John Metcalfe’s Minimalist Playlist and Micro-Moments

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Society of Sound artist John Metcalfe, takes us through some of his favourite Minimalist music and describes the effect that the music has had on him as a listener, composer and performer. Also as an added bonus you can watch a short piece about John’s favourite Micro-Moments in all music. These are the small but significant moments that, for him, change everything. They’re what make a special piece of music truly sublime.

John Metcalfe’s Minimalist Playlist and Micro-Moments

1. Steve Reich – Different Trains
I’ve performed this iconic piece many times with the Duke String Quartet and it never fails to deeply move me. Reich travelled a lot by train in the U.S. during World War II and became very aware of a different kind of train journey being made in Europe by those on their way to the death camps. Composed in 1988 its melodies are derived from recordings of interviews with holocaust survivors and also Reich’s governess (who travelled with him) and a Pullman train porter. These are laid over recordings of train noises and four string quartets (in performance 3 of the quartets are on playback) The technique of making music from speech, particularly in this instance, gives the words an almost unbearable intensity and emotional impact.

2. Vivaldi – Concerto for 4 violins in B minor – Lerghetto
To me Antonio Vivaldi is one of the orignal systems music composers and this movement is an exemplar of that. There is no theme, just interweaving repeated rhythms and arpeggios over changing chords that create a wonderful sonically twinkling astral space. The aural equivalent of star-gazing.

3. John Adams – Shaker Loops
I used to be in the now-defunct Kreisler String Orchestra; a group of young musicians just out of college who had a reputation for fast and fiery performances. It was a co-operative ensemble – run by its members which led to amazing concerts but also some pretty chaotic rehearsals and tours. We loved playing Shaker Loops for its energy and drive. It’s such an exciting piece, full of amazing evolving textures and harmonic shifts.

4. Nico Muhly – Seeing Is Believing
This kaleidescopic and hugely imaginative piece is a concerto for chamber orchestra and 6-string electric violin. ‘Seeing Is Believing’ takes its reference from ancient practises of observing and mapping the sky. The recording to get is the Aurora Orchestra with Thomas Gould on violin.

5. Richter – Horizon Variations
I have recorded and performed with Max many times. Although he uses gorgeous string writing in much of his music this solo piano movement is one of my favourites.

6. Olafur Arnaulds – Old Skin
This is just a lovely song. A pristine vocal from Arnor Dan with Nico Muhly coming in to arrange some cool motor-rhythmic woodwind and strings.

7. Nils Frahm – Says
In the last 10/15 years there’s been an explosion of piano/keyboard-based, post-classical music. Nils Frahm goes emotionally further than most and this track beautifully takes its time to wrap itself around you.

8. Hauschka/Hilary Hahn – North Atlantic
In 2012 this amazing violinist teamed up with Haushka to record an intruiging and beguiling album. Hauschka mainly uses a prepared piano to create a huge variety of acoustic timbres. I love the blend on this piece of the violin’s melancholy and the ‘eventfulness’ of the piano.

John Metcalfe’s album Kites and Echoes is available to download from Society of Sound

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