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Karl Steven Shares Instrumental 'Two Pieces For Four Hands' EP

Karl Steven Shares Instrumental 'Two Pieces For Four Hands' EP

C.C. / Tuesday 15th October, 2019 12:33PM

2019 APRA Best Original Music in a Series winner Karl Steven has unveiled a gorgeous pair of piano-driven instrumentals bundled together on his brand new Two Pieces for Four Hands EP. The member of electronic duo Queen Neptune eschews future-shocked synths for more timeless signifiers, drawing inspiration from formative years spent with his great grandmother's Pianola player-piano. First track 'Echo Box' is described by a fellow keyboard aficionado as a "pointillist reconstruction of Chopsticks," while 'Barely Felt Increments' explores lively filmic territory via Steven's increasingly fast-paced looping finger work, probing cello flourishes and even sounds sourced from a bicycle. The Thames-based composer has also shared an evocative video for 'Echo Box' you can experience below, and generously opened up about the ideas orbiting Two Pieces for Four Hands...

"I wanted to write something for piano as it was the instrument I learnt music on. But when I got into it I realised that I had a bit of a skewed vision of the piano, as the particular piano I learnt on was my great grandmother's old Pianola, so part piano part pedal / bellows-powered musical robot that played punch card-style scrolls. My grandfather was an engineer and he had souped it up by connecting it to a vacuum cleaner – this meant that, at the flick of a switch, it would play its music extremely fast, very loud, and accompanied by deafening vacuuming sounds (the vacuum cleaner would also sort of shake and bounce in time with the music - it was intense). So anyway, for me a piano is never just a piano; it's fully capable of leaping into gear and playing its own music, so I think that's why the pieces evolved into duets for four hands instead of two and have a mechanical sensibility.

The first piece 'Echo Box' is a re-imagining of the 1877 piece 'Chopsticks', written by a 16 year old Euphemia Allen under the pen name of Arthur de Lulli. That piece is a polka, and is played exclusively on the C Major scale, so it's a thoroughly European affair musically, but somehow meant to evoke European ideas of the orient as well – it's a weird mocktail of the time that I find quite perplexing. I first encountered it, like most people, as a sort of a game that kids played on the piano. I like the way it's not really considered a 'piece' as much as a game – it's like a postage stamp rather than a painting – but I also like the way it just kind of falls out of the piano almost of it's own accord... like it's built into the structure of the instrument itself. In exploring the piece I wanted to bring out the real emotional world that I think is embedded within the simplicity of the original. I wanted to take a piece of musical 'junk' off the scrapheap and see if it could go on the coffee table, before being destroyed by the dog.

The second piece, 'Barely Felt Increments' just sort of happened... it also features some cello and a freewheeling bicycle at the end too for some reason. Again I suppose I'm trying to find something emotionally alive in something super simple, as well as trying to connect with the machine inside the piano, to its alterity, and its beauty."

'Two Pieces for Four Hands' is out now via Karl Steven's Bandcamp page.


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