Contemporary Classical music for ominous times.
Often when pianists compose contemporary classical music, they veer into warm, beautiful, lush synths, strings and electronica effects. This is not the case for composer Stefania Avolio. Her mix of modern classical and electronica doesn’t want to be beautiful – it wants to be primal. Sometimes that follows different elements of the world, often it follows something that evokes an eerie depth.
Opening with ‘Symbiotic’, Stefania merges a brooding piano with guttural bass warbles. They sound like belly rumbles from deep underground and it gives the track a foreboding tone. ‘Natural Element’ plays with a fluttering motif that flips from being played normally into a jaunty reversed skip. It channels the wind and a birds wing. It is also where we get to hear Avolio’s voice. She rarely sings words throughout the album but she often sings angelic ‘ah’s’ like a solo choir singer. On her own, it would sound quite sweet (although some of the melodies are sombre and mildly atonal) but with the pensive piano and effects, it feels more haunted than cute. This is the case with ‘Escapism’ where the latter half of the singing is like a muffled humming as if even her voice is struggling to escape her throat.
This melodic motif and coo’ing of vocals become the main thread of the album as Stefania Avolio tackles it in different ways. ‘Blizzard’ is a superb flurry of piano trickles that evoke the hazy weather. ‘Hypnotic’ uses a Rhodes style keyboard to warmly trickle down an octave as Stefania’s voice provides the bass. ‘Crystallization’ takes a gothic approach with an organ underscoring the piano and some vocal layering to create a choir of moans. Slightly less successful is closing jazzy number ‘Silent Moon’ which didn’t quite gel together and ‘Unnatural’. The latter pairs a finger-picked electric guitar clunks with vocal layering but the guitar drowns out the voice a little too much.
Overall, ‘Natural Element’ does have something interesting to offer. It is a little homemade and rough around the edges but I quite like that as it lends itself well to the theme. If you like your contemporary classical music in the haunted genre – Stefania Avolio may just have something ready for you to enjoy.
Recommended track: Hypnotic
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