Black rain trickles over a tear-swept canvas of inky imagination and musical possibility. Note after note falls down and ripples outwards in a symmetrical shape of beautiful design. A brush of an artistic hand leaves slowly developing trails that, eventually, shape themselves into smeared tears of black ink. Vines creep across the roots of healthy, upright trees, almost lost in the dense artwork. A brighter chord movement suddenly splashes down, rises up and snakes its way speedily up and along the thin trees, nesting there, in the treetops. This was music that at first flirted with the visual art form, the visual of which then coalesced with the running notes, producing similar sensations that were once unique to each craft, left to blossom before the eyes.
All things are alive. All things are (a)live. Live music is the only way to truly encounter the real heart, soul and passion of music; to feel her against you, heart beating against heart, unedited and undisturbed, where no barriers past, present or future exist between the music and the listener; a pure, aural experience is ensured, ascending from the heart and soul of the musician to the instrument, and from the instrument directly through to the receiver. Daft Punk recently instructed us to “give life back to music”, and the music of Lubomyr Melnyk is doing just that. A record may be produced at an expensive studio, with all of the up-to-date equipment and mixing talents available, but even these admirable traits pale alongside the auto tune-free thrill of live music. Isn’t it amazing?
Lubomyr Melnyk is a true musician; he sees clearly the beauty in the minuscule, the beauty that surrounds every single thing. There’s no need to extract the beauty – it’s already there. It is instead transferred effortlessly to his black, Yamaha piano and, one note at a time, accelerates into a rapid succession of notes, taking flight as one entity rather than a thousand, separate notes, soaring high with musical purity. His notes have a life all of their own, and while his music contains elements and influences of minimalism, each and every note will never sound quite the same as the last – this is special to a live performance, and it’s one of the most beautiful gifts bestowed upon live music.
Lubomyr Melnyk is sensational. The 20th of May saw the Ukrainian pianist play two intimate shows in one night at The Village Underground, in Shoreditch, London. An almost cavernous interior gave ample space for Lubomyr’s heart-felt intentions; for the audience to hear a piano, only a piano, without any kind of electronic interface or interference. The acoustics of the larger setting (compared to his January performance at London’s Café Oto) certainly worked in favour of the single, sole piano that was instrumentally alone, but never lonely. It isn’t a physical kind of performance, the kind where electric guitars are worn low around the knees and the wrists ask for a chronic diagnosis of repetitive strain injury. There aren’t any orbs of light or strobe effects – this is music as it perhaps should be – only music, to allow a thorough absorbtion. All of these effects look cool, sure, but it could be argued that a piano performance as such isn’t a typically physical kind of performance. Lubomyr Melnyk’s performances are extremely physical, though. His fingers are in constant motion and the trance-inducing state of mind both clears away the clouds of troubled thoughts and develops a dreamy tonic of a tone – you can drift away in the new found world, without ever sacrificing the fragile involvement of the listener. For Lubomyr’s music is completely involving, almost to the point of no return. It isn’t unusual to see people swaying along as if hypnotized by the rapid selection of melodically inspired notes, enwrapped in a gorgeous, harmonic balm as they soar ever upwards. It may seem strange, but in many places some kind of visual accompaniment may be expected, so that the eyes can devour the notes as well as the heart. In an age of diminishing attention spans, true art often sacrifices itself to the demands of the times; the modern need for indulgence on an immense, and unhealthy, scale.
There was no sign of artistic sacrifice at The Village Underground; both art forms supported and shaped one another in a loving relationship. Lubomyr Melnyk’s style of continuous piano music, technically and musically advanced, continues to take the breath away. This was a unique collaboration, as Lubomyr was joined on stage by Gregory Euclide, the artist responsible for the gorgeous artwork that graced the recently released record, Corollaries. This was a performance that more than satisfied the senses, where the aural overlapped into the visual, and where the notes themselves were lovingly painted with the smoothest of strokes. It’s clear from past experience that Lubomyr has the ability to take to the stage unaccompanied and captivate the audience with beautiful, soul searching music. It was, then, interesting to see him share the stage with Euclide; it’s like a double helping of your favourite ice cream, covered in a sprinkled sauce and oozing down the white like the sprays falling onto the watercolour, streaking the painted thoughts like tears remembering an erased landscape where beautiful, European windmills once stood.
