All the music ever played is still playing…
Fallen Trees (Erased Tapes, December 7) is a glorious return from continuous piano music inventor Lubomyr Melnyk. The ‘prophet of the piano’, consciously or not, embeds the spiritual within his free-flowing music. People sway, like branches in the wind, hypnotized by his rolling waves of continuous sound. The melody dips and changes, but it never stops progressing. This can lead to stormy sections and tumultuous cells, but Melnyk is always in control of his music, navigating his ship through a stunning natural landscape.
Melnyk has dedicated his entire life to the piano, and as he approaches 70, his birthday coinciding with the album’s release, his bond with the instrument has never been closer. It feels more like an extension and an appropriate expression of the heart, although it’s also an old and reliable friend. His playing is as ebullient as ever, and despite the title’s autumnal feeling and the inevitable turning of the seasons, his music continues to enthral. In fact, it’s never felt more alive, even in the record’s thematic death. The meditative tones blaze past at the speed of light, transcending the music, the notes travelling at insane speeds while still managing to calm and uplift, bringing the listener into the utopic.
Fallen Trees develops an instant connection with the natural world. The continuous music has always shared its breathing with nature, its cascading notes and rippling pools of sound drawing close to the physical purity of Mother Nature, but Fallen Treesthrives in death, bringing new life to something already felled – a tree and its colony. As he travelled through Europe, Melnyk’s train passed through a dark forest. He saw the slaughter. These felled and wounded trees struck Melnyk as being glorious, somehow still alive in spite of being killed, glinting brighter than the axe used to murder, the weapon that seared and scoured living, innocent things, their glowing light still pouring into the depths of a blinded forest and their stillness retaining so much power. His rapt attention to detail can be heard in his composition: a concentrated effort that never sounds clunky or sterile. He actually plays with the piano, inserting heart and soul, not using it to write out a detailed composition with plenty of notes but not much in the way of feeling. His compositions lack nothing. In fact, they go deeper than compositions stained by the inky sap of sheet music, moving outside the box, and going even further than that, inverting it and flipping it. The piano, such a free-flowing waterfall that constantly runs, was never supposed to be a vehicle for rigidity or confinement, which one will frequently discover in structured composition.
There was something sorrowful there, but also hopeful.
Melnyk’s piano music is pure, reflecting the trees themselves who so freely offered oxygen to all. Sustaining us. It’s sad to see something so pure lying on the forest floor, slaughtered, uprooted, and never returning, but it still shines, and it still has life even in death. Melnyk’s continuous music has a wonderful freedom – although this record is tinted with sadness, it’s brave and holding in the tears that want to form – and the music doesn’t remain sombre for long. Optimistic chords lie in the midst of the mourning, rising up on their leg-like roots after a long battle, the quick progressions helping to cleanse the wounds of melancholia.
Melnyk’s music is a deep interaction between the living and the dead, its currents flowing between the awoken and the resting, the sleeping, registering their plight with a compassion growing rarer by the hour. The pieces, while continuous, still have a structure, gracefully slipping from a verse’s sibling into an anticipated, recurring motif, one that’s louder, brighter, and wider than the other sections, a segment which in other worlds would be deemed a chorus. So the music, despite its continuous piano and the penchant for roaming, can still exist within organized structures, and do it successfully, too. A lot of continuous piano music is built upon necessary repetition, and that helps in creating the hypnotizing effect. But the music still feels liberal and generous, even in the face of its repetitions, as high and as wide as the tree was during its life, before Melnyk wrote its epitaph and its resurrection.
The speed at which he plays is always a marvel, but it’s the effect that matters. The notes will resonate, but it’s taken a lifetime for Melnyk to walk someway further than the others, to a greater understanding with Music herself. The staccato-notes of ‘Fallen Trees – Part II: Existence’ may represent the brevity of life, or the short, shallow gasps for breath as the axe buries into the hulking body of the tree’s bark, with one strike after another producing a deeper wound. Joining Melnyk are other label-mates from Erased Tapes – Japanese vocalist Hatis Noit (Illogical Dance, 2018), cellist Anne Müller, and America’s David Allred. They add important touches to the overall album, passing through the melodic storms before travelling, like the Eurostar, at smooth but incredible speeds. Perhaps most astonishing is the fact that these pieces all sound new and fresh, even while knowing beforehand what continuous piano music involves. The music doesn’t feel stale or recycled. This is a brand new concept, a brand new idea, within Melnyk’s canon of continuous music. Music’s heard and felt not by the ears alone: the entire body is involved, seemingly both locked in to and liberated by the music. Just as the image of the felled tree stayed with Lubomyr, and new life, in the form of music, shot up like a new root from that image of death and its permanence, so too does the music stay with the listener, never truly dying, after all.