The pianist enters to the sound of murmurs from the small, interested audience.
Not knowing just what he’s about to play, he lifts his hands over the keys and lingers. He hovers, wrists loose, fingers at the ready, awaiting his inspiration… and his inspiration slowly arrives, one note at a time. The pianist gives that inspiration no chance to slip away, playing each note as it enters his mind, putting together subdued moods and melodies while never succumbing to repetition. It would seem that today’s inspiration carries with it shades of Chopin and Debussy, and the pianist is pleased as he morphs those ghosts into his own, more abstract compositions. Yet soon, there is another ghost, a ghost that emanates from more modern times, a much more tangible ghost than his traditional sources of inspiration tend to be.
This is a mechanical ghost.
Mechanical buzzes and gurgles begin to fill the room, briefly startling the audience, whose attention had been utterly absorbed by the pianist. Soon, the noises that only seconds earlier sounded utterly alien start to make sense in the context of the pianos that continue to emanate throughout the room. Rhythms begin to take hold, and beats actually created using electronic approximations of drums slowly appear. Yet still, the pianist is the one who tenuously holds the spotlight.
It is the pianist that grips the audience’s attention.
Harold Budd is the pianist, and Eraldo Bernocchi is the human host of those most recent ghosts that collectively form Budd’s latest muse. Music for ‘Fragments from the Inside’ is the seamless melding of minimal electronics with (also) minimal, classical piano, yet the result is something that simply sounds too dynamic to be described as, um, “minimal”. The sound that results from the melding of Bernocchi’s bleeps, gurgles and beats with Budd’s gentle keyboard wash is hypnotic and surprisingly full, never leaving the listener wanting for another instrument or a vocal line. Music for ‘Fragments from the Inside’ is broken up into seven numbered “Fragments”, divided as such only for the sake of the listener’s convenience, to facilitate skipping around through the performance. The performance itself, however, is largely homogenous save for the first, which is performed entirely on the piano by Budd. As “Fragment 2” begins and Bernocchi’s beats slowly, meticulously appear, it’s easy to be swept away by the majesty of the combination of the human and the alien — not the limited man-machine that Kraftwerk once predicted, but an amalgam that somehow manages to be the total sum of both parties.
Fascinating as it is, however, very little of it truly challenges the listener — it’s an easy CD to play at home or work, background music as easily as it can be the center of attention. It’s hard to shake the thought that truly brilliant music should be difficult to relegate to the background, and Music for ‘Fragments from the Inside’ is anything but. This is to be expected, however, as Budd and Bernocchi, for all of the pedigree that the combination of those two names holds, are here providing the music for a video installation by Petulia Mattioli, and one would assume that given the obvious skill on display in creating over 70 minutes of atmosphere out of such a limited instrumental setup, they did a fine job in their accompaniment. Still, listening to Budd and Bernocchi’s work here simply makes me want to get the full experience, video included. Perhaps a DVD release is in order?
“Fragment 2” features a steady, hip-hop beat, “Fragment 5” is more erratic in its electronics and its piano textures, and the 20-minute-plus “Fragment 7” is all over the map in its mood swings. Even in its variances, however, there is the pervading mood of quiet resignation, somehow performed with enough flair as to not become a tedious exercise in boring its listeners. Music for ‘Fragments from the Inside’ is a lovely exercise in the collision of freeform and lockstep, the seamless meld of the malleable with the indestructible. It may be fairly easy listening, but it’s a fantastic example of the way “easy” doesn’t have to mean “uninteresting”. It’s the pianist and a different sort of muse — interesting conceptually even if it fails practically.