Euclide’s process of painting along to the music leads to new, improvised areas, so that, like the music, every performance and every painting is truly unique to that one moment. No one performance is ever the same, and it’s unclear whether the imaginative black over white canvas is the unfolding painting or the two tone colour of the piano and her keys. Only a couple of times, when the staccato stabs of an introduction synced up perfectly with Euclide’s use of dots and dashes, as if his strokes emanated from an internal metronome, was a sense of preconceived possibility revealed. Euclide’s painting complimented the music perfectly. The addition of a live, constantly evolving painting, that at times seemed to resemble a serene lake of jet black, holding reflections like fluid mirrors, helped to contour the stream of notes arising out of the piano, themselves producing ripples on the very same lake. It added another dimension to the musical experience. A grey-hued excursion in the minor key began a beautiful, musical journey. There was never any chance that the two art-forms would detract from the whole. Lubomy’s second piece featured a prominent chord progression that would cycle around the evolving painting. Occasionally, a dreamy, dissonant chord would surface, as what looked like immense lilacs shaped the frame of the painting, arcing palms of spontaneous creativity. Fragile trees grew as the music spread; in a way, this is the near perfect representation of the music in imagery. Incredibly alive, rooted deeply and always thriving.
The rapid succession of notes need to be heard in a live environment – the notes exist to breathe into the ears of the listener, to surround the inner walls of the building and the outer walls of your mind. Notes showered down a thousand and one colours, all tanned to a healthy degree as they resonated out of the piano. Every note living life to the full. And this mantra can be seen and heard inside his amazing ‘Windmills’ piece – a lengthy piece that’s been around in development for three years, and that recounts the dreamy story of an old, European windmill that falls victim to a violent, unstoppable storm. Even more amazingly, he didn’t begin to write the melodic ideas down until six months ago (can you imagine the sheet music?!) The storms of life can throw us off course, but in the end, there is hope through the finale and the ascension of the higher register; it’s the realisation that beauty is everywhere, and that even the thought itself reveals beautiful creation.
Starting in the low register, the notes within notes stuttered the windmill to life, sometimes stopping as the gears trudged through the motions. Stenciled images uncovered deeper images that were waiting to be discovered all along. Higher notes, optimistic in the face of the black, intense clouds, fought courageously against the lower, rumbling thunder – rolling over with a speed that matched Lubomyr’s speedy finger movements. Visions clouded the eyes as if the storm had descended over the venue (and with the weather we’ve been having, who’s to say there wasn’t a storm overhead?)
The painting seemed to absorb the music, feeding off of the notes in a continuous circle, as if the brush was an arm circling around a windmill’s body. Euclide’s artistic precision could resemble a black-tipped blade, used only for creation instead of a violent tornado and imminent destruction, intent on ripping apart the innocence of major harmony. Imaginative, cohesive and yet ever changing, pools of inky rivers were left, a Heavenly realm awaiting the ascension. A black inked rainbow could be seen arcing over the tip of the canvas, hovering over a major chord. Yet, it could have transformed into a dark, threatening cloud, coming closer and carrying the storm on tips of turbulence.
Lubomyr’s passion is not only for the music and the instrument, but for the purity of her tone, and the rich resonance that is inevitably diluted when she comes into contact with even the tiniest electronic element. I think it’s fair to say that everyone in the room was transfixed, and the continuous applause for the continuous music was further proof that Erased Tapes have found a gem in Lubomyr – it looks like they were meant to be together all along.
This is where the music lives on, but it’s also up to us ourselves to give life back to live music. I urge you to check where he is playing next. It’s truly an honour to hear the music. As the warm rain falls, all you can really do is admire the talent and the musical journey you’ve been privileged enough to experience. If you allow the notes to sink into your heart, they live on long after the music has stilled the air – true, continuous music.