Roger Eno releases his second solo album for Deutsche Grammophon The Skies, They Shift Like Chords features piano solo tracks performed by Roger Eno as well as multi-instrumental pieces, some with electronics. It also includes Strangely, I Dreamt, a song co-written and performed by Cecily Eno.
Press release by Crossover Media
“Most of my pieces are snapshots of things that were experienced in the moment,” says Roger Eno. “How do you describe the world, unless it’s in an instant? You can’t fix anything because everything is in flux, it’s changing and mutable.” On The Skies, They Shift Like Chords, his second solo album for Deutsche Grammophon, Eno describes the world in a dozen musical watercolours based on spontaneous sketches, tracing an evocative and thought-provoking path through sound and silence.
The Skies, They Shift Like Chords builds on the soundworld of piano and strings heard on Roger Eno’s DG debut solo album, The Turning Year, expanding it with lines for electric guitar, clarinet, bass clarinet, vibraphone, flute organ and subtle electronic sounds. Most of the tracks grew out of improvisations – musical snapshots. “Often, the best way to cement these is by hardly using any detail,” explains the composer and multi-instrumentalist. “The first track on the skies, ‘Chordal Drift’, is a series of quite thick string chords with no intimation of melody. If you listen to it more closely, though, you’ll start to link things together.”
The lone vocal piece on the album, “Strangely, I dreamt”, is co-written and sung by Roger Eno’s eldest daughter, vocalist and visual artist Cecily Eno. Its lyrics began life as part of a poem by one of her father’s friends, but Cecily adapted them to include “The skies, they shift like chords”, a line that invites us to contemplate the nature of impermanence.
That same idea lies behind “Tidescape”. “It owes its name to a poem by Mary Markwell written in 1976,” notes Roger Eno. “I happened upon it in a Suffolk Poetry Society anthology, one of my favourite poetry collections. I loved the name, implying, as it does, how the tide creates a changing landscape unique to that environment.”
As “Tidescape” began taking shape for the album, Eno invited his guitarist friend, Jon Goddard to fashion a high guitar drone above the existing music for flute organ. “Jon’s additions allowed me to hear two other elements in the piece, my beloved clarinet and bass clarinet, which sound like aural velvet. The resulting openness perhaps prompted my producer at DG, Christian Badzura, to have the courageous idea of adding reversed distorted guitar. I thoroughly enjoyed watching how the piece developed as though on its own, like a river finding its own path to the sea.”
By contrast, “Arms Open Wide” returns to the simplicity of Roger Eno’s solo piano, although despite the track’s gentle, intimate feel, it is underpinned by a sense of strength. “There always has to be something strong or utterly beautiful, otherwise there’s the danger that it becomes like lift music…”
The album’s other expressive titles include “Japanese Rain Garden”, “That Which Is Hidden”, “Mind the Gap”, “Illusion”, “Above And Below (Crepuscular)” and “Through The Blue (Crepuscular)”. “I always name pieces after I’ve composed them,” says Roger Eno. “I try to match them to poetic titles, to trigger feelings, emotions and thoughts as the music plays.”
One of the emotional threads running throughout the skies, they shift like chords is Eno’s relationship with his native region of East Anglia. The tracks are inspired by its landscape – a mix of small market towns, medieval churches, wheatfields, meadows, rivers and open skies – as well as by the work of local poets and the Norwich School of artists, active in the early 1800s. The album’s melancholy tone has much to do with the threat now posed to the region’s biodiversity by intensive farming and climate change.
“The overall mood is one of transience,” says Eno of his new recording, whose moments of stillness are vital, allowing the music to breathe and listeners to explore their own emotional and imaginative response to it. “There are lots of gaps, silent pauses, throughout the album, which are a really important part of it. When a track finishes, you’re still ‘there’ in the music, and unless the next one comes in at just the right moment, something’s going to jangle with either or both of them. The composing part is only one part of the process – these other, constructive details are very important.”
For more information and music samples, see deutschegrammophon.com.