First off: a great name, as the unique moniker makes one want to know more. Ghost Flute & Dice is Copenhagen composer Mikkel Almholt, who specializes in amplified piano and first appeared as a solo artist four years ago. Second: great presentation, as the CD is wrapped in a thin plastic cover and secured by a piano wire clasp, the outside of the package being a physical reflection of the sounds within. (Bonus: it’s easy to open and re-secure.) The recipient already has a good feeling heading into the music. Third and most importantly, this is a lively, crisp set, enhanced by violin, sax, field recordings and electronics, a huge step up from the artist’s debut.
That set – Music for Amplified Piano – was playful in a fast, gleeful manner, while the new set is playful in a meditative, mature manner. There’s just so much more sound to consider this time around. It’s a good thing that Almholt slowed the pace. The irony is that the set begins with the sound of whooshing cars, the prepared piano accompanied by romantic strings. It’s as if Almholt is saying that the world can go as fast as it wants, but that he doesn’t feel obliged to comply by its rules. Despite this contrast, he does let go in two flurried ivory segments: choruses of sorts, followed swiftly by clouds of metallic drone. “sharp minor” serves as an overture, a means of introducing the components that come into play further down the line. The flurries, for example, reappear on the brief but effective “white”, conjuring images of white-out conditions.
Melody is god, proclaims Ghost Flute & Dice, only to allow such melodies to fall down the stairs on “chroma”, notes tumbling out of place, white keys tripping over black, left shoes over right, as the drones attempt to restore a sense of order. The track delves into abstraction without losing the plot, an extremely difficult thing to do. And just when it seems over – in fact, when all is silent – CRASH! (6:38). A static cloud descends like an electrical storm. If melody is god, then this is what it must mean to follow such a god, waiting for the cloud of unknowing to disappear.
The battle between order and chaos continues throughout the album, which often uses the sound of transit as a constant, an inversion of expectation. Someone has to hold the center. On “phrygian”, notation is balanced by the unbalanced, as static pops and electronic tones provide unusual counter-points. When the piano notes go atonal, the electronic notes suddenly seem like the voice of reason. And on the closing track, the human voice enters the fray like another instrument, coating the static array with minted honey. Then it all goes back in the plastic, secured by wire. The sheep are in their pen, the gate is latched, the sounds have all come home. (Richard Allen)