Wild Mercury Sound

Lubomyr Melnyk: "The Voice Of Trees"

Lubomyr Melnyk: "The Voice Of Trees"
John Mulvey

Mildly annoying evening last night, as I watched the ecstatic tweets coming in from the Lubomyr Melnyk show at Café Oto, unable to be there myself. Comfort came from the Ukrainian pianist’s new album, “The Voice Of Trees”, which I think has been one of my favourite personal discoveries of the last month or two.

Melnyk, I must confess, is a new name to me, though it transpires he’s been playing what he calls “continuous music” since the 1970s. .www.lubomyr.com is quite a treasure trove of information, claiming, “First there came Franz Lizst… then came LUBOMYR!”, and “probably the most unique piano music of the 20th Century ... demanding a new and stupendous mental/physical technique!”

There is certainly an athletic intensity to Melnyk’s playing on the 65-minute continuous sprint of “The Voice Of Trees”, showcasing what his website again reveals to be a world record-holding technique: as the fastest pianist in the world (“sustaining speeds of over 19.5 notes per second in each hand, simultaneously); and for the most number of notes in one hour (93,650, apparently).

All the stats make Melnyk seem like one of those musicians whose virtuosity somehow overwhelms their musicality. But listening to “The Voice Of Trees”, in which two cascading piano tracks share compositional space with three tubas, booming out like foghorns in a hailstorm, the awe at Melnyk’s technique soon subsides.

What becomes dominant, then, is the sheer immersive, rapturous intensity of his music. I’m not entirely sure how to classify Melnyk’s music – I’ve seen allusions to post-classical, to sacred minimalism, neither of which remotely capture the kinetic and vivacious nature of what he does, here at least. What it does remind me of, though, (besides one reference to Charlemagne Palestine I spotted somewhere) might be the oceanic piano lines on the Boredoms’ “Seadrum”, that seemed similarly improbable.

And also, I keep thinking of Terry Riley; not his solo piano pieces, since the ones I know tend to be rather stark and meditative. Instead, Melnyk’s playing seems to be recreating Riley’s time-lag accumulator in real time, a human loop station.

Of course, if he had just artificially generated this velocity and density, the impact of the music would be just as powerful. Nevertheless, quite a backstory. I’ve just discovered he was on the Today programme this morning explaining his kung-fu technique.Listen here and let me know what you think.

Follow me on Twitter: @JohnRMulvey


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This week's big distraction has been what appears to be a crazy number of early Aphex Twin tracks accumulating on Soundcloud (I've added the link below). Among the new stuff, though, please try Bop English; the new solo project of James Petralli from White Denim.