Suite For Piano and Electronics by Matt BaberRelease date: June 15, 2018
Label: Bad Elephant Music
Suite For Piano and Electronics is the first “proper” CD release from Sanguine Hum’s Matt Baber. Initially starting his musical career as a drummer, Baber switched to playing the keyboard when forming the aforementioned band (albeit when they were still known as Antique Seeking Nuns). Since then he has been busy compiling ambient and electronic soundscapes in largely digital form, precious few of which have seen the light of day. This industriousness has all helped, however, to inform the sounds and approach on Suite For Piano and Electronics. Perched precariously between the constant sweeps of Lubomyr Melnyk and the atonal work of Steve Reich, Baber has captured a soothing set of sounds that show technical dexterity whilst embodying a cheerfulness that is neither mawkish or saccharine. It’s the sweet hope of someone who spends their time with nature. In woodland or broad fields, Baber’s eyes are always focused upwards, blinking towards a bright blue sky.
‘Part 3’, for example, begins with cold overtones. Glacial keys proclaim their point over and over. Gradually new responses join the conversation. Thickening and warming the sound. This is repetition towards progress. Evolution grown from simple, initial ideas. Similarly the calm and airy ‘Part 6’ expands from a drifting twist of tone-setting notes into a sterner central motif which rises from its midst. It ushers in proposals of rigidity that are soon replaced with something that is melancholy yet reassuring. And on the opener a dipping and scooping synth loop provides the backdrop for Baber’s piano to pointedly emerge from. Background sounds squelch and throb as sharp, cool notes ring out into an expectant ether. They’re rewarded with a cohesion as these disparate parts start to gel and morph into something vibrant. Something that gives the impression of a fresh face expectantly looking to new beginnings.
The electronic elements of the title are largely given free reign throughout. Materialising out of the sonic mist like a stalking creature with its nostrils all a-twitch comes ‘Part 4’s burgeoning synth bass that appears to have gotten lost en route to John Carpenter’s latest soundtrack. Top-end piano notes flutter around this creature in the manner of fireflies in an increasingly esoteric soundscape. It’s as if this is a dreamlike remake of one of Studio Ghibli’s most magical features. These synthetic touches are also used to keep other aspects in check. Splurts of digital noise drift across this modern classical canvas like dispersing clouds. Hefty bass chord stabs keep the fluttering right hand from solely indulging itself on ‘Part 7′ as fingertips dance over ivories like a virtuoso baying for applause in a vapour-filled bar. Following this is the most electronic track on the album. Synths lock and groove with a hurried repetition whilst Baber flexes his piano muscles at the fore. All combining to create a resonant medley that dances down avenues least expected, popping up in places that Philip Glass typically inhabits.
Part of this record’s appeal is the wide range of ideas on display within such an apparently tight framework. From the jazzy collection of plunked chords which give way to rising strings and cascading arpeggios that then trickle down like fresh snow into gushing rivers on ‘Part 2’ to the tech-metal guitar riff transposed to a piano on the fifth track, Baber is always playing with both conventions and methods. An electronic fuzz glitch spirals around the room like a trapped fly head-butting window panes. All of the pretences fall away and this track opens up into a delicate, but determined, enrapturing melody that refuses to shy away from harmonious hooks. It splashes around like raindrops in a musical puddle before a false ending comes unfortunately close to reducing this to jingle status.
The ninth part, however, arrives with a sombre cheer and a piano so exquisitely mic’d that the fall of the dampened hammer acts like a muted bass thump, propelling the track onwards towards an atmospheric wash of delight. But it is the maximalist flurried note showdown that Baber has saved for last which seems best positioned to reveal his musical intentions. Big major chords signal and kickstart the swirling mesh of free-spirited keys, pirouetting like one of Pina’s unorthodox dancers. Joy is wrought and wrangled from that wide, toothy grin and any sense of darkness or danger is swiftly doused in a shower of gleeful sounds. From the start to the finish, this work seeks out and finds jubilation in every potential sonic corner.