Book of Velocities

Jon Balke


Norwegian pianist Jon Balke’s first-ever solo disc is a remarkable ‘book’ of 19 short pieces, grouped into four chapters and an epilogue, of music composed and improvised, exploring a whole vocabulary of ideas, techniques, rhythms, textures and sound-colours. Resembling no other disc in the solo piano genre, this is another strikingly original release from the instigator of the Magnetic North Orchestra and Batagraf.

Featured Artists Recorded

September 2006, Radio Studio DRS, Zürich

Original Release Date


  • Chapter I
    (Jon Balke)
  • 1Giada03:34
  • 2Scintilla00:56
  • 3Spread04:26
  • 4Castello03:48
  • 5Resilience03:34
  • Chapter II
    (Jon Balke)
  • 6Single Line02:34
  • 7Nyl02:34
  • 8Double Line03:09
  • Chapter III
    (Jon Balke)
  • 9Obsidian03:26
  • 10Sunday Shapes03:19
  • 11Gum Bounce02:00
  • 12Finger Bass03:23
  • 13Contrivance02:45
  • Chapter IV
    (Jon Balke)
  • 14Drape Hanger03:15
  • 15Septima Llegada02:03
  • 16Reel Set01:25
  • 17Scrim Stand03:17
  • Epilogue
    (Jon Balke)
  • 18Sonance04:46
  • 19Nefriit02:58
Here, spread over „four chapters“ plus an „epilogue“ are a series of 19 solo piano interludes, one as short as 56 seconds, that explore sound, space, resonance and intensity. Melodic fragments, some seemingly simple or naïve, are scrutinised, developed and abstracted into textures and colours. Each piece is complete in its own right, but build collectively into a fascinating statement that is as beckoning as it is beguiling.
Stuart Nicholson, Jazzwise
Was hier geschieht, bleibt lange ein Rätsel. Es sind nicht bloß geheimnisvolle Cluster und Geräusche. Vielmehr schiebt sich unmerklich ein Detail ins andere. Stück für Stück, langsam, leise, unwiderstehlich, bis alles plötzlich Sinn ergibt: Jon Balke hat sich damit einen minimalistischen Klangkosmos erschlossen. Im Jazz gibt es bislang nur wenige Beispiele für diese Art von teilweise geradezu aphoristischen Stücken. Entfernte Ähnlichkeiten findet man da eher in der zeitgenössischen Klassik und den Werken von John Cage und György Kurtág. Sekundenprosa für die Ewigkeit. Ein schönes, vor allem aber rätselhaftes Vergnügen.
Tom Fuchs, Piano News
Jon Balke, bekannt durch das Magnetic North Orchestra, spielt sein Buch der Geschwindigkeiten ein. Stücke von äußerster Sparsamkeit, manche nur wenige Sekunden lang. Eine Entdeckung der Möglichkeiten, flüchtig und doch nachhaltig. Töne gezupft, angeschlagen in schillernden Timbres: ein Kompendium aus verschiedenen Kapiteln und Temperamenten. Eine Klangexpedition, ein Traumbuch.
Tilman Urbach, Stereo
The cover photo of “Book of Velocities” was taken by Jon Balke from a moving car. “I like to test-listen to music while driving, and the camera was on the seat beside me. All I had to do was to grab it and shoot wildly, without looking at or through the camera. Next time I adjusted the programming of the camera for better results, and the time after that I understood more of the way light became graphic. And so a series of velocity pictures evolved.”

As in photography, so in music on Balke’s first solo piano recording, a remarkable ‘book’ of 19 short pieces, grouped into four chapters and an epilogue. Music composed and developed, invented and improvised: exploring a whole vocabulary of ideas, techniques, rhythms, textures and sound-colours.

The approach: the pianist sketches an idea at the piano, quite spontaneously, waits a few seconds and develops the idea through a series of takes – and then moves on to a new ‘chapter’. Balke calls it “a process of understanding by doing and not by pre-conceived ideas. The outcome is also a result of the room, hour of the day, the piano, the light and so on.”

Speed is part of the process: “Piano playing is in fact mainly about velocity. There is no more information going through the mechanics when a note is struck, than the sheer force of your finger hitting the ebony and ivory. Velocity produces the sound, then come the chords, melodies, and context.” He asks, rhetorically, “If the keys were hit with a stick instead of your finger, but with the same velocity, would it sound different?“

No overdubs are used on “Book of Velocities” and there is no electronic processing of the sound. The disc is a rigorous investigation of the sound potential of the acoustic piano – in the course of which melodies and themes are allowed to emerge: “The tunes are either based on an abstract graphic idea – a single or double line - or faint traces of compositions from other musical environments.”

If in jazz there are few precedents for these at times aphoristic pieces – the shortest of which is only fifty-six seconds long – they indicate some fresh directions in improvisation, and can be related, tangentially, to developments in contemporary music and piano works of composers from Cage to Kurtág.

“Book of Velocities” was recorded in September 2006 at Radio Studio DRS in Zurich with Manfred Eicher producing, and ECM New Series Tonmeister Markus Heiland as engineer.