Tag Archives: poppy ackroyd

Poppy Ackroyd – Feathers

Poppy Ackroyd’s Dead Albatross Award nominated debut album was one 2012’s finest and most overlooked records. Delicately tip toeing between the intimacy and warmth of Nils Frahm’s Felt and the percussive preparations of Hauschka’s piano, Escapement carved out its own path through the use of violin, and treating it in much the same way as the piano, cinematic build-ups and field recordings courtesy of Joe Acheson, bandmate from Hidden Orchestra.

Whilst Escapement was heavily indebted to Acheson’s style, most notably in structure and percussion, Feathers is a more individual album, with more understated build ups and a more varied palette. The use of piano and violin, as a percussive as well as melodic instrument, is maintained, but included in the arrangements this time are the Harpsichord, Harmonium, Clavichord and Spinet, all recorded with rare access to Edinburgh University’s Musical Instrument Museum at St Cecilia’s Hall, as well as cello from Hidden Orchestra contributor Su-a Lee. For the most part, these additional instruments add a further dimension to the work, with the cello in particular contributing to a depth missing from Escapement. At times, however, the plucked keyboard instruments – Harpsicord, Spinet and Clavichord – hint at synthesized acoustic guitars of ’90s Ibiza due to the combination of editing and their naturally hard attack, which can’t help but detract from the elegance of the soundscapes created.

Strata opens the album with rising chords building tension to a restrained coda that quietly resolves the opening melodies and Croft is clearly inspired by the move from Edinburgh to Brighton with piano melodies and string accompaniments evoking slowly creeping waves. Timeless contains the album’s most beautiful moment, with the string arrangements sliding towards and tugging away from each other with a serene sense of ease.

The focus on Feathers is on the sonic elements. Possibly in response to Nils Frahm’s ever-growing popularity since Escapement, repeating the production would feel like jumping on a band wagon rather than retreading covered ground, and to counter this the focus is pulled towards a wider range of more unusual instruments, which, when it works, is beautiful and inventive and truly original given the unique range of instruments at her disposal. The album is less indebted to Hidden Orchestra with Ackroyd finding her own voice through composition, percussion and production. What is lacking, however, are the gentle and emotively enveloping melodies of Escapement. It was these melodies that formed the backbone of Ackroyd’s debut, to which the piano and violin was so beautifully added, and although still dotted throughout Feathers, it can feel at times like the balance is reversed.

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Hidden Orchestra, Origami Biro & Poppy Ackroyd at Union Chapel

The Union Chapel is the perfect venue for tonight. Despite the fact it can hold 600 or so, the chapel, due to its layout, always feels intimate. Add to that the hot chocolate, tastefully placed candles, wooden roof and its acoustics and you have one of London’s finest venues. Certainly a huge improvement from Scala, where Hidden Orchestra played this time last year.

Poppy Ackroyd beging the evenings show geared with a Nord electric piano, sequencer and visuals from Lumen. Poppy’s emotive modern classical style is accessible and warm and the balance between her elegant performance and sepia tinged projections make the performance an engaging spectacle. The music, however, never strays too far from the recordings, due to the presence of backing tracks, the violin sounds nasal and cold, meaning the recording lacks the intimate characteristics of last year’s Escapement. We are told that her show on the 20th December at Cafe Oto will be live piano and violin and closer to the the original aesthetic of the recordings, rather than a reenactment of the album. In spite of this, Poppy’s music is always a delight to hear, and encouraging that the title track of new album, Feathers, hold up well against Glass Sea and Rain from Escapement.

Origami Biro stand out tonight for using their own visuals, made with a camera on stage focused on film prints. Their music straddles a point between experimental, drone and post rock, with the use of looped sounds of scrunching plastic and clattering beads hinting at beats, while the music folds together and unwraps to understated moments of bliss. The guitar jumps between chords that are ambiently bowed and slowly strung out, much like Farewell Poetry, whilst the double bass glissandos between notes creating an expressive and powerful sound.

Up until now the visuals have been a pleasant addition to the music, but not much beyond a visual support. As Hidden Orchestra take the stage this seems to continue, but with the screen supported by 12 drum skins that are also projected upon. Throughout the first song the back wall of the chapel quietly lights up with perfectly mapped visuals enhancing the venue’s design. As the set progressed these visuals only improve with Lumen effortlessly lighting up the chapel’s most subtle elements. During Strange the rose window is replicated and kaleidoscopically circles around itself. Hidden Orchestra have always put focus on the visual aspect of their live show, and given the music, this seems wise to add a transformative dimension to their euphoric music. In the past, however, this has never quite met the peaks of the music and not added to their immersive sound. Tonight is different, though, and the audio and visual experiences are perfectly married, each complementing the other.

