Otto A Totland ~ Companion

In a time when physical packaging seems to have disappeared from the market, it’s encouraging to encounter the consistency of Berlin’s Sonic Pieces.  Companion is the latest entry in their cloth series ~ we’ll call this the Wheat One.  The album is also the conclusion of a seven year piano trilogy from Otto A Totland, which began with Pinô and continued with The Lost.  Much has happened in the interim, making Guttorm Fløistad’s plea (found in the liner notes) even more relevant:  “In order to master changes, we have to recover slowness, reflection and togetherness.”

The ironic twist is that even though slowness was forced upon most of the world in the past two years, the world hesitated to embrace it.  Given such vast opportunity for reflection, many turned instead to Netflix or politics, thinking distraction or argument might fill the void.  Totland offers an age-old alternative, bordering on spirituality, that many have forgotten and more have ignored.  These miniatures sing of a different approach to down time: carving a space for contemplation.

Totland eases into the set with “Fade,” fading in rather than fading out.  The title piece bears the first memorable melody, although mood will be more important throughout; no matter the tempo, Totland sustains a sprightly, positive tone, a companion “in good times or bad.”  The effect is just as important as the notes.  “Selonto” is as courtly as a queen’s procession; “Rose” plays with pauses, emerging with new energy from each.  “Days Before” implies the memory of things as they were, convoluted by yearning.  Did we really enjoy the time before slowness was imposed?

“Repeat” turns perception on its head.  The returning melodic line is received with joy rather than trepidation.  Instead of bemoaning repetition, Totland honors it: a reminder that repetition does not always mean rote.  We cherish routines; we cycle through celebrations.  When our routines were disrupted over the course of the pandemic, we developed new ones, in some cases to the extent that we were reluctant to give them up when restrictions eased.

Totland’s music implies that we have a choice: to return to the rat race, the relentless pace of industry and commerce, the numbing extravagance of mindless entertainment; or to pause, not because we have to, but because we want to; because in the words of Fløistad, “there we will find real renewal.”  Sometimes the companion we seek is ourselves, once lost, then blessedly found. (Richard Allen)

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