grand. Lettering is in a classical serif font. A good start. Landschaft approves of the serif. Pieces for a Condemned Piano is an exploration in 3 movements of the sonic possibilities of the carcase of an abandoned piano, left open to the elements. The first two movenents "On the Dying Pathway" and "The Final Stage of Trauma" derive more overtly from accoustic field recordings of the piano; captured in situ then processed, cycled and interwoven with wholly electronic sounds. Exit, longer and leaning more towards dronology, is 28 minutes of unfolding transitions of dense murky darkness, the piano samples less overt and the piece that I prefer. I will send Formication a copy of Karelia that aims to capture a similar mood.

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