Contemporary classical composers have quietly been growing in my music collection over the last three years and the latest one to make it into the collection is Jochen Tiberius Koch, whose debut album Walden released yesterday. I like pianists who do things differently and Koch does just that, playing with ambient sounds and a few post-rock nods in the classical sense to create a rich and textured album.
Opening with “Solitude” the piano may run the main melody but the first instruments you’ll hear are mournful keyboard pads that sway on by. By the time piano and strings join in, and later echoing drums, the whole track has built up into a quietly powerful brooding symphony. It’s cinematic but also expressive and both of those traits carry on throughout the album. “The Bean Field” is a six-minute evolutionary piece. There’s a German spoken section reading sections of the book Walden – which compresses time into a year. I had read that the album is inspired by the book of course, but also of the feeling of deceleration. As the piano moves over to a more fluid electronica vibe, you can feel that sense of slowness, or slow motion coming through. It’s present in the fantastic track “The Ponds” too as Willy Son’s guest vocals effortlessly turn a lovely piece into a slow-motion alt-folk classic. The slow-motion effect comes from the fast arpeggios of piano that rattle off at speed whilst the other instruments and voices all take their time. “Baker Farm” takes things a step further electronically as the vocals are vocoded like an 80’s synth and percussive click clacks dance alongside the minimal piano before the whole track moves off into a sizzling technoir version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Jochen Tiberius Koch definitely keeps you on your toes.
“Higher Laws” moves away from the piano towards a symphonic string suite and some excellent guitar effects which sounds like a piano is being played through a guitar amplifier. The whole thing when combined with grizzly percussive rumbles has power and angst behind it in a sci-fi gone wrong way and I absolutely love it. “Brute Neighbours” plays with reversing glassy xylophone sounds, dark whispers and moody strings that refuse to evolve from their simple chord playing. It’s transition from horror to melancholy is well put together. “Former Inhabitants and Winter Visitors” could fit into any snowy village RPG theme. Over the course of the piece, it gets more ballsy and militant as synth brass, military drums and less playful and more strict string arrangements come to the fore. I’d still mooch around a town for 30 minutes at a time to it though! “Winter Animals” has an unusual chord pattern timing but its a welcome quiet pause for breath between bigger tracks. “The Pond In Winter” is the musical equivalent of wonder though. The way the strings have bounce and a busy love of life makes the track burst and teem with playful joy. I love how it mimics darting fish audibly. It all brings us to the closing track “Spring” which has another excellent guest vocal. Fräulein Laura’s voice is ethereal and angelic as she dances around behind the melodic bells and chimes of glistening spring. After almost all the previous tracks having a tangible sadness in the beauty of slow motion – this track is light, upbeat and somewhat euphoric as white light noise seeps over all the instruments and everything bursts into a final purity of a single cute melody to finish.
Jochen Tiberius Koch’s Walden is a fantastic album. It’s one for those looking for more inventiveness and expression from their classical music than most give you. It’s for those of you how like a bit of genre melting and as a piece that takes place like a lake over the course of the year, it’s also for those who want their minds to escape. Superb.
Recommended track: The Ponds