Recorded in Berlin in the Spring of 2014, Entanglement is Michael Price’s first full length album for the Erased Tapes label. Featuring a soaring selection of neo-classical works, infused with hauntological inspirations from vintage recording equipment, the album captures the first of many collaborations with cellist, Peter Gregson and documents Price’s continuing fascination with the emotional power of strings and voice.
Throughout the record you will hear street sounds from Budapest captured and processed on Michael’s mobile phone, as well as chamber music recorded direct to tape with vintage microphones in single takes. The Attachment was partly recorded onto a 1940s magnetic disc recorder, which immediately connected the piece back to a pre-digital musical age. Many of the titles and underlying concepts behind the tracks come from Michael’s love of science and physics, and fascination with how science often can give us intriguing metaphors for human relationships.
“I wanted to make an album that sounded like a dark, Berlin record store discovery from the 30s. Something that had timeless emotive power, and pre-digital rawness. Something that I hope would make a deeper connection in superficially networked times. I think there is a duty for artists to be honest, and vulnerable. Because then there is a possibility of real connection. Entanglement is both honest and vulnerable and to go through the two year process of writing, refining and recording an album has been more intense and more beautiful than I could have possibly imagined.”
Collaboration and connection with musicians has always been a crucial element to Michael’s music making, and in Entanglement the cello and soprano vocal parts were written specifically and directly for cellist Peter Gregson and vocalist Ashley Knight, whose expressive voice features on tracks Maitri and The Uncertainly Principle. The lyrics for both songs are Japanese poetry sung in English, dealing with age, loss and the inevitable fading of beauty. Michael wanted to further extend the sound world of Ashley’s voice with tape effects and natural reverbs, so that although the music could have been performed in any era, the interpretation was contemporary.
Entanglement was written over a period of two years on paper and by hand with Michael exploring oldest and the newest technology at Abbey Road Studios and Snap Studios in London, before most of the recording and mixing took place at Vox-Ton in Berlin. Joe Rubel’s involvement from the beginning of the project, along with Nick Hill, was crucial in bringing the ideas, intact and prepared, to the Berlin sessions with Francesco Donadello at Vox-Ton – a haven for creating music that can stand on its own, outside any era or genre.
More than 20 years into a career as a composer – including work across the worlds of dance, television and the bright lights of Hollywood – Michael Price has decided the time is right for releasing his first ever true solo record.
Built on an urge to explore the product of a group of musicians responding to each other’s actions without too many constraints, and written whilst tinkering with the vast swathes of equipment at Abbey Road, ‘Entanglement’ is clearly a rather special endeavour for an artist who’s already had plenty of highs.
Crafted over two years and ultimately recorded in Berlin, the album is a fascinating set featuring the melding of conventional piano and strings and rather more curious tape effects, modular synths and electronic burbles. There is a genuine darkness pervading this record that is simultaneously chilling and indescribably moreish. As much as this collection of instruments can so often deliver the hair-raising tricks we expect, these pieces feel more resonant, more entrenched. The surface level thrills are there, but the impact lingers.
‘Easter’ will naturally connect with fans of the Erased Tapes stable of artists – Nils Frahm and Peter Broderick have been in similar territory before – so endearing is its spacious, glacial melody. Indeed, it might have better occupied the title of the subsequent track, ‘Little Warm Thing’, which is anything but, swelling in a manner that feels like a punch in the guts. The emotional clout of this music is quite staggering and, even after a dozen listens, it consistently has the capacity to genuinely manipulate your mood.
The record was inspired by Price’s love of all things scientific, mulling on how such clarity and order can provide figurative insight into human behaviour. Such unlikely pairings were also considered in the assembly of the music. Parts of ‘The Attachment’ were recorded onto a 1940s magnetic disc recorder, adding an eerily grainy quality to the sound that is slowly subsumed by vivid strings which deliver an astoundingly intense counterpoint.
Two of the tracks feature vocals – in both cases from soprano Ashley Knight – using English translations of Japanese poetry exploring loss. ‘Maitri’ swirls, with vocal parts overlapping, while ‘The Uncertainty Principle’ lives up to its title, gradually disorienting the listener as it progresses.
Despite the minimal use of voice, the instrumental title track has an emphatic, grandiose drive to it that feels almost lyrical, gathering the album to a statuesque conclusion.
London-based Erased Tapes continues to delight. It’s no wonder that some of my (and I think yours as well) all time favorite modern classical composers, such as Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm, Peter Broderick, A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Lubomyr Melnyk, and many others, established Erased Tapes as their home. It seems that Robert Raths and Sofia Illyas have a knack for picking out the talent, let alone the very next best thing in contemporary music. So when a new album by Michael Price hits my ever-growing promo queue, I’m not a bit abashed to bump it to the top.
I first became aware of Michael Price, a British film composer, conductor, arranger and an award-winning music editor, with his four-track EP, titled A Stillness, released on Erased Tapes in 2012. Entanglement is his début full length release, on which Price explores ‘new musical territories’ with the help of Peter Gregson on the cello (a part specifically written for him), Ashley Knight with her soprano vocals, string orchestra, modular synth and tape effects. We say ‘new musical territories’ because Price is mostly known for his work on BBC drama Sherlock as well as more than two dozen full-orchestral scores for UK film and television. Given complete freedom on Entanglement (as opposed to the necessary constrains of a plot), Price expresses his more ‘honest and vulnerable’ side, refined over a period of two years.
“I wanted to make an album that sounded like a dark, Berlin record store discovery from the 30s. Something that had timeless emotive power, and pre-digital rawness. Something that I hope would make a deeper connection in superficially networked times. I think there is a duty for artists to be honest, and vulnerable. Because then there is a possibility of real connection.”
My favorite piece on the album, “The Attachment”, begins with a distant lo-fi recording of a string phrase warbled over dusty piano keys, captured on a 1940s magnetic recorder, until it slowly comes into focus with its immediately soul crushing melancholy melody. The nostalgic subject, framed by its title, implies moments of self-reflection on things, places and people that we fail to let go. On the last, and longest title track, “The Entanglement”, Price seems to mildly agonize over a particularly probed motif until it resolves into a major chord, echoed by the violins, which finally propose their plea into acceptance by the piano chords.
The album still carries many cinematic themes, and if you close your eyes, images of longing and remorse will undoubtedly flash behind your eyelids. This, of course, is exactly what draws me to Entanglement, and upon its 40 minute statement, I promptly hit replay. Once again, I am extremely excited (and proud) of this fantastic acquisition by the beloved Erased Tapes, and am looking forward to the many gorgeous moments with this newly found gem.
Abbey Road Studios, London
Snap Studios, London
Bo Kondren at Calyx Mastering, Berlin