Intimate Canvas

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I first had the idea for 'Intimate Canvas' during the Covid lockdowns of 2020 as an album I could record in my own studio.

# Title Time
1 Making Progress 2:36
2 Tense Situation 2:30
3 Simply Flowing 2:33
4 Dream Nebula 2:51
5 Waking City 2:36
6 Nobly Serene 2:37
7 Tears of Wonder 2:28

I thought it would be interesting to write a set of tracks for Audio Network that I could largely play and record myself as violinist and pianist. As it happened, by the time I was ready to record the album, lockdowns were no longer in operation and it proved far easier to spend two days getting the whole thing done quickly and efficiently at the newly opened and excellent School Farm Studios, owned by Audio Network founder Andrew Sunnucks. Having not quite kept the scoring solely to violin and piano, this allowed me to record the ‘Cello (Tim Gill) and Upright Bass parts (Chris Hill) at the same time as everything else. John Mills was our violinist (leader of the Tippett Quartet, Co Leader ECO) and in the spirit of the original project I played the piano parts myself on the studio’s fine Steinway Model D Grand Piano. As quite often happens on these types of projects, the three tracks which the upright bass features in were very straight forward and so as not waste any of the precious session time (standard sessions last 3 hours) I ended up writing some additional tracks featuring the Bass which will in fact form a bonus ‘bass’ album that will come out fairly shortly after the main ‘Intimate Canvas’ release.

The string lines are all recorded with just a single instrument on each part. This gives a closer intimate quality to the sound rather than the bigger more blended sonority of a larger string section. I was keen for each string line to have a distinctiveness about it, in a sense emphasizing the solo nature of the strings, and I achieved this by using different textures, motifs and sometimes effects such as delays. For this reason, there is very little vertical chordal writing for the strings where the instruments move together with the same rhythm Instead, the interplay of the instruments tends to be more horizontal and polyphonic.

One can hear a clear of example of this in the melancholy track ‘Tears of Wonder’. The elements are gradually introduced; a slow moving sparse chordal melody in 6ths on the piano initially accompanied by a pizzicato violin chord with a delay moving in quarter notes and a slight phasing effect. At 20 seconds a gentle staccato bowed violin line in eighth notes with a delay effect joins the two elements already present. The melody is repeated in the piano at 48 seconds and this time a legato counter line in a new violin line is layered on top of the elements already present. The different rhythms and textures of the 4 elements all have their own space and are very distinct. This approach, by which each element is recorded and treated separately, is the complete opposite of recording a whole string section in a hall where there is no real separation between parts with a more homogenous blended sound as a result.

The musical and harmonic style of the album innately feels quite classical but non classical elements such as percussion loops, drones and arpeggiated electronic figures are also introduced at times which along with the granular treatment of the solo string lines gives the tracks a more contemporary vibe. In ‘Making Progress’ the track starts and is powered forward with a hi hat loop working alongside a fast moving arpeggiated ‘pitched’ percussion drone and the insistent mechanistic staccato violin motif. In this case two out of the three initial elements are therefore what I would describe as non-classical. It was interesting to be able to create some nice alternative sparse versions of tracks which focused on purely on these non-classical elements as well as some purely classical ‘unplugged’ mixes without them. The whole album was mixed by Rob Kelly in the summer of 2022 with input and feedback from myself.

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