I might not be big on tradition, but I’m certainly big on habit and routine, and my winter habit and routine is, at 6pm, exactly at 6pm, I call it quits on writing, pour myself a glass of white wine, light the fire, and put on some of the best melancholic minimalist music I can find. As you can probably imagine, I have quite a store of it, and I do order in new CDs and digital downloads at an alarming rate. I’m not really sure why I love this stuff in the early evening, but I do, and I’d die without it. Maybe it’s about the close of the day, especially a winter’s day, which around my neck of the words can be pretty severe – some days, if the wind-chill factor is taken into account, daytime temperatures never go above zero Celsius, and the nights can go down well below freezing. And it can be grey, so so so grey. Regardless of the weather, listening to melancholic minimalist music is what I do.
Here are three albums currently on high rotation.
Piano Solos by Dustin O’Halloran (2004). Mr O’Halloran’s music is a favourite of film-maker Sofia Coppola, who is a very special kind of spunk – some of these tunes were used to great effect in her completely marvellous Marie Antoinette. As is made clear by the title of this album, there’s nothing but piano here, and it’s all extraordinarily simple – your teenager daughter with a few keyboard skills (the musical kind, not the inane Facebook kind) could probably knock this stuff out. However, there’s a stack of feeling on this record, and if O’Halloran was to be found playing it in a hotel foyer you could bet your bottom dollar that everyone would be watching and listening, and probably weeping too, which would be a bit nice. Try ‘Opus # 12’ on for size.
Eulogy for Evolution by Olafur Arnalds (2006). On the surface, this is just pretty piano-and-strings music. It would certainly soundtrack a slightly miserable European film where people try to love and live well and be the best people possible, but in the end it all falls apart, only a hint of hope as the credits roll, so you clutch your partner’s hand, drop by the servo on the way home to get a family-sized block of chocolate, and you knock it all off before sliding into bed and each other’s arms, slowly falling asleep to the realisation that all is not lost, not yet. But Arnalds offers more depth than your standard soundtrack, and, dare I say it, more sophisticated musicology. Be warned: this bloke’s from Iceland, and there is just little of Sigur Ros here, particularly in terms of the background strings, but also in the way some of the songs end up in quite unexpected places. Check out this little beauty – ‘3055’.
For the tired and ill at ease by Scissors and Sellotape (2012). This is a pretty damn special thing, partly because it’s only available on very limited edition handmade vinyl (the packaging, not the actual record…I’m assuming), although I heard it’s well and truly out of stock, and digital download – there are no CDs in sight. Originally from the UK but now based in Melbourne, the main protagonist here, John McCaffrey, makes the grimmest of music, slow and rumbling and almost drony, despite being based around simple minor-key piano motifs. Dimension and perspective come from the addition of field-recordings to some tracks, such as a father and child talking, and, on the utterly intriguing ‘I say ‘get used to it’’, the subtlest of beats, almost as though they’ve come from a human heart. Many may find For the tired and ill at ease (a title written fairly and squarely at me) just too macabre, but after repeated listens it reveals its warmth and beauty. In short, it’s a ripper. I’m off to hunt down the vinyl version. But as it’s now 6pm I better pour myself a glass of white wine, light the fire, and listen to one of these albums. Which one, I have no idea – it’ll be a lovely surprise for all of us.
A great source of information on contemporary minimalism, check out Headphone Commute. Actually, it’s the only source you need.