French classical pianist Vanessa Wagner initiated in 2016 a fascinating exploration of contemporary minimalist music alongside Mexican electronic musician Murcof with the wonderful Statea and three accompanying EPs. Pursuing a similar conversation between contemporary minimalist composers, solo piano and electronic music, Vanessa Wagner returns with Inland (26 April 2019) and further electronic collaborations on the Inland Versions EP (27 September 2019), both for the InFiné label.

Vanessa Wagner – Inland (2019)

Halfway through Inland features the instantly recognisable “The Heart Asks Pleasure First”, the theme song to Jane Campion’s 1993 “The Piano”. Written by English composer Michael Nyman, it is based on “Gloomy Winter’s Noo Awa”, a song originally composed by Scottish poet Robert Tannahill (1774 – 1810) and recorded in the late 1970s by Scottish folk band the Tannahill Weavers as well as by folk singer Dougie MacLean. Micheal Nyman’s score went on to become the most successful film soundtrack of all time and was also instrumental in setting in motion a renewed interest in solo piano composition.

Standing like a beacon in the night, “The Heart Asks Pleasure First” also serves as an introduction to lesser-known composers and shines a light on a new set of pieces that are “mostly rare or unavailable to date”. Of the twelve composers featured on the album, ten are alive and active and three are under the age of 50.

Vanessa Wagner interprets “Für Fritz” and “Elf dance”, two pieces by American blind street musician, poet and composer Moondog (1916 – 1999) whose compositions – strongly influenced by Bach, Beethoven, jazz and psychedelia – has had a major impact on the music of Steve Reich or Philip Glass. As on Statea and EP02, Philip Glass features again twice with “Etude N°9” and “Etude N°5” on the LP version only.

The pianist revisits a piece from German composer Hans Otte’s cyclical and meditative “Das Buch der Klänge” (The Book of Sounds – 1979-1982), “Railroad (Travel Song)”, a 1981 composition by American composer and choreographer Meredith Monk, English composer Gavin Bryars’ “Ramble on Cortona” – one of the rare pieces he has composed for solo piano – or Belgian composer Wim Mertens’ “Struggle for Pleasure” originally released in 1983.

Inland highlights the work of three young artists, namely American composers Nico Muhly (“A Hudson Cycle”), the National’s Bryce Dessner (“Ornament 2 & 3”) as well as London-based French modern classical pianist Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch (“Louella”).

The compilation also introduces for many the work of American composer William Susman (“Quiet Rhythms: Prologue and Action N°9”) and concludes with “Baltā Ainava” (White Scenery), a stunning piece by Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks from his solo piano cycle “Gadalaiki” (The Seasons).

As a whole and with some pieces stripped-down from their original orchestral layers, Vanessa Wagner’s solo piano treatment brings an elegant consistency to a superb set of diverse contemporary compositions.

Inland Versions

“Inland” – as in inner landscape – “refers to John Cage’s “Imaginary Landscape” (1939), one of the first works to use electronic devices” notes Vanessa Wagner. “After all, when Cage wrote his manifesto The Future of Music in the late 1930s, he already knew that the merging of written and electronic music would bear exquisite fruits.”

Vanessa Wagner - Inland Versions (2019)
Vanessa Wagner – Inland Versions (2019)

While electronic reworks were an integral part of the Statea project, they were released separately on Inland Versions following a call for submissions.

Inland Versions consists of experimental edits, remakes and versions by six electronic musicians, namely Wolfgang Voigt aka GAS, Marc Meliá, Vladislav Delay, Rotterdam-based DJ and electronic producer Nadia Struiwigh and revered American modular synthesiser pioneer Suzanne Ciani. There is also an additional version of Wim Mertens’ “Struggle for Pleasure” by sound artist Hüma Utku on the digital-only release.

If Statea looked for balance, Inland Versions is looking for perspective – from a distance, from above, or even at sea maybe – but always longing for Inland, the terra firma.