Poppy Ackroyd

Escapement

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Composer and multi-instrumentalist Poppy Ackroyd is best known for her membership in the wonderfully eclectic Hidden Orchestra. But she has also done lots of work in collaboration with choreographers, videographers, performance artists, and filmmakers. All of these experiences inform the music on Escapement, her debut offering on Denovali. Ackroyd has obviously studied 20th and 21st century piano music, as well as composers such as Steve Reich, Terry Reilly, and Michael Nyman. But the seven pieces on the 31-minute Escapement are unquestionably her own. All of the music made here was composed and performed on just two instruments -- piano and violin. It was recorded with a single microphone and then manipulated, looped, delayed, remixed, cut, pasted, stretched, and edited on a personal computer. That said, what's here feels incredibly organic. Perhaps that's because Ackroyd's approach to playing her instruments is often unconventional. She regularly employs mallets, her hands, or an e-bow on the strings of the piano to create a percussive or glissando effect. Likewise she will gently scrape, pick, pluck, or rub her violin's strings to get a desired sound. Sometimes the outside -- the wood -- of her instruments is used, as are the piano's pedals. The end result feels fluid, intimate, delicate. Check opener "Aliquot," as piano keys and a strummed string introduce a repetitive motif for violin, which is built upon with both her bow and finger plucking. The hint of melody is more pronounced than the melody itself, but is wrapped in seamless layers that use space and a restrained dynamic palette. Even as its sections shift continually, the result is haunting, nearly magical. On "Glass Sea," she hammers one note in the piano's middle register continuously, embellishing it with a chord sequence that in turn is underscored by occasional hand-strummed sweeps across the strings on the inside of the instrument. Though its pulse is constant, its various textural elements and noted motif layers travel vast distances. In the middle, the field recording of a bird chirping quietly is nearly startling. Field recordings are also used in "Rain," "Grounds," and "Mechanism." These outside sounds feel intrinsic to her detailed compositional process, offering small cinematic glimpses into fleeting or even hidden emotional spaces in these works. Escapement is gentle, alluring, even beguiling in its quiet dialogue with beauty itself; Ackroyd invites the listener in unequivocally to eavesdrop.

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