German sound pioneer and Grammy-nominated American composer create ambient atmospherics that play with tempo
Prepared piano is something of a lost artform, mostly doomed to inhabit the dark corners of lecture halls and academic papers, but there is something beautiful about its physicality. Metallic clangs as objects bounce up and down on the strings, stubby percussive noises as notes are brutally stifled, the instrument becomes intensely self-aware of its own mechanics.
For this reason the sections of German sound pioneer Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Grammy-nominated American composer Tim Story’s new album 4 Hands that utilise this technique are fascinating, and the rest is perfectly pleasant piano music as well.
On Crisscrossing and Skitter the repetitive motifs merge with their sonic alterations to form a regular backbeat, a DIY drum machine, while Seeweed uses more sustained notes that become acidic from the weight of what is placed upon them. It is no great shame that the rest of 4 Hands is content to cycle through ponderous ostinatos and tonal ambiguity, especially as Roedelius has always been a nuanced and sensitive player.
Opening track Nurzu is emblematic of the album’s general style, as a 9/8 accompaniment featuring bare fifths is gradually embellished by slow, descending chords and some more melodious flourishes as the song progresses. Haru makes more use of the space between the notes, with chromaticism and dissonance employed to intriguing effect, and Thrum’s gentle inversions are very pleasing indeed.
Spirit Clock and Ba both play with tempo, as riffs produce a burst of momentum to be followed by pregnant pauses, and while the effect is enjoyable each time it is indicative of a broader feature: in compositional terms these pieces mostly pull from the same toolbox, and the music becomes pretty familiar by the end. For this reason 4 Hands is more suited to ambient atmosphere than close listening, but those prepared piano sections are well worth the price of entry.