Erik Hall
Photo: Western Vinyl

Erik Hall Creates Minimalist Compositions with Warm Beauty on ‘Canto Ostinato’

Composer and multi-instrumentalist Erik Hall shares his second installment of a trilogy with a tribute to Dutch composer Simeon ten Holt on Canto Ostinato.

Canto Ostinato
Erik Hall
Western Vinyl
22 February 2023

Over the years, musician and producer Erik Hall has worked as a multi-instrumentalist for the groups NOMO and Wild Belle and under his songwriting moniker In Tall Buildings. Additionally, he has composed music for feature films and produced albums for artists like Natalie Bergman and Lean Year. In 2020, he began an ambitious trilogy of reinterpretations of minimalist compositions with his reinvention of Steve Reich‘s seminal Music for 18 Musicians. That release saw Hall reinvent the long-form composition as a solo artist, overdubbing his execution of keyboards, guitars, and synthesizers. With the second installment of a proposed trilogy, Canto Ostinato sees Hall reinterpreting a composition from the late Dutch composer Simeon ten Holt, written for four pianos from 1976 to 1979. The results are warm and often stunning. 

The piece consists of Hall multitracking grand pianos, electric piano, and an organ. Over the course of an hour, no fewer than 106 movements evolve. Like his more well-known contemporary Reich, ten Holt’s piece is built on repetition. It evolves with a slowly unfolding transformation of melodies and arrangements so that the starting and end points are quite different, suggesting a mature, patiently changing piece. 

Hall faithfully represents the time frame in which Canto Ostinato was composed by keeping the instrumentation faithful to the more analog-themed time it was written. There are no MIDI-inspired updates to the sound; this recording sounds like it was birthed straight out of the era of Jimmy Carter and wide shirt collars, yet it still sounds fresh and crisp. By limiting his instrumentation to a 1962 Hammond M-101 organ, a 1978 Rhodes Mark I electric piano, and a 1910 Steinway grand piano, the original era’s sound is preserved, giving Hall the opportunity to revisit his roots, as it were, as a musician. “This particular piece brought the added challenge of rekindling my dexterity as a pianist,” he explains in the press notes, “something I haven’t maintained in earnest since I was a teenager.” 

As a result, the piece’s execution requires a patient, skillful ethic, which allows the listener to bathe in the sonic journey luxuriously. The five-note rhythmic motif that runs through all movements becomes transcendent and meditative. The knowledge that the whole thing was organically created by a single human without the benefit of loops, quantization, or programming speaks volumes to Hall’s dedication, perseverance, and raw talent. Again, the repetition of the notes is almost a moot point as Hall meanders through subtle sub-arrangements, allowing the listener to constantly reinterpret the motif repeatedly, allowing them to rediscover it with fresh ears several times over the course of an hour. 

It’s unclear whether or not Hall’s interpretation of Canto Ostinato was deliberately released on the 100th anniversary of his birth (which took place on 24th January of this year). But as a deeply felt and flawlessly executed interpretation of one of the composer’s seminal works, this second installment of Hall’s trilogy is not only a fitting tribute to a brilliant composer but proof positive that the musician performing this piece is a unique and singular talent with a great deal to offer fans of raw, organic compositional beauty. 

RATING 8 / 10