Everything is a form of vibration.
One needs to hear it and transform it into music.
The world is a piano and the piano is the world.
The musician becomes the creator of the world.
Born in London and based in Brighton, Poppy Ackroyd is a classically-trained piano and violin player who started her career playing with the Hidden Orchestra after graduating from the University of Edinburgh. Touring with them since 2004, she first appeared on the collective’s début Night Walks (2010) and has been a permanent member since then.
Primarily using classical music instruments as physical objects first to generate sounds and then adding and superimposing layer upon layer of rhythmic beats, incidental sounds and gorgeous melodies, Poppy Ackroyd creates a unique modern classical soundscape on her albums. Following on from her solo records Escapement (2012), Feathers (2015) and the acoustic solo piano project Sketches (2017), Resolve is Poppy Ackroyd’s first full-length album for One Little Indian Records and was released on 2 February 2018 last.
All of Poppy Ackroyd’s music is based on piano and violin, and like many of her contemporaries, she incorporates electronics and technology into her recording process as a way of sculpting sound with loop stations. At the same time, Poppy Ackroyd is also a physical musician who derives a plethora of additional sounds and beats from “the inside” of her instruments which then become the source of percussive material. Escapement, Feathers and Resolve feature brushed, tapped or plucked piano and violin strings using plectrum, bow or fingers. Further percussive beats composed of hits, taps and scrapes using hands, drumsticks or small cymbals against the wooden and cast iron frame of the piano are also added to the mix.
After signing to One Little Indian Records in 2017, Poppy Ackroyd released Sketches, an entirely acoustic solo project comprised of piano only reworkings of 6 tracks from her previous two albums as well as four brand new tracks as a preview of her new album. Whereas Escapement and Feathers were more focused on sound texture and the physicality of the piano mechanism, Sketches superbly brings to the surface the raw melody of the compositions.
Resolve builds up on the sound and techniques introduced in her previous records and feature three guest musicians – Jo Quail on cello, Mike Lesirge on flute, clarinet and bass clarinet and Manu Delago on the Hang drum.
I asked them to explore the instrument and to create as many weird and wonderful sounds as they could. I then spent hours sifting through the recordings and choosing sounds and short percussive ideas that I could rearrange and build the track from. The opening of ‘The Calm Before’ is built out of the clicking of clarinet keys and ‘Quail’ starts with eerie sounding harmonics.
“Stems”, the shortest track on the album, features an eclectic assortment of instruments such as wine glasses, a toy piano and a harmonium. It is also the soundtrack to a delightful award winning stop-motion animation short by Scottish artist Ainslie Henderson.
There is of course a fascinating parallel at play here between the processes of making stop-motion puppetry from random found objects and making music from a broad range of sounds.
And from there, you start improvising you know. It’s like making music and see where it leads you. I stick and sculpt and keep scraping and putting things together and shaping things. And then, suddenly, what was just stuff becomes this character staring back at you.
The closing track of the album “Trains” was also illustrated by a stunning time-lapse short by Polish video artist Jola Kudela. The piano becomes the microcosm for a living and vibrating natural world where the strings of the instrument (featuring on the cover artwork too) map the journey around it, like railway tracks.
By sampling and multi-tracking instrumental and percussive loops from piano, violin, cello, flute, clarinet and hang, Poppy Ackroyd achieves at time the mesmerising orchestral sound of a full band and turns Resolve into a fantastic fusion of classical and electronic music.