Each of Norwegian pianist Jon Balke’s ECM albums has opened another window on the processes of improvisation. On Warp, a sound-sculpted meditation on the nature of solo playing, Balke looks at the ways in which “a lone musician, in his cloud of aesthetics, interacts with the world, or how the world warps into his space. How the world reverberates into art and vice versa.”
The starting point this time was the idea of situating the piano “in an architecture of sound”, incorporating field recordings with “distant homogenous sounds of city life”. Initial recordings of solo piano were made in sessions at Oslo’s Rainbow Studio with engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug. The next stage was to work with Audun Kleive at Madstun in the Norwegian hills using elements of electronics, sound, field recordings and more.
The music on Warp incorporates both pure solo and subtly enhanced piano, with additional information and mysterious half-buried detail. Balke’s field recordings include, for instance, sounds of a schoolyard, sounds of trams braking at the stoplights near the pianist’s Oslo home, ambient sounds from the Hagia Sofia church-mosque-museum in Istanbul. Singers Mattis Myrland and Wenche Losnegaard put in distant appearances, contributing to a layer of songs, hidden deep in the soundscape. To thicken the plot, Balke’s daughter Ellinor reads an airport announcement in three variations. Many other details can be perceived in the furthest corners of the mix.
In preparing his sound images, Jon also used a long list of keyboards, samplers and software to shape the setting in which his piano is heard. “Then we brought these hours of music back to Rainbow with Manfred Eicher involved, for more recordings and focusing of the results,
which we mixed in Lugano a few months later, with Stefano Amerio as engineer.” Sequencing was finalized by Eicher and Balke and the album mastered at Munich’s MSM Studio with Christoph Stickel.