When I heard about the release of “Pianissimo Possibile” (25 January 2011 in the USA), I was instantly curious. Matthew Mercer, who has released music in the past as a solo artist, is best known as half of the house / electronic duo Microfilm. Upon first listen, I was amazed! What makes “Pianissimo Possibile” very interesting is that it is the opposite of what you would expect. Unlike so many artists who release a solo album that rehashes what we are accustomed to from them, he does not follow the trends of what he has done with Microfilm. Instead of delivering a collection of house music, “Pianissimo Possibile” is an instrumental study in musical construction. The best way I can describe this is by giving into a heady literary lexicon: deconstruction, pastiche, and fabulation.
“Pianissimo Possibile” revolves around the deconstruction of improvised piano and its reconstruction in various different arrangements. This is obvious from the opening track; “Slipping Through the Center Of An Hourglass” starts with a simple chord, followed by a “chasing oscillation” sound of sorts. This continues right through a series of a few chords for about a minute, and then more steady chords with low string arrangements in the background, then back. Eventually the piano arrangements expand from the rhythm chords exclusively to include melody and more play with the oscillation before returning back to the feel of the beginning. Throughout this song, we are teased and treated to the different variations of these chords and the different musical terrains they can be reconstructed into. This is followed in the next track, “My Heart Hopscotched A Beat” (incredible title!), including a beat and a great range of different arrangements. Again, methodically deconstructing and reconstructing itself into a variety of different arrangements, unlocking the different potentials for interpreting / experiencing these chords.
There is only one way to move forward, and that is to look backwards: pure pastiche. The very sounds on the album are completely reminiscent of the past; from the different instrumentalization (pianos and strings) to amazing synth effects (as in “And The Sky Opened Up”), Mercer often retreats into the past, but does so only to usurp these elements and breathe new life into them. Most evident in the closing track, “One You Me Too,” Mercer ingeniously moves from one deconstructed / reconstructed arrangement to another, with quite a large bag of old tricks, especially in the play of the beat “sounds,” and does something new and fresh. He never regurgitates the past, nor does he take cues from the past in the sense of “revival”; Mercer, instead, is re-envisioning how music can be played with. (One of the tracks’ title even eludes to the pastiche: “The Presence Of The Past.”)
As I said, this is an instrumental study, so the “fabulation” is not in verbal artifice, but rather in musical artifice. Unlike many other electronic artists, who use electronic means to create music in the same way as “analogue” artists do, Mercer does not construct his music to reference the expected. This is not instrumental music in the way that certain tracks simply remove the vocals or are written with that verse-chorus mentality; the music here is more “classical” and “organic” in feel, like the track “Your Sun-Faded Photograph.” The artifice here is to present something outside of the box as the norm. But unlike most albums that attempt to do this, your senses are never anxiously awaiting for something that you have experienced before. Instead, the music, especially “Flickering Little Flame,” is so inviting, you are swept into the soundscape without thinking twice.
The irony is that “Pianissimo Possibile” translates into “As Quiet As Possible”; though the music lacks the sonic volume as house music would, Mercer’s musical study is grandiose. Not grandiose in a loud and pretentious way, but rather grandiose in its attempt to usurp the past, merge-deconstruct-reconstruct everything in it path, and produce music that is outside of the box with the same tools that have existed for decades. I have not been as mesmerized by a completely instrumental collection since Michael Nyman in 1993. Matthew Mercer, through a minimalist approach and an elaborate visceral undertow, has really created a collection of songs that you should invest in.
1. Slipping Through The Center Of An Hourglass
2. My Heart Hopscotched A Beat
3. Flickering Little Flame
4. I See You Seeing Me
5. And The Sky Opened Up
6. A Bad Case Of Nerves
7. Your Sun-Faded Photograph
8. The Perfectionist
9. The Presence Of The Past
10. Rising To The Occasion
11. At First, And Then
12. The Art Of Eye Contact
13. One You Me Too
Keep up with Matthew Mercer at his homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Head over to his Bandcamp site where you can preview and purchase “Pianissimo Possibile.”
Here is Matthew Mercer’s video for “Sky Opened Up” from his YouTube Channel: matthewdmercer.