Jon Balke: Warp (ECM 2444)

2444 X

Jon Balke

Jon Balke piano, sound images
Piano recorded September 2014 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Sound images recorded and processed at Madstun by Audun Kleive and Jon Balke
Field recordings by Jon Balke
Mixed September 2015 at RSI Studio, Lugano by Jon Balke, Manfred Eicher, and Stefano Amerio (engineer)
Mastered at MSM Studios, Munich by Christoph Stickel
Produced by Jon Balke and Manfred Eicher
Release date: February 12, 2016

In a catalog rich with singular artists, the ECM discography of Jon Balke is without parallel. On Warp, the Norwegian pianist retracts his improvisational claws into even deeper levels of possibility, seeking connections between sound, environment, and the infinite spaces that blur where one ends and the other begins. It’s more than a formula, but a philosophy that has guided his work for the label from the very beginning. Combining freely rendered passages on the piano, recorded at Oslo’s Rainbow Studio, with field recordings and electronics, he doesn’t so much guide the listener as allow himself to be guided as one through uncharted landscapes of expression.

Despite the many kinds of samples, ranging from sounds captured in an Istanbul mosque to an airport announcement read by his daughter Ellinor, there is a uniformity to their purpose as substance. In this sense, it’s almost counterintuitive to spotlight particular tracks over others: each is a vital organ that cannot be removed without compromising the entire organism. The album, then, is more like a film shot in one take, each scene coordinated through a meticulous rehearsal of script, foley, and camerawork—a remarkable feat, given the collage aesthetic at play.

Warped Balke

From the beginning, internal dialogues are the norm, whether through abstract meanings or their material production. Much of the latter is metallic in origin, torn from broken machines and other castaway objects yearning for recovery. Shades of church organ lend sanctity to memories that have no purpose but to shed their skin to make room for one degraded copy after another until only stillness remains. Although it’s tempting to interpret all this as an exercise in nostalgia, its sheer presence is enough to dispel such staid notions of emotional suggestion. Rather, it bleeds as if to remind us of its vitality, filling a cup so transparent that every gesture shows through. And when voices sing, they touch a finger to its rim, ringing out with astonishing contrast.

Warp is that rare exemplification of “ambient” music in that it doesn’t create atmosphere for the mere sake of it, but with such a sense of physicality that listeners can’t help but feel like they’ve walked through someplace neither sacred nor profane, but content in having been graced, if only once, by our attention.

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