As for the music, the band feel full of an energy that has been missing over the last year or so, whether this is from the setting, the visuals or the sound is unclear, but in comparison to their last gigs here in London, at Canary Wharf Jazz Festival and Scala, the music shines through in a way that was lost earlier in the year. Whilst on record Joe Acheson is the key mover, live it has always been about Tim Lane and Jamie Graham. Tim’s rigid technique plays perfectly off Jamie’s more loose style, with the duo combining brushes, sticks and beaters and controlling the dynamics of themselves, as well as the band, so well to create a thrilling backdrop of percussion. Long time collaborator Phil Cardwell joins the band for most of the set, while Floex makes an appearance for Hushed, Hidden Orchestra’s remix of Clarinet Factory’s Five Steps and on Dust, where Tomáš Dvořák (aka Floex) replicates Joe’s more laid back playing, taking tonight’s performances away from the sound of the recorded versions, and towards a live identity of its own. The band play a set full of gems, from Spoken to Flight, and end on Strange, only to return for an encore of Antiphon, the energy is consistent and there is never a low point. It’s refreshing to hear a band play this well and interact with their surrounding, both visually and architecturally, as effective as this.

Poppy Ackroyd – Escapement Visualised, Feathers and Cafe Oto

On the 26th Denovali are set to release an audio-visual collaboration between Poppy Ackroyd and Lumen. The audio is taken from Poppy’s exquisitely beautiful debut, Escapement, to which label mate, Lumen, has set visuals. Escapement is an album of piano and violin, all recorded with one microphone. Poppy prepares the instruments and hits them to create the percussion, much like Hauschka or Nils Frahm (who mastered the album). The compositions filmic and stirring, much like Hidden Orchestra, with whom Poppy also plays, and the beauty of the results are hard to describe.

Escapement Visualised is out on the 26th of September, and although it is not cheap, it is seamlessly put together, drawing from the packaging of Sonic Pieces.

In other news, Feathers, the follow up to Escapement, is due for release on the 14th of October. This is in mastering stages at the moment and there is little more information. Given Escapement’s strengths it’s hard to see this one being a disappointment.

Poppy will be playing with like-minded label mates Piano Interrupted and Carlos Cipa on the 20th December at Cafe Oto. A gig not to be missed.

John Lemke – People do

German born, long-term resident of Scotland, John Lemke’s debut, People Do, was released in August, on German label Denovali. This album embodies the sound of the label. Their releases go to extremes of noisey noise (see Moon Zero) and post metal (Oneirogen). The label’s core is obvious from the Swingfest line-ups they curate in Berlin, Essen and London coming from the likes of Piano Interrupted, Poppy Ackroyd, Sebastian Plano and new signing Frederico Albanese. This collection of downbeat, leftfield, electro-acoustic experimentalists is exactly where Lemke belongs.

It’s easy to pull inspirations out of Lemke’s debut LP. The opening dissonant notes of album opener End of Endlessness immediately bring to mind Andro by Oneohtrix Point Never. The unstable pitch feels like a worn vinyl player belt pushing and pulling the speed of the player. This synthy intro seems to be used as a indicator for what is not about to come. The opening notes could easily be the start of the bewildering trip that is Replica, but instead these give way to well crafted beats under a bed of acoustic instruments.

The remainder of End of Endlessness as well as the second track, Shatterbox, are somewhat indebted to Joe Acheson of Hidden Orchestra who are, in a way, also label-mates (Denovali pressed and released Hidden Orchestra’s Tru Thoughts releases). There are a few telltale signs of Hidden Orchestra from the processing on the instruments and their arrangement, to the way Lemke lifts filters off drums ahead of the next rise in energy. Shatterbox opens with a similar drum filter and a classic Hidden Orchestra saxophone line.

From here on in the album diversifies. The Air Between points towards Hauschka’s Salon Des Amateurs, through its dark harmonies and prepared piano percussion. Ivory Nights and When We Could have a more early Jon Hopkins feel to them, with a acoustic instruments sat on a more traditional chill out bed. The latter evokes a sense of euphoria like Light Through the Veins.

Lemke is successful in bringing all these influences together to produce a coherent and structured album. The Dorothea interludes act as a breath of fresh air and offer a more introspective look. Lemke’s work as a composer for TV comes through on Ivory and Night and Norland. This would be easy to shrug off, but actually, other than giving the tracks an TV-like inquisitive feel, a deeper sense of structure is formed. Lemke uses these structures to tell a story, rather than just creating a mood or background atmosphere, which is far too common a theme in downbeat music.