Leah Kardos & Ben Dawson - Three Preludes A fascinating presentation, Three Preludes contrasts the natural with the artificial, juxtaposing a trio of hand played piano pieces with derivative electronic-based abstract interpretations, commenting on music’s changing states by showing it’s progression and origins. The final recordings of Leah Kardos’s three original compositions are informed by recordings of the process that preceded them, from the first sight read with all it’s mistakes to ambient noise from the rehearsals. By considering this the listener becomes acutely aware of not only the process that is behind a recording but also the human element of the pieces; one can imagine Ben Dawson sitting down at the piano to play, warming up his hands and adjusting his seat before putting his fingers to the keys and beginning to navigate the bars in front of him, his understanding of what he is performing growing with each note played. The longest of the three piano pieces, Draw, plays on moments of intense sadness and passages of uplifting hopefulness echoing the idea of process that underpins the Ep. It begins somewhere in between the two extremes with a strong nostalgia that casts a rose tinted lens over ones memories, summoning happy moments from the past. Then rather suddenly the melody lifts, rising and cascading with all the flurry of activity and aspiration, no longer looking back but carving a path into what is to come. Before long it settles once again but now the joyful sense of retrospect has been lost and the listener is left in the cold, unforgiving preset. The music starts to drag and falter like aspirations that have been crushed.
SVVN’s E.P,” Arnarstapi” is a carefully crafted selection of ambient tracks that are beautifully haunting and characterised by a melancholy undertone that stays with you long after the music has ended. Thematically, this E.P reflects the landscape of Iceland and the tracks are deliberately named after areas of the awe inspiring and beautiful country. Although this is perfect music to listen to as a background accompaniment, the listener will be rewarded for giving each track their full concentration as the attention to detail in terms of instrumentation and production is remarkable.
Setting the tone for the whole collection is the opening composition; “Ísafjörður Part One, I Come Through.” This track evolves and develops as it progresses, using a gentle, chiming refrain and a piano melody backed with a percussive pattern that provides an understated, undulating rhythm. There is also a contrapuntal string melody layered over the top of the other instruments, elevating the mood of the track with a subtle and well timed chord change. Moving in to the second section of this two part track, the soft, reflective ambience is continued with vocal echoes that drift around the drum pattern amongst reverberating guitar chords and a looping piano melody. The sense of melancholy and reflective solitude that is established in the first part of the track is also present here and like the rest of this E.P, this thoughtful and inspiring composition evokes images of the melodramatic Icelandic landscape.
Similarly,” Hveragerði, Fever in the Fold,” is named after an area situated in the South of Iceland, which is characterised by a mystical and dramatic landscape that is interpreted and reflected beautifully here. Working on the simple and hypnotic piano melodies that define this collection, this track has richly textured layers of instrumentation, including a clear and haunting saxophone melody and quiet, processed vocals before a slow but clear trip hop style beat drops in. Like all of the drum work on this, E.P, this is subtle and not in any way over powering, making this perfect music to listen to while working, meditating or just relaxing. There are echoes of the same thematic ambience that characterises this whole E.P here but the characteristic saxophone flourishes and processed vocals add an extra dimension to this particular song. As a complete piece of work, this collection flows well and is unified by a congruent thematic concept that is explored thoroughly throughout. Tracks like “Ólafsvík, You Bloom in Black and Blue” are quite complex but the attention to detail means the music never sounds too busy or urgent and still retains the overall serenity that this beautiful collection creates. With a serene chord and vocal combination that builds up underneath a sparse but uplifting piano melody, the middle of this E.P is augmented with gentle chimes and a soft but full sounding percussive rhythm. The main vocal refrain is repeated by the ethereal female singing voice before a shuffling, light snare pattern and an acoustic guitar melody complete the full, textured sound. SVVN has demonstrated his ability to carefully layer and arrange instrumental sounds to complement each other extremely well.
Slightly more uplifting and less reflective than the other pieces here, the penultimate composition is characterised by partially distorted, electronic sounds that sit underneath the processed vocals, creating a distinctive contrast that gives “Sandgerði, When the Dam Won’t Break” a tranquil but uplifting quality that is both soothing and enticing. An acoustic guitar pattern accompanies the piano melody beautifully and the track builds gently with an additional bass line and slow, hip hop style beat. These final two tracks have a definite sense of place in the collection as a whole meaning that this song works well on its own but also as a deliberate segue in to the final track, “Garðabær, Big Beautiful World.” Although this piece continues the theme that has been established and explored throughout the album, it has a singularly uplifting feel that makes it a perfect track to close the E.P.
By using an organic, live sounding electric bass line that has been recorded so that the augmentations such as the subtle scraping of the strings as the player moves up and down the fret board are still audible, SVVN has created an extra, natural dimension that is often lacking in ambient and modern classical music. Pizzicato plucked string effects are used to ornament to add a rich, textured aura of sound that surrounds the gentle vocals delicately enough for them to still be clearly audible.
Overall, this E.P is an uplifting, gentle experience that moves from the subtle, reflective melancholy of a frozen mountainside to the awe inspiring euphoria of an Icelandic sunrise. By exploring and experimenting with simple but effective piano loops and working with an extremely effective layering technique, in producing Anarstapi, SVVN has created something that will win him fans from many different genres of the musical landscape.