A new slice of explorative minimalism from Ellen Arkbro, one of the most exciting young voices in this area of music. Chords is a simple title for a complex work, with Arkbro working with precise intervals and harmonics to create remarkable sonics. Two versions of the piece are here, one for guitar and one for the organ at Malmo’s St. John’s Church. Out on Subtext.

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Chords by Ellen Arkbro
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10/10 Will 25 June 2019

One of my favourite things released in recent memory was Ellen Arkbro's superb 2017 album 'For Organ and Brass'. It's a work of great simplicity that belies the huge amount of work and composition that went into it. It's played on a pipe organ from 1624, and uses a historic harmonic structure and tuning system that sounds strange and otherworldly to us in the 21st century. I suppose the most obvious comparison is to La Monte Young's 'The Well Tuned Piano' which uses 'just intonation', as opposed to the intonation you normally hear on most instruments/music which is slightly adjusted to account for different frequencies. I only half-understand all this and it's not really important but I suppose it's quite interesting. 

But on to 'Chords'! 'Chords' is Arkbro's newest work. Comprising of two pieces titled 'CHORDS for organ' and 'CHORDS for guitar', this new project refines and reduces the basic principles of 'For Organ and Brass' until you're left with something equally as good, but more vital and closer to the bone. The first thing I noticed about 'Chords' is the complete clarity of the recordings. It sounds as if the instruments are in the room with you. The guitar piece, especially, is uncanny in just how much it sounds like a guitar. It sounds more like a guitar than any guitar you've heard in your life, but then, it doesn't sound like a guitar. Does that make sense?

This is a deeply moving and transcendental piece. It's heartening that this sort of things is still being made, and can still command a platform. The main thing to take away from all the pieces I've discussed, is that they work on the basis that the listener's conception of music is not absolute and does not possess any inherent truth. Our ears are adjusted since birth to a certain musical form, so listening to 'Chords' or 'The Well Tuned Piano' encourages a radical re-thinking of how we appreciate sound. This music, then, encourages empathy for other forms beside our own. 

7/10 Daniel Customer rating (no review), 24th July 2019


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