Nathan Shubert is a pianist and composer based in Vancouver, Canada. A regular sideman with several different bands for over ten years but concerned that he might over time “forget how to write music”, the musician decided to return to the blank staff paper. Nathan Shubert set himself the simple goal of writing music every day for six months. Eleven pieces on solo piano gradually emerged from this self-imposed writing exercise and Folds was released on 28 January 2017 last as a CD and digital download.

Nathan Shubert - Folds (2017)
Nathan Shubert – Folds (2017)

Another disciple of Nils Frahm, Nathan Shubert also adopts a holistic and physical approach to playing and recording the piano. If the soft taps from the piano hammers and pedals become part of the overall “ambience” of the recording (“Fencing” and “Encampment”), they are clearly accentuated on “Thought and Thinker” or “Cedar and Stone” with incidental creaking floorboards. On “Gaze”, the resonance of the strings is amplified. Eventually, the attention paid to these minute details elicits beautiful and understated compositions.

If the ambient and short interludes “Aurora” and “Aurora II” are performed on a Juno 6 synthesiser, Nathan Shubert favours the upright piano. The musician “prepares” his instrument by muting the strings with felt and by placing microphones in such a way that his piano almost sounds like an electric Fender Rhodes, especially on the title track, “Svalbard Bears” or “Saga Norén, Länskrim, Malmö”. On “Chairs” the sound even slightly saturates at times.

But what distinguishes Nathan Shubert’s playing from many “bedroom” or modern classical composers is his minimalist style echoing the “Music for 18 Musicians-era” compositions of Steve Reich.

The four compositions mentioned above are all based on superimposed rhythmic patterns repeated over and over with slight variations. The circular repetition within the pieces not only generates a dynamic pulse but also immerses the listener into a quasi-hypnotic trance.

The physical overlay of the hands of the pianist on the keyboard further enhances the looping and rhythmic sequence of “Folds”, as the musician explains:

One thing I’ve been playing with was the idea of “strict alternation” where I would overlap my hands and play a note on the left hand and a note on the right hand and then strictly alternate back and forth – That’s actually why my album is called “Folds”.

In a Facebook post earlier this year, Nathan Shubert invited videographers to use or interpret his music visually. Musician and filmmaker Sam Tudor answered the call with a mesmerising visualisation for the title track. “By digging deeper into each song you start noticing hundreds of moving parts” notes the filmmaker. As if by magic, this is what slowly transpires from listening to Folds – deceptively simple repetitive structures revealing an increasingly complex and seductive musicality.