Grains & Motes is a collaborative EP between composers Neil Cowley and Ben Lukas Boysen. This EP consists of four tracks, all of which were recorded in Boysen’s Berlin studio. Blending modern classical music with a quiet, melting electronica – a popular hybrid with Central European roots – while being infused with a distinctly contemporary sound, Grains & Motes is a chat between friends, with a freshly poured, steaming mug of coffee sitting on the table, a sharing of musical ideas and philosophies filling the room and in turn inspiring the sounds on the record. A casual, relaxed atmosphere sinks into the overall tone, but the music is taken seriously, too, demanding focus when the time is right. During their time together, the pair shared early techno tracks and waxed lyrical over favorite bands and artists, and their love of music shines through. The friendship can be heard within the kinetic music, as real as the surrounding studio space. The music’s as detailed as a suspended orb of dust captured by a lone jet of sunlight.
2018 was a busy year for Cowley. He co-wrote a track with Maribou State for their Kingdoms In Colour album, supported Roy Ayers at the Barbican, and recorded a mix for the Solid Steel series. In early 2019, he launched his new electronic project at Ghost Notes, London. Grains & Motes is another slanting of Cowley’s musical approach, creating a gap from which something new, alive and electric can take ahold, emerging from the shift in style. Taking inspiration from his recent Spacebound Tapes EP – which featured remixes from Rival Consoles, Throwing Snow, and Vessels – Grains & Motes, perhaps unsurprisingly, shines into a similar room.
Although releasing on Mote, the general moulding and ethos fits the discography of Erased Tapes, Boysen’s home label. That label is a place where subdued piano melodies, altered, European-centred harmonies, and radiator-warm beats entwine to create warm and fuzzy music with one foot in the classical roots of an upright and more formal past, and the other in the modern day maelstrom of electronic music. Cowley, already working within piano music, passes into new spheres by embracing Boysen’s digital work. The EP is then laminated with Boysen’s glinting production skills. Harmonies are altered with great degrees of subtlety, hanging in the air like motes of dust – from which the EP receives its name. There is something of the classical tradition in this EP, too. Something transfixing. Reverting back to different, perhaps tidier times, the refined music is also able to keep things contemporary with its tight, progressive electronics and gentle manipulations, all dressed in a crisp and smooth production.
‘Working with Ben for me has felt like the coming together of two artists who reside in the same space, but who have come to that space from two totally different angles. Both of us create piano based music, rich in neo-classical harmony, however Ben creates it almost entirely on the computer screen, choosing and editing his notes on the grid as such, like a modern day romantic composer from the classical tradition…my method conversely is to approach the piano, play and record. My composition happens very much in the moment and from the hands’.
Instead of being cold or sterile, the beats that kick off ‘Solitary Refinement’ are intimate and warm. Electronic harmonies zig-zag over the top of the piano, dynamically building up to a climax while still being gentle about it. Boysen’s love of techno can be heard in the pulsating beats, but it’s the light, European electronica of which Berlin is well known for, and the famed drop never materializes, because it instead fizzles out and dissolves, becoming nothing but dust at the fizzling culmination of itself. The entire EP materializes and disintegrates, passing through like a speck of dust, but it’s enough to leave a lasting impression.