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Review: Broken Access by Theo Alexander

3 May 2018

Crystalline piano and otherworldly electronica effortlessly mingle together in UK based composer Theo Alexander’s latest release ‘Broken Access’ in which five contemplative, reverent tracks take us through a journey flickering between outer space, and the place where dreams happen. There’s a sense that one is crossing over to somewhere far from this world as this album shifts and turns, a whir of strirring time and space. It is grounded by piano motif, texture, and a familiar glimmer of melody and bass movement, calling us back home. Above this swirls more experimental sounds and textures, elevating the overall sonic experience to something much more compelling.


The opening track ‘Palliative’ glimmers in a liminal space, fluttering like a butterfly, shimmering like a dream; gentle piano like raindrops on the water’s surface. At first contemplative and optimistic, then shifting, pivoting across timbres, the layers build and the sound mass modulates. Like a flower opening out, the soft muted sound of piano hammers ripple rhythmically and insistently, giving way to mesmerising sounds as the electronic manipulation builds, whipping up a haze. With a sense of sinking, the sound thins out to a held tone, textured and warbling, like a static beacon of light in the distance, holding on an impossibly long time at this point of stasis, before gently dying away. 


Then, like a ghostly apparition, lead single ‘Hammer Frenzy’ reveals itself in a distant flicker of soft, mellow piano, dancing in kaleidoscopic rhythms and circling persistently. This evolving motif is beguiling and mesmerising; it sounds like a place of stillness, outside of time, with its scintillating piano textures cosmically colliding. Here, Alexander builds on the style he has developed across previous releases, combining the rhythmic drive of minimalism with unconventional techniques. He creates a seductive, enchanting swirl of splintering patterns, out of which emerges a strong melodic line of open voiced chords. The piece continues to build and evolve, subtly shifting, then concludes with an abrupt sense of waking up from a dream; a flicker of sobering reality, and the piece disappears into silence. 


In the middle, we find ourselves at ‘A Matter of Balance’ in which we are plunged into a dark, cavernous space. In a gentle, disorienting moment suspended in slow orbit, music flickers like glowing neon flashes punctuating the darkness. As the whirring bass appears beneath, there is a sense of being dangerously high, looming above, before coming down to the earthly texture of twinkling piano, and suddenly we’re home. The sound descends into distortion, as the door is slammed shut behind. 


Following on with ‘Fortuité,’ the album takes a turn to a more nostalgic sound, like looking back in time through a window as the sounds of piano filter through, like a prayer or a meditation. It unfolds like a minimalist collage of timbres harmonising like shards of a chandelier, spinning and whirling, before gentle bass gives shape and movement to the forms. Finally, it dissolves into a gurgling, bubbling alternate reality as a simple piano line re-emerges, giving way to a playful skipping melody as the piece winds down.


The album concludes with a sombre, lulling piece entitled ‘Aspects Withdrawn’ which leaves us in a wistful state. There is a sense of floating, falling in slow motion, like space debris, with a whirring texture, and a peppering of percussive clicks towards the end. This final piece closes off the album as a brief moment of pause, offering sense of conclusion, and a final impression of having experienced a lucid dream. 


In its entirety, the album combines and overlaps acoustic piano and electronic manipulation with a deft touch that creates an evocative, and at times even moving sense of being taken on a journey to another world. In its minimalist aesthetic, rhythm and tone colour create a wonderful lattice through which the threads of filtered and manipulated sounds are woven, placing this work into a contemporary context that is of its time in an effortless way. There is a sense of the tone colour and rich harmonics of piano being lifted and augmented by the added electronic colours, and the interplay between elements lends a deeper conceptual foundation and structure.

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