Thu 29. Nov 2018
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 allmusic.com “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
Thu 8. Nov 2018
Photo: Steve Gullick
The shipwrecked relationship is on the top of page 1 in the songwriting handbook, but somehow Daniel Blumberg sounds nothing like the same old tearful lament.
Northern Winter Beat talked with him before his performance at the festival in January.
by Mikkel Brandt
”This year, I’ve been working mainly in silver.”
The English artist Daniel Blumberg is with me through a moody WhatsApp-connection from London. Here, he alternately talks about his music, and shows his silverpoint drawings to me and the camera on his phone.
”Silverpoint is one of the oldest techniques of drawing,” he explains and describes how the drawings are carried out with a little silver stick on specially treated paper.
However, at Northern Winter Beat 2019, you will be able to experience his endeavors in music. Something he started in the indie rock band Yuck, and earlier this year expanded his palette when he released the solo album "Minus" - an album that is both the artistic culmination of a tough break-up and a marking of a distinctive change of style. A kind of reboot, as he calls it.
”Those songs were all from a very specific time. And it was a very different time to now.”
And if you crave for a biographical reading, you can draw a straight line to Blumberg's break-up with the model and Nymphomaniac actor Stacy Martin.
So when I talk with him, I ask if he buys into the premise of “Minus” being a break-up record.
”Yeah, definitely. I mean, there’s loads of things going on musically and sonically, and bla, bla, bla. But I think that’s more referring to the lyrical content and maybe the time. So it was a break up record.”
The record´s featuring musicians count among others the drummer Jim White (Dirty Three, Cat Power, Bonnie Prince Billy). He and the other musicians got the space to improvise and put their personal touch on Blumberg’s personal songs.
“When we do the live stuff, it’s very different. So it’s not very useful to listen to that recording of the songs. But yeah, I am happy with it.”
The seven songs on the album maneuvers between quiet parts, anarchistic harmonica, jarring violins and noise guitar, sounding like a transcript of a modem that starts. As a side note Blumberg´s own grandmother sings on the choral parts of “Used to be older”, where the title repeats as a hypnotic mantra, crawling into your ear like a small worm.
”Minus” is produced in cooperation with Peter Walsh, who among others has worked with Scott Walker since the mid-eighties on records such as ”Climate of Hunter”, “Tilt”, and ”Soused” with Sunn O))).
About their recording sessions in Wales, Blumberg recounts:
”It was great because we went to a residential studio. You don’t have any distractions of life. And for me, at the time, stuff was slightly complicated. So it was good. We were just going to sort of a zone, where you wake up, and you start.”
Break up as creative fuel
The list of records with the broken relationship as the creative fulcrum is long.
A few examples could be Sinatra (“In The Wee Small Hours”), Fleetwood Mac (“Rumours), Bon Iver (“For Emma Forever Ago”), Beck (Sea Change), Danish artist Bisse (“Umage”), and so on.
So if we continue the dance with the biographical reading of the break-up record as a phenomenon, one question comes to mind. How can you as an artist find the creative resources to create great music on a broken heart?
”Well… I couldn’t do anything at a certain point. I mean, it depends… It goes in waves, I think. Like at the moment, everything is quite engaging and enjoyable, and I got quite an energy to do stuff. But in the past, yeah, sometimes, when you feeling really rubbish, the last thing, you want to do, is to get yourself up and start working,” Daniel Blumberg says.
”But those things happen. You know, maybe that can be a morning, or an afternoon, or a point in the day, where you manage to get something done. But everyone is different.”
Since Blumberg left Yuck in 2013, his music became more improvisational.
A change of direction, that among other things, was strongly inspired by London venue Café Oto. A place he sees as a central pillar in his work as a musician.
”A lot of the people, who I work with, sort of gravitated towards the place because of the quality of the shows. There’s always quite amazing things happening there,” he says and in the same breath recommends O YAMA O, whose release party he’ll be attending the same evening - a record he calls ”a great, great, great new record” you can hear right here:
He estimates that Café Oto is the place where he gets 90% of all the music he consumes. At home, he’s spending more time listening to radio (segments about football) and watching movies. Otherwise, he will listen to recordings of his improvised concerts where it’s not given when and how the songs are played.
“The way that I perceive improvisation is that you sort of do what you feel is necessary in that situation. It’s sort of indefinable, really, to say what you think about,” he says and describes how his songs and their structures are restructured on the spot – and that he doesn’t use setlists.
Therefore, I ask how he and his musicians prepare for a live setting.
“Sometimes, when we meet up to play, we don’t even play, we just talk. Sometimes we go to the cinema. Sometimes we watch shows together. Sometimes we play, but you build up a sort of language as people, as well as musicians and artists.”
So, what happens when the approach from free music meets the song writing?
”The way we work is that we mainly make improvised music. And, obviously, the nature of songs and song writing is not normally associated with improvisation. But I think live, we sort of use the songs as a sort of meeting point.”
Experience Daniel Blumberg at Northern Winter Beat 2019 January 25th at Huset i Hasserisgade.