From Rennes in Brittany, Vanessa Wagner is a classically trained pianist who has recorded the piano repertoire of Franz Shubert, Robert Shuman, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Claude Debussy, Alexander Scriabin, Maurice Ravel among others as well as the music of contemporary French composer Pascal Dusapin. Born in Tijuana, Mexico and now based outside Barcelona, Fernando Corona aka Murcof is an electronic musician drawn towards minimalism and ambient soundscapes.

Initiated in 2010, matured over several years and released on 23 sept 2016 on the French record label InFiné, Statea achieves a remarkable balancing act between the ostensibly distinct universes of a classical pianist and an electronic musician around the modern minimalist repertoire.

Murcof x Vanessa Wagner - Statea (2016)
Murcof x Vanessa Wagner – Statea (2016)

The project’s birth dates back to 2010 when the pianist and the electronic musician played back to back sets during a creative retreat organised by the InFiné record label. Vanessa Wagner invited Murcof at the end of her solo recital as a way of transition and let Murcof improvise on one of Erik Satie’s Gnossienne and Gymnopédie. This improvised live performance sowed the seeds for a tangible future collaboration and both musicians met again two years later.

Far from a remix concept album, some kind of “classical music with beats” project or a superimposition of samples, Statea attempts a genuine dialogue between two like-minded musicians. Conventions would suggest that a classically-trained musician and an electronic artist have nothing in common. From the same generation, both artists share of course a similar cultural grounding. Murcof is a keen listener of Arvo Pärt, Morton Feldman and Henryk Górecki. Since his pioneering 2002 début Martes, the Mexican musician has been blending his trademark ambient electronica and micro beats with classical overtones and traditional instrumentation – cello, harp, plucked strings, piano or vocal parts. Besides his daring ventures alongside jazz trumpet player Erik Truffaz with Mexico (2008) and Being Human Being (2014), Murcof has recently been composing music for ballet, cinema and TV series.

Vanessa Wagner is well aware of Murcof’s work and also grew up listening to electronic music. She quotes Aphex Twin, Autechre or Monolake as major influences.

In the Statea LP, the musicians revisit over nine tracks a contemplative and minimalist repertoire ranging from Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne n°3” (1893) to Arvo Pärt’s “Variations for the Healing of Arinushka” (1977), John Adam’s “China Gates” (1977), Philip Glass’ “Metamorphosis 2” (1989), Aphex Twin’s much loved “Avril 14th” (2001) or Ukranian composer Valentin Silvestrov’s “Farewell, O World, O Earth” (2004) whose sampled and distorted vocals turn into a spine-tingling lullaby. There are also compositions by György Ligeti, Morton Feldman and John Cage whose fluid “In a Landscape” beautifully introduces the entire project.

Standing out among more classical composers is one of Aphex Twin’s most recognised pieces. “Avril 14th” was first released on the seminal 2001 Drukqs album and has since become a favourite piano piece, judging by the amount of covers it has generated on YouTube for instance. Controversially sampled by Kanye West in 2010, it was recently arranged for violin and orchestra and recorded by classical violinist Daniel Hope.  

There are no real frontiers between music styles. I see it as different avenues of expression through sound. If you look at them from the beginning, they come from the same place, from our heart, from our minds, from the necessity to take expression beyond words. That’s what sound is about. Murcof

Six years in the making, the entire Statea project was so expansive that the main double LP was released alongside three companion EPs over two years. As suggested by the recurrent 3D shape across all artwork covers – and featuring in the video for “In a Landscape” – there is an emphasis on the multidimensional nature of music. Satie’s “Gnossienne n°3” for instance is interpreted three times throughout the entire project. Both Vanessa Wagner’s and Murcof’s versions on EP01 are underpinning the otherworldly collaborative electro-acoustic take on Statea with its warped, distorted and pitch-bent single piano notes. There are also three different versions of “Avril 14th”.

As a result, the recordings provide provide a fascinating gateway into the repertoires of both established and lesser known composers. EP01 and EP03 for instance introduce two superb compositions from David Moore, the New York-based pianist, composer and leader of minimalist ensemble Bing & Ruth. The pieces were initially released on his 2007 solo album Neighborhood Shifts. Conversely, Statea is a fantastic introduction to minimal electronica for listeners coming from an acoustic and classical tradition.

A magical ambient reverie, Statea and its companion EPs is an audacious and grandiose project bound to make a lasting impression on the contemporary musical landscape.