Northern Winter Beat
24 26 januar 2019
Northern Winter Read #2: Lubomyr Melnyk

Most concert pianists don’t use the concept of kung fu to describe their musical practice. Luckily that’s not the case with Lubomyr Melnyk.

by Mikkel Brandt

“I think, it’s really important, that people come and hear this live. This is music, you can’t experience on recording.”

Ukrainian pianist and composer Lubomyr Melnyk is with me on a line from Sweden, where he’s currently working on a new piece.

”I’ve been playing the piano all my life. Since I was a small child. So the piano has been the most important element of my life, really.”

Since the 1970s Melnyk has developed a special piano technique that he describes under the term “continuous music”. A way of playing, that according to the Paul Simpson written biography on “involves playing extremely rapid, complex patterns of notes, often while holding down the sustain pedal in order to produce overtones. The result is a dense cascade of sound that can be trance-inducing for both the performer and the listener.“

The latter I can personally confirm from hearing Mr Melnyk in action at this year´s Ujazz festival in Aarhus in September. At this occasion people were sitting on the floor, when this calm piano wizard came out of the blue and played music, that made us drift away, and in between talked about topics including clouds, time, and the reality bending qualities of the new season of “Twin Peaks”.

“I believe, I would almost say, that I know, that it’s a beautiful experience for the audience to hear continuous music. I think, it’s very refreshing for the soul, and mentally it’s kind of going on a holiday from life, taking a break for a couple of hours, and just entering this world of continuous music,” Melnyk says.

 According to him the nature of his music can’t be summed up easily:

“It’s almost impossible to describe, because it has changed so much over the years. In the beginning it was a branching out from American minimalism.”

 This musical connection, that he draws here, can for example be heard in the pulsing repetitiveness, which also characterised composition methods used by New Yorker minimalists – such as Terry Riley and Steve Reich – in the 1960s and -70s.

 “So it was a branching out from that into the classical world, where it was taking those ideas and then adding classical technical ability to it,” he points out.


 Keyboard kung fu

The artistic vision behind continuous music was – among numerous other influences – lit by a mix of philosophy studies, the cultural explosion of the hippie era, Joseph Haydn, and the early works by David Lynch.

 “That was the beginning. But then it grew into much more than that,” Melnyk tells me.

 “Basically I started to realize, that this technique was a physical energy. It was actually a complete transformation of my body. Like the flesh of my body was being transformed into something new and different.”

 Melnyk emphasizes how technical skills take him to a level, where the music “simply flows easily like a river stream.”

 “It’s like breathing. It’s not difficult at all, once the technique has transformed your body into a functioning entity. The time and the music simply float out of you with no effort. So it’s really a beautiful thing,” he says.



“The continuous music piano technique is very spatial. Very related to kung fu. Playing continuous music on the organ is not kung fu, because the piano requires phenomenal activity on several dimensional planes,” he states and points out, that his training as classical pianist is essential for continuous music.

 “It was crucial for my vision, for what continuous music could be, that I was trained classically. But the actual music world of the classics does not in any way support continuous music, nor even recognizes it. This is something I had to accept over a long period of time.”

 Even though Melnyk is known for his speed – and ability to play 19 notes per second in each hand – melody also plays an important part in his work. But that was something that was introduced gradually:

“The actual technique had to be developed a stage higher in order to be able physically to add melody into this row of notes. Because that required a phenomenal new dimension of activity the mind, in the body, and in time.”

 Melnyk describes, how his music changes character, as he gains new abilities:

“My hands and my body develop further and further into higher and higher levels, the longer I play. So, it’s extremely easy to do these things, because I’ve been playing for so long. And for any pianist, that will start to learn this music, it get’s easier and easier and more pleasant. This is one of the beautiful things about continuous music, that it’s such a joy to play, physically, spiritually, and mentally,” he says.

 “It’s taken me forty-five years, or more, to become the pianist, I am. And every year I become more and more of a pianist.” 

Experience Lubomyr Melnyk’s continuous music at Northern Winter Beat 2019 January 26th at Utzon Centeret