Editions Mego is proud to welcome Powell to its roster with a bizarre and strangely emotive new LP of synthetic computer works entitled “Piano Music 1-7“.
Via his own Diagonal Records imprint, his work on XL Recordings and, most recently, the opening of audio/film platform A Folder [afolder.studio], Powell has firm footing in the contemporary electronic landscape. During a wry and obstinate musical life he has twisted myriad synthetic forms into shapes that explore and expand upon the districts of post-punk, techno, noise + computer music, and in the the last year alone he has released four albums of hi-def abstractions, each inspired by a formalisation of music proposed by Iannis Xenakis.
As an extension of this intense period of work/research/play with stochastic functions [using probabilities to compose music], various processes emerged that Powell then began to apply to more traditional musical events. Where ordinarily in his work the probabilities and relationships are used to define parameters such as wave-shape, folding, FM, filter modes etc., he now began to use them to create musical formations and visual scores that could be played back using any software/MIDI instrument [one of these can be seen on the rear cover of the LP release]. While mapping out this cartography of relations, he used a basic Grand Steinway sampler as a placeholder instrument; the longer the process went on, though, the more he began to embrace the acoustic properties of the synthetic piano and make it the bedrock for this new constellation of work.
“Piano Music 1-7“, subtitled ‘Music for Synthetic Piano and Assorted Electronics’, consists of seven different synthetic islands strung together into a single composition. All were composed using the aforementioned processes that allowed Powell to play a piano, even if he never learned to do so with his hands. After all, ’In writing electronic music,’ Robin Mackay once wrote, ‘you also have to direct the invention of new tools.’
At times the piano skips gleefully over shadowing synthesis, whilst at others the synthetic sheets swarm and envelope the keys. The interplay between the two create a fantastical alternate reality, a cosmic machine in which time is eroded, shrunk and expanded, like a wax upon which operations and relations are inscribed or engraved. Many of the pieces express a playfulness or optimism verging on vitalism, as bundles of piano notes dance and interpolate with a never-repeating range of electronic gestures. The feel is of a brightly coloured flower-bed in various stage of bloom. This interplay of the [artifical] acoustic and the electronic builds on the pioneering processes developed by David Behrman in works such as Leapday Night, and “Piano Music 1-7” could also be posited as a modern take on Conlon Nancarrow’s investigations for player piano. Similarly, the razor-sharp sonic properties and unfolding of non-human events recall the computer works of Xenakis and the surgical precision of Mego mainstay Florian Hecker.
Recorded in late 2020, these new Powell works propose not just a bold and bright vision of electronic music but serve also as a map with which, for 35 minutes at least, we can navigate our way out of the current milieu. As the artist himself remarks in the sleeve-notes, ‘. . . What emerged from this fog or soup [for me] were ideas and processes that felt affirmative and life giving — sensations I had always hoped to convey in my music. Perhaps the optimism or positivity I felt at these musical events unfolding, these clusters and knots tumbling in different directions across time, can also be felt by you.’