The first five minutes of this album are a bit like what, I imagine, it must feel like to be hypnotised then slowly, ever so slowly, have an electric voltage pumped into your body. Each shock slightly more powerful than the last. From a mere uncomfortable tickle to the full force of a high voltage surge the senses are pushed to the limit.
Or at least, that’s what I like to think as I listen to the opening moments of ‘Affected Pianos’ by Joe Evans. In reality, being hypnotised and then cruelly tortured is probably a million times worse than the opening to this fine record. That’s not to say the opening to ‘Affected Piano 1’ is not shocking. A piano line repeated over and over could easily put a listener off. The noise, as each phrase repeats, builds and builds until it is a shrieking, piercing screech hard to bare, and hugely surprising, when listening through headphones – trust me. For many listeners, this could well be the deal breaker. The point at which the record is turned off. But from the slow, laborious opening, which promised little, suddenly, much like my scenario, I am hypnotised by the music on offer – though thankfully spared the torture. In five minutes I am transformed from “interested” to “captivated” and I remain so for the duration of this fine offering. If you give this record the chance, I am sure you will be too.
Having never heard of Evans before, I did the usual thing: read the album title and assume you know what’s about to be on offer. And, from my experience, it could well be that what is on offer here is actually all piano – affected in one way or another to create something much more. Technology to the fore. Such are the skills of modern day composers and the technology on offer to aide them, I would not be surprised to find that the only instrument used on these recordings was indeed the piano.
However, this is much more than a piano record. Yes, the piano is evident. Yes, the piano is affected. But it’s a sublime study of craft through simple phrases, repetition and arrangement. I believe one of the terms for processed sounds is “drone” but I have never really thought of music that creates dense and rich soundscapes as “drone” music. There is warmth to this record that underpins the dense textures and whilst the word drone might be commonly associated with such pieces there is something far more musical, far more complete to this work than a simple piece of noise. Perhaps it is the piano? The piano of course lends itself beautifully to the creation of rich, warm backdrops and even in among the concentrated and intense noise on offer here there is melody and harmony in abundance. Evans has clearly used the piano to create and shape something quite special.
And yes, it is hypnotic. But it’s not torture. In fact, listening to this work is a real pleasure and something I intend to do again and again.