Searching for one’s inner self: that is what I like more and more in music. After having played Scriabin, Rachmaninov or Ravel, I’m fascinated by exploring intensity without a deluge of notes, by simplicity as a means of expression. For the performer, it is a question of bringing out a real atmosphere, a breathing of the tempo, a sensuality of the sound, of putting an intensity to each intention, and making the spaces between each note live and vibrate. This is not light music, it is emotionally intense music, which goes deep, in which one puts a part of one’s history…
What started as a once-off series of live collaborations between French classical pianist Vanessa Wagner and Mexican electronic musician Murcof in 2010 has turned into a formidable in-depth exploration of contemporary minimalism – a longitudinal survey of a lesser-known piano-based repertoire from established and emerging modern classical composers around the world. Recorded in December 2020 during a first winter of extended lockdowns and closed concert halls and released on 25 March 2022 last on the Paris-based InFiné label, Study of the Invisible pursues the same musical journey with 18 compositions expressing a quiet and emotional longing for connection.
Recorded with electronic musician Murcof and playing as a subtle balancing act between two seemingly disparate musical traditions, Statea and its three companion EPs were first released in 2016. A solo piano recording, Inland (2019) alongside an EP of reworks and remixes dug deeper into a rarely heard or unavailable repertoire from Moondog, Nico Muhly, William Susman, Bryce Dessner, Gavin Bryars together with well-known pieces from luminaries such as Philip Glass, Wim Mertens or Michael Nyman. Then 2021 saw the release of her duet recording with French pianist Wilhem Latchoumia which focused on the American repertoire – Meredith Monk, Philip Glass, John Adams and an exhilarating interpretation of Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story” – all arranged for two pianos.
On Study of the Invisible, favourite composers like Philip Glass and Moondog return to the set list with “Etude N°6”, “Etude N°16” and “Prelude N°1 in A Minor” respectively. The pianist also shines a light on the repertoire of a much younger generation of composers – Timo Andres (US), Melaine Dalibert (France), Caroline Shaw (US), Bryce Dessner (US), Nico Muhly (US) and Sylvain Chauveau (France) who were all under 50 at the time of the recording.
While the pianist was in the recording studio in the winter months of 2020, the news emerged of the passing of American composer Harold Budd. A quiet but hugely influential figure of piano-based ambient minimalism – even though the musician rejected the term – Harold Budd instilled his music with a beautiful melancholic and beatific dimension throughout his entire career. “La Casa Bruja” was originally released in 1991 on “Music for 3 Pianos”, and Vanessa Wagner’s version becomes a timely homage to the musician.
Vanessa Wagner revisits “Nostalgia” from Peter Garland, another lesser known composer of slow, circular and repetitive piano music who studied with Harold Budd for a while too, as well as pieces by Julia Wolfe and David Lang, both American composers and co-founders of Bang on a Can collective.
On Inland Versions, Vanessa Wagner initiated a dialogue with early female pioneer of electronic music Suzanne Ciani when the latter reworked Moondog’s “Elf Dance”. The conversation continues here with two covers of “Rain” and “Inverness” which was released as a standalone single on 12 October 2021 last. Both compositions come from Suzanne Ciani’s “Pianissimo”, the first of a trilogy of solo piano records launched in 1990 and concluded in 2001.
“Before 6” celebrates the music of late Italian composer and conductor Ezio Bosso who lost his battle with cancer in June 2020 last at the young age of 48. Released on Roger and Brian Eno’s collaborative “Mixing Colours” (2020), “Celeste” was originally performed on synthesisers and gets an acoustic piano makeover here.
Central to the record perhaps is the 13 minute long “Gustave Le Gray”, an original composition by young American composer, violinist and singer (with vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth) Caroline Shaw. Premiered in 2012, the piece is a variation on “Chopin’s Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17” and takes its name from the 19th century French painter who also pioneered early photographic techniques for developing negatives. He is especially remembered for his stunning black and white seascapes.
“One discovers this piece as if one were opening an old book of photos with past colours that come to life again under the effect of the glance” says the pianist, thus slowly uncovering layer upon layer of invisible hues, notes and silences.