One of music’s million-dollar questions is this: does improvised music naturally create more space? Tom Rogerson’s music would seem to have the answer, or at least part of it. Although improvised minimal piano will still feel quite confined, Tom Rogerson’s music is free-flowing, continuous, the notes exceedingly well populated while still, somehow, creating a whole new world of space and emptiness, a doorway into a quieter place of tumbling leaves, melancholic hymns and late-sunshine afternoons.
Finding Shore (Dead Oceans) was a collaboration with Brian Eno and was released back in December 2017. Good Friday’s performance at Kings Place in London was a one-hour reproduction of the album, not in improvisational terms (that would be nigh on impossible to replicate), but in terms of setup, and with the added energy of live music. Improvisation can also result in longer pieces of music, as patience is required to build its wider foundations.
During the album’s recording, Rogerson improvised at the piano while Eno manipulated her signals with something called a ‘Piano Bar’, a piece of equipment that concentrates infrared beams on each key. But when an artist goes live, how do you perform what is essentially an improvised album? There’s no way to capture those notes once again – they’ve gone – but you can capture its essence, its soul. Each and every second is a brand new moment – something unique, something that can never be repeated – and our experiences are never exactly the same. As in life, so in music: the sounds we experience in the here and now are never exactly the same, either. Brian Eno spoke about this very concept in his recent lecture at the British Library. Music can never be repeated note-for-note, and that’s perfectly okay. Rogerson didn’t attempt to do that (it’s a recipe for disaster). The melodies were similar, but improvisation shatters the stricter structures within music, and so the meandering piano was unchained in its ruminations and gentle, sensitive explorations. The setup was as close as possible to the one during the recording process, and like a brother or a sister, the resemblance to the parent will be in its DNA – she has her mother’s eyes – but the resulting music will always be different; she’s been given her own body and her own personality.
Rogerson used piano, keyboard, and electronics, with light looping sequences, overlapping tones, brighter timbres and scissor-sharp frequencies, tweaking the sounds here and there with slight manipulations. Rogerson’s music places emotion above all else. His tender voice sang of deeper thoughts, burying itself under the weight of continuous piano. The tight staccato-electronics skittered in the background as an elegant piano ran her slippery fingers over its rhythmic Medusa-coils, entangled in its looping melodies but breaking free through the power of improvisation, of going where the music leads instead of where it’s been predestined to go. Similarities exist between Eno’s earlier ambient piano explorations, but Rogerson’s music is modern in approach and execution, often taking surprising turns via a looped sequence or a subtle change of pace; a darkening of the hue and a deflating of the mood.
Notes fell like raindrops, which was appropriate given the sketchy weather in Kings Cross; weather to match the sorrows of death and suffering on a Good Friday. As the music drifted, the vocals seemed to suffer through their own tragedies, flirting with sadness and ultimate defeat but interspersed with occasional pockets of bite-sized euphoria, a burst of joy too good to last. The music ended on a sliver of sunshine, peeking through the clouds and rising up from the keys; a hope resurrected.