Based in Bordeaux, Julien Marchal is a modern classical pianist and composer who has perfected over the years a quasi-trademark and consistent sound with the same microphone placement, as if his upright piano had been wrapped in cotton wool. Initiated in 2014 with a first EP, the Insight series now stands as a collection of 43 tracks for solo piano spanning five years and two hours and twenty minutes of music over four LP records. Mastered by Ian Hawgood, Insight IV was released on 15 February 2019 last on his own label Whales Records. As suggested by the pianist, this is the last record in the series.

Julien Marchal - Insight IV (2019)
Julien Marchal – Insight IV (2019)

It is normal, with today’s digital media and devices, to have access to far more music than one can ever hear. The time it takes to listen to music is now in shorter supply than recordings. Digital music has created a time deficit […] Close listening is a function of time. It starts at the beginning, takes in each note and the spaces between, and stops at the end.
Damon Krukowski. The New Analog – Listening and reconnecting in a digital world.

By deliberately not giving titles to any of the compositions in the series and not elaborating much either about his sources of inspiration, the pianist is steering the focus on the act of listening itself, making it more difficult to select or skip tracks digitally. He is encouraging a “close” or mindful listening experience. In that respect, listening to a record by Julien Marchal is tantamount to playing the two sides of a vinyl record one after the other without getting distracted – Insight I, II and IV are available in that format. “Take your time to listen to the music” urges the pianist as a generic introduction to each volume of Insight, “this is needed to create this particular moment.”

Julien Marchal’s solo piano music is first and foremost an immersive sonic experience, complemented by precise microphone placement around the keyboard “to put the listener inside the piano”. Often originating from improvised fragments or devised as exercises revolving around classical composers’ quirks, the pieces that make up the Insight body of work are all concise and very melodic. Toying with chordal progressions, harmony, melody, rhythm, touch, accents and acoustics, Julien Marchal’s compositions have struck a chord with listeners worldwide and tend to elicit very strong emotions.

The fact that Insight XVIII from the album Insight II was featured on American crime drama series Ray Donovan (S4E12) has definitely brought Julien Marchal’s music to a much wider audience, and composing for a full-length feature film is probably what comes next for the pianist. The result of an online collaboration with British singer Ed Tullett, the Lissom project (Whales Records – August 2018) also hints at potential future creative ventures.