The one thing that could be more compelling than the music on Nick Storring‘s striking new album, Music from Wéi 成为, is how it was conceived. In 2017, Storring was invited by choreographer (and fellow Torontonian) Yvonne Ng to begin working with him on a new piece (Wéi) for five dancers in residency at the Banff Centre in Alberta. For convenience and to interact with the choreography from a fresh perspective, Storring chose to compose and perform the entire piece on the piano. But Music from Wéi 成为 is hardly a traditional exercise in the instrument’s 88 keys.
Over the next four years, as the composition was taking shape, grand pianos and old uprights were incorporated into the process, with mallets, picks, and bows among the ways Storring approached the instruments. Furthermore, the recording process used everything from contact mics to humbucker pickups to pry all manner of sound from the pianos. A computer-controlled Disklavier acoustic piano in Yamaha’s Toronto office was even implemented in the album’s sessions.
The result is a unique, ambient piece that offers warmth, hope, experimental plunges, and a unique tension that gently pushes and pulls the listener. The emotional peaks and valleys of the music recall My Magic Dreams Have Lost Their Spell, Storring’s 2020 masterpiece. Since that album’s release, Storring made the delightfully noisy, percussion-heavy Newfoundout on the Slovakian label Mappa Editions, but with Music from Wéi 成为, he’s back on the Ohio-based Orange Milk label.
The album is comprised of six tracks comprising eight sections, but it all falls together as one piece, despite the track divisions. The opening track “I” begins with light, airy, almost New Age-style simplicity, but as with most of Storring’s best work, the tension eventually rises. By the track’s halfway point, a percussive clatter eases in, but it never seems intrusive or darkly foreboding; Storring is our sympathetic guide through these mysterious musical waters, gently leading the way.
The restless creativity at work makes the album more than just a vain contest to see how many sounds Storring can coax out of one instrument. In other words, it’s no gimmick. By limiting himself to the piano, Storring has discovered new sonic worlds. On “III”, multiple tracks of plucked piano strings come at the listener in waves, creating a feeling that is both overwhelming and oddly comforting. “VI” revisits some of the percussion-oriented sounds of Newfoundout, and the closing “VII + IIX” employs ethereal Reichian repetition before the second half ends the album with lush, ambient calm.
Music from Wéi 成为 is an affirmation of Nick Storring’s status as one of the most creative and exciting experimental artists working today, not simply because of his talent and imagination but because he has found ways to imbue non-traditional music forms with a deep sense of emotion and hope.