Eluvium’s second solo piano album since 2004’s An Accidental Memory In The Case Of Death, Pianoworks is inspired by children, their quiet thoughts, and solitary observations. Added to this is the ‘evolution and dissolution of that ephemeral, uncorrupted wonder of simple joy’. Opening with a song about early-age piano lessons and ending with a struggle to hold onto a failing innocence, which will eventually succumb to the gathering of the years, and the dying of a noisy, jubilant imagination as the constraints and stresses of adulthood seep into the mind, body, and soul, Pianoworks, through its creativity, investigates the death of creativity: it’s as much in focus as the initial stem, the first sunbeam. Eluvium crafts emotionally-alive ambient music, and Matthew Cooper has incorporated piano into some of his more ambient-centred albums before, from Copia to Similes, Static Nocturne to Nightmare Ending. Cooper uses it as a central instrument, but it’s often never the centre of the album.
Pianoworks takes us through the gold-embellished era of childhood, opening up the dusty toy box of who we once were – when we were too small, too innocent to understand – and tracing a line to the person we would later become.
Its apparent simplicity is perfect and child-like. Who says music has to be complicated? And why is complicated music so revered? Less is so much more. And there’s another thread running through this approach: Cooper wants the music to be simple enough to follow, and to encourage children and novices to play, and it resonates with every age, no matter how old or young.
Cooper’s melodies are dream-like, floating in the murky pools of memory and then diving deeper into a portal of major chords and innocent times. Built on repeating phrases and recurring melodies, Cooper’s music captures a lost magic, almost Disney-ish in its ability to tug on hearts. Some tracks, such as ‘Quiet Children’, prance around like an excited kid on Christmas morning. It’s warm and ever-loving.
But even though Pianoworks appears simple, its music is infinitely deep – and timeless – and a minimal approach is often the most difficult and arduous to nail down. Pianoworks has walked (or crawled) through this secretive, torturous process, too, having been recorded and re-re-recorded over a span of almost a decade; a time-consuming project that’s gone through many different clothes and appearances and changes and loves in order to find ‘the one’.
Pianoworks is a rare kind of ‘hidden’ music, as deep as the memory of childhood and as hidden as its creative outlet, which became lost, forgotten, and discarded at a time when the majority of hearts, reluctantly or not, stepped into the maze of adulthood. Adulthood, like a cruel government, tried to strip away all artistic merit, acknowledgement, and value, replacing it with a 9-5 and an overwhelming amount of stress. But the piano hovers outside of things, a strange dislocation, like watching an early episode of Sesame Street or Dooby Duck’s Disco Bus through a modern, digital stream. The soft, graceful waltz gives off a blue-eyed innocence, of trying to return to what was lost, when we, bar the writers and the musicians and the painters and the artists and the poets, forfeited the internal currency of imagination for something that’s designed to be used, spent, passed on. Be it with a piano or echoing an ambient soundscape, Cooper’s music is always effective, evocative, and emotional. His musicianship is strong enough to support a double LP of piano music with no other filters or edits in sight.
These are complete pieces, strung together like pearls on a necklace with its theme of innocence and an ebbing away of naivety; nothing can stop its leaving.
On the final piece, ‘Empathy For A Silhouette’, the draining away has already begun: an overcast, greying melody sullenly populates the track. Early finger-painted pictures are put aside, and the world loses colour because of it, bleeding out a gush of primary colours and turning greyscale. Rainy and despondent, it’s a stark contrast to the youthful wonder of ‘Recital’, with its injection of optimism and possibility. The piano doesn’t play anymore: there’s no time, or inclination, for practicing or playing. The mind is tired and the body is tired. And when the record ends, the lack of music mirrors the instrument’s silent corner.