Bold and brimming with creative power, Jamie McMenamy’s Piano Space is a remarkable release. How it first defines a wide and open space, then inhabits it with the sound of an ambient piano, is innovative and fresh. It is a space where your thoughts can roam freely, guided by McMenamy’s expressive compositions. Depending on the listeners’ mood, it relaxes, grounds, inspires or comforts. If you only listen to one experimental album in 2023, let it be Piano Space!
Sound designer and composer Jamie McMenamy has been working in the video game industry since 1993 and has designed sound and composed music for multiple award-winning games including titles from Oddworld Inhabitants, DreamForge Intertainment and Insomniac Games. He has released over 30 albums, both under his own name and as Unius. His most recent releases are Guitarma (2022), two three-part albums called Sustaining (2022) and Acoustic Spring (2021) – and today’s topic, Piano Space.
Cathedral of Being
The opening track, which is also the album’s first single, is called Cathedral of Being. It starts with the gentle sounds of a distant piano. The vintage Yamaha M2G upright piano sounds warm and comforting. The rich reverb and distance to the microphone make the soundscape feel massive. I love how the album’s experimental style doesn’t hinder understanding the artist’s idea. We easily “get it”, with no need for explanation or a context. That is rare. It is a cathedral of sound, and the “being” part is about life and existence itself. It is beautiful and thought-provoking from the first note.
Initially, it feels natural to compare Piano Space with the music of Brian Eno, Max Richter and Bruno Sanfilippo, but the album has perhaps most in common with Jordan De La Sierra’s classic Gymnosphere: Song of the Rose (1977). On the next track, focus goes from outward to inward. On Inner Expanse, the ambient melody connects with something deep inside of us. This time, the room of sound feels smaller and more intimate.
Listening to the 13 minutes long Architects, I found myself looking at the elegant archways on the cover artwork. The album explores how we humans are fascinated by geometric shapes found in different rooms and spaces, from caves to modern buildings.. The way sound flows in a room has been a part of architecture for thousands of years.
The bright Solace and the somewhat screwed piano always makes me smile. My favorite piece on the album is the intense Premonitions. Its atmosphere makes the listener wonder if something is about to happen, making us hang on to each note – especially the sharp and sudden ones, looking for clues. It is not really a dark track though – and the following Harmonic Ratio seems to underline that everything is ok.
Without the piano as a guide, we would not know the size of the various spaces. Unsilence breaks the stillness with hard notes that bounce back and forth and shows just how far the sound can fly. It is a wonderful unsilence! Gnosis is deep, taking the listener on a journey to a dark and enigmatic space. Sanctuary has the opposite effect. We seem to fly higher and higher, and the only thing that matters is this gorgeous piece of heaven and its relaxing qualities.
Piano Space is an album that deals with many transitional states, but Chrysalis makes it even more apparent. The rising and falling notes show how each stage “breaks free” from the last, with new and colorful tableaus unfolding. It is easy to tell that some kind of metamorphosis is taking place. The ending is meditative, making me want to go back to the beginning again. The over 11 minutes long Chrysalis is like an EP within the album.
McMenamy has saved some of the best pieces for last. Higher Yearning is melodic and warm, with some quite sharp notes in between as contrasts. It also contains some interesting statics and clicking. Yet again I’m amazed by the size of the soundscape. The radiant Spire of Light will illuminate even a dark room.
The album ends where it began; with architecture. Indeed, the whole album is about our perception of physical spaces, constructions, sound and light. Archways is a genuine jewel! It is impossible not to be amazed by the sonic representation of archs, either you envision a mighty cathedral or a steel construction of the future. Archways is a fantastic album closer. But don’t take my word for it. Check it out yourself:
Also, check out this Cathedral of Being remix by Drifting In Silence. It takes this masterful composition and weaves a new sonic tapestry that transcends, yet honors, the essence of the original track:
In conclusion: “Make an empty space in any corner of your mind, and creativity will instantly fill it,” Dee Hock said. Living in the modern world though, it is not that easy. That empty space will immediately be filled with social media alerts, 24/7 news coverage and other more or less “important” interruptions. Here Jamie McMenamy’s Piano Space comes in handy. When focusing your attention on the music, that space of creativity and learning that Dee Hock talks about will manifest shortly into the first track. If you also turn off all distractions, that room is there for you as long as you like. Piano Space is fantastic on replay! It is a soundscape I gladly spend my day in.
At first, Piano Space might seem chaotic. But it doesn’t take long for your mind to adjust to the carefully constructed ambient melodies. I believe it is that healthy dose of improvisation that gives the space its incredible size. The melodies’ structures are not restricted to dull harmonies, uninspired bass and a bland rhythm. No, it is free-flowing and vast.
Piano Space quickly became like an extra room in my home, a sanctuary of sound just for me. The minute I started adding memories and ideas to it, I was hooked. It is a place to read, think, or do creative work. Upsize your world with Piano Space! You will not regret it
For more information and music samples, visit jamiemcmenamy.com.