Friday, 4 May 2012

Album review: OLAFUR ARNALDS & NILS FRAHM - Stare

Highlights: b1

An album of 3 tracks, 25 minutes and song titles like “a1”, “a2” and “b1” is surely (post)minimalism taken to its near extreme point. However, wait till you hear the actual sounds – challenging the usual suspects like Brian Eno and renowned minimalists like Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Pretty, suppressed and understated soundscapes, barely rising above the level when background music stops being background music and becomes a self-sufficient work of art.

But that, of course, is kind of the whole point of minimalism. To barely exist, to barely register, but to somehow remain complete and effective. And Stare does qualify. It doesn’t really overwhelm you the way Nils Frahm’s full-bloodied minimalism of Felt did last year, but both Arnalds and Frahm surely know how to forge beauty out of the most quiet and unobtrusive sort of nothingness.

Considering the two men involved, Stare is part beautiful bleak ambience, part beautiful tinkling piano. Exactly what you would expect. Needless to say, it’s all gorgeous stuff – but only if you are prepared for it. It’s a slow, meditative mood you have to enter in order to appreciate all the subtleties of this music, brimming with loveliest, airiest piano notes and sound effects. Not forgetting the violin appearing in the second half of “b2”, of course, that brings the whole thing to a pleasantly subdued climax.

There’s a rather significant moment when the piano-less “b2” stops abruptly and gives way to Frahm’s raindrop-like playing. It’s a moment of utter magic, and it makes you notice the unexpected break – effectively telling you that what you’ve just heard did actually happen. Honestly, I wasn’t being cynical there. In a post-intellectual, post-human way, I quite possibly understood and definitely enjoyed Stare.


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