Kelly Moran 2024
Photo: Brandon Bowen / Motormouth Media

Kelly Moran’s ‘Moves in the Field’ Calms Fear and Anxiety

Kelly Moran explores the ghost in the machine on Moves in the Field, a delicate, thoughtful album of “solo” neoclassical piano explorations.

Moves in the Field
Kelly Moran
Warp Records
29 March 2024

In February 2024, the Dutch dance troupe Another Kind of Blue, a collaboration between choreographers David Middendorp and Wubkje Kuindersma, staged Digital Twin at the Holland Dance Festival. The performance was an investigation and an evocation of concepts like presence and absence in the digital age, expressing doubts and fears and hopes over privacy and cybersecurity, raising fraught questions over how much control we truly have over our digital selves with jerky, fluid, graceful green-screened motion, some dancing with their own autonomous double like it was Peter Pan’s shadow while others move with people not occupying the same space.

It’s not entirely a new conversation. The first dance piece that incorporated augmented reality (AR) debuted 30 years ago when Australian theater director Julie Martin debuted Dancing in Cyberspace, where dancers duetted with virtual hyperobjects projected into physical reality. It’s not a new conversation, but it’s an even more pressing one in a time of deepfakes and digital twins, where we engage with virtual assistants, chatbots, and large language models (LLMs) daily. Never before has the question “What does it mean to be human?” been so embattled – or pertinent.

This is the fertile soil from which Moves in the Field, a contemplative ersatz solo piano record from composer Kelly Moran, who’s collaborated with everyone from Oneohtrix Point Never to no-wave punk band Cellular Chaos, springs. Across its ten tracks and 47-minute runtime, Moran collaborates with herself, instead, using a Disklavier – a modified Synclavier similar to an updated player piano – to create poignant, evocative, soul-searching post-minimalist piano sketches. It may be rooted in novelty and technical gimmickry, but the results are anything but. Modern neoclassical composers like Max Richter or Nils Frahm are obvious touchstones, expressing a similar post-millennial searching and longing, but so are Chopin, Debussy, Erik Satie, and even Beethoven. Moran may be using bleeding-edge technology, but she’s using it to express something timeless. She is using technology to explore the ghost in the machine.

Moves in the Field begins with “Butterfly Phase”, the lead single. Tinkling Waterford arpeggios spiral like dust motes around the chord changes while the left-hand spells out emotive open-voiced chords in the mid-range, keening like a cello, like a lost lover. “Superhuman” follows a similar arrangement, with liquid single-note runs cresting and soaring around a thoughtful, ruminative middle. Both manage to be thoughtful and thought-provoking while simultaneously tugging on your heartstrings and filling your head with visions.

Collaborating with technology allows Kelly Moran to somehow improve upon certain classical music, neoclassical, and pop music alike. The machine-generated sketches create a structure that makes space for genuine heart and imagination, avoiding the pom, artifice, and sophistry of baroque classical while simultaneously making music that’s a bit more challenging and boundary-pushing than some neoclassical compositions, which traded in its nuance for faux-epic earnestness, like an entire movie shot in super slow-motion.

Best of all, these intricate arrangements still have the bold, memorable melodies of pop. “Don’t Trust Mirrors” sounds like Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis”, made into a six-and-a-half minute ode to remembrances of things past, second-guessing, and second chances. “Sodalis (II)” is a mid-tempo meditation in the vein of mid-1970s Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett, sans humming. “Solar Flare” is an impressionistic landscape painting in the style of Icelandic pianist and composer Eydis Evensen, just conjuring images of rough-hewn piers jutting out into dark mountain lakes rather than volcanoes and the Northern Lights.

Of course, there are plenty of technical exercises on offer, as you’d expect from any record showcasing a new technology. “Dancer Polynomials” is as delicate and detailed as a hyper-realistic painting of Chantilly lace, while “Leitmotif” drifts and dreams like a field of sunflowers bathed in firefly light. “Hypno” has a Satie-like sweetness and simplicity before it bursts into a crepuscular swan dive. The title track, “Moves in the Field”, is a miracle of human/machine collaboration, seamless and graceful as any Russian ballet and human, all too human.

With this simple, singular statement, Kelly Moran eases our doubts, fears, and anxieties about the coming techno apocalypse. She seems to say, “Don’t worry, humans are not yet obsolete.” Perhaps there is harmony to be had yet.

RATING 8 / 10