Theo Alexander is a British London-based composer, known also for his work with ensemble Fixations. A few months after Points of Decay, he announced a new album. Broken Access is out on April 27th via Luau Records. It was inspired by various live performances throughout the year, including Piano Prague Day 2017 and support for Agnes Obel. We have the pleasure to premiere a new track titled “Fortuite“. We also had a little talk with the British artist. Find more below.
“Broken Access” is your new album. What was your creative process ?
I tried to build on my previous recordings in a way that combined the extreme low fidelity of Points of Decay with the more melodic aspects of The Black Bunny and others. For the first time I was working with live piano recording alongside tape loops, so it took some time to try and get the balance right. To be honest with you there was not a focused creative process for the album, rather it came it small bits which I gradually built up over time, or out of very old ideas I revisited.
The artwork is powerful. What is it about?
The artwork is La Pause by David Altmejd. It’s a piece I came across a long time ago, and I thought that i’d ask his studio whether it’d be okay to use it, which I thought was a complete longshot. To my surprise David had no problem with that. It’ s a lot ‘cleaner’ than the images on my previous releases, that are all from public archives. I’m not sure exactly how, but the familiarity of the human hand against the raw material somehow reminded me of the process of making this album.
This record was released with an innovative playing and recording technique involving multiple layers of taped sound, can you say more about that?
The recording technique is the same as on Points of Decay, but this time juxtaposed with cleaner layers of piano. It involves recording the piano onto cassette, and then re-recording that track back onto another device using the onboard speaker and microphone. Depending on how many layers ‘deep’ you go whilst transfering audio across devices, the result is generally a very degraded sound that is totally anathema to the cleanliness of contemporary piano music. Really that is what I wanted to get away from, the whole placing the mics close to the hammers thing, which I think has gotten very old.
Today is Piano Day. How do you connect the instrument with the concept of experimentation and innovation in music?
Broken Access is a piano album, but I think it might be my last work on the instrument alone, at least for a long time. Earlier on I really thought it was enough to write for piano, and working with cassettes has definitely extended my interest in the capabilities of the instrument. However, at the same time it showed me that perhaps the most interesting thing about working with the piano is seeing how far you can bend it’s sounds, and how those sounds work outside of the piano itself.
What about live performances? How do you think your shows compared to studio sessions?
Working out live shows has been pretty difficult, but in most instances I have played a piano alongside tape loops that I control through a 4-track. A couple of times I have performed on the 4-track alone, creating long drones out of piano recordings I had made beforehand. My live sound is very different, not just because it is difficult to transfer into a performance setting, but because I am usually trying out new things in performances anyway. My next show on April 8th in Prague should feature some works for strings, my first since 2015.
Are there any recent releases that you appreciated, or have inspired your work?
Some amazing recent releases for me have been Danny Clay & Greg Gorlen’s Birch and Carlo Giustini’s La Stanza di Fronte. Both of them harness sounds you would not get otherwise than by really probing an instrument (or in Giustini’s case, an environment), and embrace those sounds in the fact that they are so alien from their source. I’m also very excited for Lucy Railton’s Paradise ’94, having seen her play a few times at London Contemporary Music Festival in the past.