RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

Corollaries and Continuities

img  Tobias Fischer
article image

For just over ten seconds, the piano intones the interval of a minor third – tentatively at first, then gradually accelerating. A right-hand ostinato-figure provides for a harmonic pattern and a rhythmic pulse, as the notes are drawing closer together, eventually turning into an undulating blanket of sound. Clocking in at a total of twenty minutes, "Pockets of Light", the opener to Corollaries, Lubomyr Melnyk's eighteenth album in a recording career spanning well over a quarter century, hasn't even properly started yet. Still, as your synapses are twitching with expectation, you can tell something big is about to happen. You're on a trip, you're on a journey, you're waiting for a train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you can't be sure - for Melnyk, however, there's not a moment of doubt: As his fingers fly over the keyboard at superhuman speed and his mind is lingering in the fleeting, sub-atomic pockets between two notes, the music is unfolding with as much unpredictability as absolute clarity.

Two days after this first, exultant encounter with Corollaries, I am watching Melnyik play live at the .HBC in Berlin. His piano is placed in the left corner of the space and with the keys facing the auditorium, which means that he's performing the entire concert with his back towards his listeners. Melnyik is not being disrespectful, however. It is almost, as if he were stepping aside to make room for the music, leaving the stage entirely to the four expansive compositions he is about to play tonight. Or perhaps this is simply the position he's become accustomed to. There's a nice biographical anecdote to how Melnyk first came to develop his personal piano technique: Working as an accompanist at the Paris Opera for choreographer Carolyn Carlson, Melnyk's job was to sustain a continuous flow of sounds, a never-ending pulse for the dancers to loose their bodies to. In love both with the virtuoso broken-chord cascades of Joseph Haydn's keyboard-sonatas as well as the liberated chords-in-time flow of Terry Riley's early minimalist phase, he combined his influences into pieces without beginning or end, but with a definitive structure, development and identity. It seemed both like a victory and an epiphany at the time. And yet, it would also mark the beginning of a time of hardship, pain and disappointments.

In an open letter brandishing the illegal sharing of his music over the web, he once openly addressed this rough phase: "I was willing to endure 39 years of shit poverty because I had a dream - that one day, this Continuous Music, that needs so much time and work to keep alive, this pathetic dream that one day, one lovely day, enough people would care enough for this music that they would actually buy an LP or a CD of it,  ---  I had this really stupid dream that IF enough people would do this, I could live." Whatever happened during these thirty-nine years remain speculation or the topic of future interviews. And yet, as he's explaining the minutiae of his approach at the .HBC - speaking, in one instance, for almost a quarter of an hour about how his melodic pieces may not sound quite as refined or grandiose, but actually represent the very pinnacle of his oeuvre; how they require decades of experience, dedication and practise; and how similar, in many respects, the art of playing them is to martial arts - it also feels as though Melnyk has sat on his ideas and achievements for a very long time, a man dying to share his art with the world but confined to his private little corner. The connection with a new generation of listeners, first through the re-release of his 1983-full-length The Voice of Trees on Hinterzimmer Records and now through the deal with Erased Tapes, has changed that; sold-out and rapturously received gigs have proven him right. And yet, now he's been vindicated and finally arrived at his place in the limelight, he seems seriously concerned not to be misunderstood. 

As I am watching the completely packed room, with many guests standing or sitting on the floor for a lack of seats, meanwhile, there doesn't seem to be any danger of that happening. Most are taking in the sounds with their eyes closed, following Melnyk's train of thought, as he's taking shimmering piano lines down to the lowest registers of his instrument, where they're turning into distant memories of melodies and motives, and back up to the highest frequencies, where their quicksilver play reminds one of dancing icicles. Besides a handful of journalists and aficionados attending the gig, it is highly likely that no one here has ever heard Melnyik's music before, but there seems to be an intuitive understanding of these pieces nonetheless, which feel like borderless improvisations, but are actually precisely mapped-out. On Corollaries, their impact is sublimated by the majestic production of Nils Frahm and the instrumental input of Peter Broderick, by passages of singing, cosmic solos and intense colors. But in these solo pieces, the reduction of the palette is creating a delicate sense of disorientation, the invitation of diving into a vast ocean of harmony and tenderness. Sometimes it's hard to tell where you've been only a few minutes earlier, as though the music had no memory. As if its footprints were being snowed over in an endless winter landscape.

Besides their aesthetic pleasure, Melnyik has always emphasised, Carolyn Carlson's lessons always had a spiritual component as well, aiming to turn the dancers into "weightless beings". Today, he has arrived at a point where his music can induce these states without the listener actually having to move. Most of the sensations you'll experience during one of his performances usually only occur in a dream. But then again, for as long as the music's playing, perhaps you're in one.

By Tobias Fischer

Photo-Credit: Picasa / Royzen

Corollaries by Lubomyr Melnyk will be released on April 15th, 2013 on Erased Tapes.

Homepage: Lubomyr Melnyk
Homepage: Erased Tapes Records
Homepage: Hinterzimmer Records

Recommended Lubomyr Melnyik interviews & articles on the web:
Interview with Lubomyr Melnyik on Rhythmplex
Interview with Lubomyr Melnyik on Eve Essex's blog