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Julia Gjertsen – Formations Review

Musical wellsprings and atmospheric pillows.

Sounds like…

A natural healing spring of piano and ambience.

The review

Oslo based composer Julia Gjertsen has an uncanny knack for creating some of the most soothing and lightly melodic compositions I’ve heard over the last decade. On her new album “Formations”, she brings in flutes, synths and textured ambience to her piano work and it feels like music for clouds. If the album was called “Cloud Formations” instead, I’d have totally understood.

The entire album sounds like a crossover of Philip Glass’ “Cloudscape” or “Vessels” from his “Koyaanisqatsi” soundtrack and Michiru Ōshima’s Ico Soundtrack – specifically the track “Heal”. Those references are extremely specific but I’ll explain. Every track has Julia underpinning muted rhythmic synth pulses with in-room piano recordings of an old piano. The keys are muted and worn. They don’t sound rich and deep, they are light and airy and this is combined with soft flute motifs to create a mellotron type of sound. Deep bass synths are turned down low but do exist to give the music a bass end and often they’re combined with icy synths too. The music is cinematic like a slow reveal of a beautiful vista from a mountain or a slow-motion waterfall cascade.

Julia translates this to some absolutely beautiful work. “Washed Away” is a constant cascade of piano and electronic textures that twist from feeling human to digital as distant guitars wail. “Ambivalence” has a fantastic 5/4 time signature for its choruses. For the first four bars, the piano rumbles a steadfast melody but for the fifth it pauses. It’s like the music itself is thinking “oh well, whatever” and not committing to its intent. I love it when music can be structured to press home a point and Julia Gjertsen does this across the entire album.

Other big highlights include the absolutely beautiful “Falling in Circles” which sounds exactly as described. It’s one of the few moments on the album where things get bold as the music intensifies towards a dramatic conclusion. Not all the tracks feel like they are pure healing either. “Falling in Keys” is like a moody shroud of lapping shores, reverberating piano notes and an unfathomable tension. “Cause and Effect”, which is like a sister track to “Falling in Keys” has a rhythmic potency that gives the piano melodies gravitas. “All Within” uses the flute to soothe a melancholy piano motif. The track is like the mother (flute) calming the child. The album is bookended with the tracks “Entrance” and “Exit”. Both are lush and bubbly springs of musical fresh water. The way the synths percolate around the ears is like how anime shows you floating through the air.

photo of Julia Gertsen
Julia Gjertsen

My overall takeaway from “Formations” is a feeling of healing and renewal. Julia Gjertsen has carefully crafted these tracks in a way that feels alive and full of wonder whilst almost always being calming and soothing. It’s like watching tiny fishes dart and soar through water from way up high. There’s tons of activity going on to colour what’s happening but you see or hear it on a small scale. This is already a personal favourite album of 2022 and I thoroughly recommend it as headphone music when taking a walk. Perfect escapism.

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Julia Gjertsen - Formations



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