We don’t review singles at A Closer Listen, but we do review singles series, especially when the series is as beautiful as the first batch from Moderna Records. We’ve come to know Moderna for its cross-blend of modern composition and electronic sounds, and the summer series provides a perfect advertisement for the label. In fact, when played in order, these six singles sound like a sweetly-sequenced EP.
The cover images are reminiscent of those on Sonic Pieces: dominated by single hues, they emphasize a synesthetic response to music. One might call the singles Forest, Desert, Cloud, Sun, Sea and Bark, or simply enjoy them as is. This is the digital era, and the tactile reaction to music is on the wane, but the visual component remains important.
Jake Lowe‘s “Sarah” starts the series with perhaps the label’s most representative instrument, the piano. There’s an elegance to those long, rolling hills and the black-and-white cinematography, as if the label is making a statement that it’s too soon to give up the old things. The same is true of the song, played with great attention in a surprisingly sparse room, as if to reclaim freedom from distraction. At the ending there is silence as the composer looks outside, having reflected the scene in his song. It’s interesting to see how quickly another channel adopted the track under the banner “Most Beautiful Music,” as the song ended up with 89,000 views (and counting) with a still image as opposed to the original with just over 500 views, with commenters concentrating on Sarah, unaware of the forest. This version, which is also found on the single, includes cello and violin as well.
Maxy Dutcher‘s “Blocks” is filmed from an unusual angle that allows the viewer to watch the piano hammers as well as the keys. It’s a celebration of instrument over performer, the latter whom is never visible above the wrists. But it’s also a celebration of performance and talent, the melodies winding down to a thin mist. Once again, the views of the original video pale in comparison to the thousands on the “Ambient” channel, featuring a sunbeam in a cave and the title of the blog. This is a strange time to be an artist, never knowing where one’s music will end up or in what form.
Julia Gjertsen‘s “Gate” is represented on YouTube only by Moderna’s own still image, and “Next Up” I’m treated to “NFL Week 16 Simulation – Madden 19 – Snow Week,” which is worth mentioning only for the absurdity. The Russian-born, Oslo-based composer released the track for Piano Day, but the Moderna Summer Series provides it with a new banner and hopefully a longer life. The beauty of this series is that it opens windows to a roster of composers whose longer works may now have a greater audience as well. Turns out the artist has a whole slew of worthy songs on her Soundcloud page, my favorite of which is “Flow” followed by the surprisingly experimental, eleven-minute “Sculptures.” Pigeonhole her at your risk.
Electronics surface on the lively “Falling/Soaring,” which was partially influenced from news of a Quebec climber falling to his death while attempting to ascend K2. This bittersweet story translates into a track that is more gratitude than grief, the major chords reflecting the nobility of the endeavor. The artist’s pseudonym, Pikauba, is also the name of “a lake that transforms suddenly into a river in the heart of large open spaces in northern Quebec.” In a strange confluence, the two stories match. Sometimes out of nowhere, despite our best efforts, things go wrong; and yet we are meant to keep trying, to honor those who have gone before and to carry on with our own dreams, perhaps in our striving completing theirs as well. The final thirty seconds are a respectful pause, hand over heart.
“Footsteps” is a remix, but not the type one might expect. Arovane took Mike Lazarev‘s original track, added field recordings (footsteps, doves, voices at market) and chopped up the notes to create something wholly original. The song’s melancholic tone is perfect in the wake of “Falling/Soaring,” underlining the way in which sequencing ~ in this case the calculated release of one single a week, in order ~ can influence the interpretation of music. The avian section sounds like a dream or an elegy. The track ends on a swiftly rising electronic tone, cut off too early. We want more; thankfully, the artists hint that this may be just the beginning of a longer collaboration.
The Summer Series ends as it began, with piano. Is it just coincidence that Michael Legan‘s piece is titled “A Momentary Fall”? First there’s the implication that our moods, which turned melancholic in the middle of the series, might be ready for a rebound. Second, there’s a dual meaning that may be cherished by those dreading the end of summer; we have but to outlast the autumn, and we will find our time again. Third, time and experience are ephemeral. “A Momentary Fall” is a great way to wrap up what we’re sure will only be the first of many series, released in their season. Congratulations to Moderna on the launch of a fine imprint! (Richard Allen)