There was once an ongoing debate within my subconscious as to what instrument is better. While I can’t play anything worth a damn, I can still keenly appreciate the extremely wide variety of sound and ambiance that a certain instrument can create. The debate has been put to rest now. Piano is the mightiest of all instruments. It has a range of sound that dwarfs everything around it, including its siblings the organ and the harpsichord. The emotional range is off the charts, the piano can convey deep melancholy and Dionysian joy, it can convey anger just as easily as it can fearfulness. No instrument comes close the power and ability of the piano. I’ve heard Reign in Blood played on the piano, it was one of the craziest experiences of my life because it was so different and so unique. The piano is an instrument that can challenge our preconceptions of what a song sounds like, it can add depth and atmosphere to just about anything.
Case in point is Randal Collier-Ford’s latest foray into the dark ambient genre. “Piano Movements” comes to us this time from Kalpamantra Records, one of my “big three” dark ambient labels. Randal’s work in the dark ambient genre really pushes boundaries, I’ve listened to his ritualistic, gnostic ambient in the form of “Architects” and heard his sci-fi ambient with the collaborative “Locus Arcadia.” He’s now showing up in neo-classical ambient and once again putting on an absolute clinic, proving once and for all that Randal Collier-Ford is a master of all forms of dark ambient.
He uses the emotional range of the piano to great effect, playing a very traditional, stripped down sound with very little actual ambient sound, trading it in for miles of atmosphere. If he had chosen to name is songs like “1st concerto for two hands” or “2nd symphony in E major” I would have honestly thought this was a pure classical album from the era of Beethoven and Mozart, well maybe not since I know Randal but you get the picture. This album is the real McCoy.
The first song on the album sounds like a lullaby, its gentle and whimsical but never crosses over into silly or happy. It’s a testament to Randal and to the piano that he is able to toe that line. Each song after that plays on a different theme and emotion.
As the album goes on the atmosphere and the ambiance grow stronger, from a mere background noise in the first song to a counterpoint by the end. Randal Collier-Ford manages to play both sides of the sound beautifully, balancing them out when needed or giving one more power here or there.
Piano Movements show a different side of Randal Collier-Ford’s musical abilities. Where much of his work is very stylized and ritualistic, Piano Movements is very simple. There is really little “movement,” playing irony in the name of the album, aurally speaking. The sound of the piano stays within a pretty mellow range. This is the kind of music that one might expect to hear played within a concert hall, in fact now that I’ve actually said that out loud I would pay good money to see this album performed live.
The music is vulnerable, it’s soft and mellow but at the same time it has a sort of hidden power that comes alive outside of the music itself and plays with the mind of the listener. Piano Movements is a prime example of the text of the music moving, the actual sound itself, away from the intent of the author (musician) and toward a sort of autonomous entity. It’s pretty rare for ambient music to do this but it’s actually pretty standard for classical. The interplaying of both genres here makes this album a different sort of beast than any other neo classical ambient album I’ve heard. The music, not the sound, has the power. The piano, the instrument of the sound, is granted agency because despite just being the vehicle of the sound it has the power to change our perception of that sound.
That might sound pretty into the weeds but basically, the piano has the power through the sound rather than the musician playing it. The piano is responsible for the emotive presence. It’s a beautiful thing to see as the album plays out, the piano is so awe inspiring that one cannot help put fall in love with it. The entire album is entertaining, thought provoking, and relaxing. Piano Movements is a testament to the relationship between artist and instrument as well as the sheer talent of Randal Collier-Ford. He is a musical chameleon with abilities to spare. This album has made me respect his talents more than I already did. I think anyone with ears should listen to this because it has so much to offer.
Listen and support!