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Review: Review: See by Muriël Bostdorp

18 May 2018

Netherlands-based composer and pianist Muriël Bostdorp’s recent release “See” is a collection of songs that are evocative and steeped with imagery, and a melancholy undercurrent running throughout. A series of piano solos drenched in sepia tone, this album has a gentle, lulling quality and is easy to get lost in. These songs seem to loop and undulate, patterns emerging from the circles and ellipses. Like a flip-book of flickering images, these songs speak to the imagination and bring dreams to life.


It is no surprise in hearing this music to learn that this is an artist who has been drawn to piano and other keyboard instruments from a very young age. Even as a late bloomer commencing formal lessons from age 16, there is a clear sense of musicality illuminated by the passion she pours into these compositions. Her contemporary classical style has a cinematic feel, and draws on classical influences such as Claude Debussy and Philip Glass, and from contemporary composers such as Nils Frahm and Max Richter. 


Opening track ‘Intro’ sets the scene with a wistful sigh, like a sad song from an antique music box. Wavering in the breeze of a desolate landscape, the piano textures and melodies that emerge dance like shadow puppets, gentle and mellow but with an icy chill. ‘Danse des Nuages’ has a feeling of flight and flurry, with a buoyant melody that is whimsical and naïve in its playfulness. By third track ‘About A Girl’ we find ourselves in a deep introspective place as the tempo slows to an aimless wandering pace, as if searching for something unknown. This song feels a little deeper with a sombre tone, like sorrow tempered by the passage of time. 


‘For Willem’ is a standout track and feels like an opening in the clouds, an outpouring expressing things that are perhaps beyond words. This song best exemplifies the bittersweet sensibility that runs through the entire album; a constant tension between the feeling of hopefulness and listlessness. Following on with ‘My Heart Crumbles,’ we are led into a pensive, reflective state with a tinge of sorrow and regret at the inevitability of fate, before the graceful melody of ‘The Comforting Words of Your Mother’ offers a moment of repose; a warm embrace. 


Moving back into that introspective space, 'Lights Out’ is also another poignant moment on the album, like a rainy day alone with your thoughts. Next, with ‘Miles’ Bostdorp is a little more playful and adventurous, flipping between two contrasting ideas, with some surprising, angular chord changes. Then there is a moment in time marked with ‘Beneath Starlight,’ which is like an ephemeral glimmer of stillness, like a gentle lullaby.


‘Merry-Go-Rewind’ is a playful but sinister, like a dark dream waltzing through an old ballroom with velvet curtains and dust-frosted chandeliers. Playing with the idea of spinning in the other direction, this music is subtly disorientating. As the darkness further encroaches, ‘Abandoned’ conjures up images of haunted houses with a lurking sense of doom, as if being stalked by fate. Finally, the album closes with ‘Falling,’ conveying a feeling of speed and urgency, as if rushing towards something. Relentlessly galloping, with a sense of yearning, striving, reaching out in vain.


The individual songs on “See” are beautiful, though sometimes blend into each other; as an album there sometimes isn’t quite enough light and shade. The artist has done a wonderful job in creating a tracklisting that best maximises the contrast between the songs, and nonetheless covers a broad range of nuanced emotions. Using the sounds of prepared piano, she blends the mellow Una Corda style piano sonority with the delicate intricacies of hammers and the internal action of the piano with its percussive tics and creaks. A lush sound indeed, this seemed to suit some songs better than others, and lost a little impact in its blanket application. It is very expressive; adding a complex timbre that creates a very distinct feeling, but at times becomes a distraction, obscuring the playing.


Overall, this was a very pleasant album to get lost in, instantly accessible and very easy to listen to. Given full attention over several listens, these songs reveal themselves on a deeper level, as their subtleties unfold. Equally, a casual listen will surprise in the places this allows the mind to wander. This is unquestionably contemplative music, and is best listened to in solitude by the window on a rainy day.

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