What does Pêtr Aleksänder sound like?
Modern classical duo trading in string ensembles for their own performing chops.
The review of Pêtr Aleksänder – The Whole World Laid Out Before Me
Pêtr Aleksänder, the name for modern classical duo Tom Hobden and Eliot James, has had a bit of a journey with their new album. Usually, they compose for and work with string ensembles but this time they’re playing their own instruments. This has allowed the duo to playfully mix things up. Playing together means they’ve composed densely packed arrangements for their chamber music to shine through.
One thing that’s worth pointing out is that the production has a warm homely sensibility to it. As the title track opens the album, we have some beautiful tuned percussive blocks and bells that add to the piano, guitar and string arrangements. It sounds playful and sincere at the same time and that’s the mood the album takes on.
Pêtr Aleksänder largely stays on the sincere side of chamber music but instead their playfulness is channelled into their sound design. Some songs like ‘Jet Miners’ Song’ keep things largely traditional. They pull emphasis on a single emotive violin soaring above a bustling underbelly. Other songs are more experimental. ‘The Moon In This Century’ is built upon distant rustling of odd room noises and what sounds like the insides of a piano rumbling. Slowly brass and hollow synth pads join in but it is a mood piece that sells the idea of a distant world. ‘Dawn Reverie’ mixes up reversed percussive loops against duelling chamber jazz melodies. One part sounds orchestral, one part sounds Portico Quartet. All parts sound great.
Gongs and cymbals play an oriental backdrop for the homely and tentative ‘Fantasia Opening’ – which is joined by fragile woodwind and strings as the song develops. Each element is timid and intimate as if it’s been brushed into a softer hue. When everything is muted, it oddly amplifies every sound to the ear and the track is a firm favourite for me. Elsewhere ‘The Summit Of All Things’ is a gauzy intimate piece that merges quiet inner peace with a sense of gratitude and acceptance. The up-close piano recording really sells the feeling and if you listen carefully birdsong peeps through the mix in sparse moments too. Pêtr Aleksänder’s attention to detail shines throughout as there’s always either a room recording or a field sample hiding somewhere in the mix. In other tracks like ‘All Of It, Subatomic’ the detail is in the instrument layering. As the strings wax and wane, layers of other instruments peak through the musical clouds. It is one of those albums where I’d love to hear a breakdown of audio layers to understand and appreciate the album’s construction.
With the final two tracks returning to a more sombre mood, the album closes downbeat. As a listener, you’ve been on a journey and woken up the other side refreshed. It’s an album made for headphones and dark rooms or solitary walks. An album for quiet reflection and silent affirmation. Pêtr Aleksänder balances intimacy and polite optimism beautifully and I hope this isn’t the last time they let loose on their own. Clearly, it brings out their creative juices in new and interesting ways.
Recommended track: Fantasia Opening
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