Breath-taking post-classical artist Poppy Ackroyd released her first full-length album with One Little Indian Records, Resolve, earlier this year. A classically trained pianist, violinist, producer, and composer, Ackroyd turned heads in the neo-classical world with her previous works Escapement and Feathers, as well as her involvement in Hidden Orchestra (Tru Thoughts).
Having played alongside giants of the genre, Hauschka and Nils Frahm, the unique musician has returned, newly signed to Bjork’s label One Little Indian Records, fresh off the back of a mini-album Sketches, and set to release her brand new self-produced full-length record – her most ambitious and progressive piece of work to date.
The ground-breaking album explores life’s constant challenges, and many of the songs are extremely personal to Poppy. In her own words: ‘Resolve is about the determination to embrace the good things in life whilst dealing with unexpected and challenging difficulties. Finding the light in the dark, facing sadness and loss head on, and developing a growing inner strength.’
Trains, the lead single from the album, simulates the sounds, movement, speed and changing scenery of a train journey. The track’s accompanying time-lapse video (which is yet to be revealed to the public) has won 12 awards, including the Gold Movie Awards and South London Shorts.
In contrast to her previous albums, for which the artist manipulated field recordings, Ackroyd has this time employed guest players on the record, in conjunction with her trademark and unique use of unconventional studio methods. Ackroyd creates percussive textures from traditional classical instruments, and the result is almost the emulation of an entire orchestra, using very few instruments combined with the artist’s incredible production skills.
On opening track Paper, the musician creatively recorded and manipulated experimental beats, born from using paper over piano strings. The principal melody on Stems was created using a combination of pianino (a very small toy piano) and wine glasses. The piece soundtracked a BAFTA-winning short animation by Ainslie Henderson.
Ackroyd plays a combination of both upright and grand piano, and even plays the inside of the instrument using fingers, drumsticks and plectrums – and then arranges and multi-tracks the resulting sounds. The artist employed the same technique to record herself playing violin, pianino, harmonium and spinet, as well as record other musicians who played cello, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet and hang. Describing this process, Poppy said: ‘With the other musicians, I asked them to explore the instrument and to create as many weird and wonderful sounds as they could. I then spent hours sifting through the recordings and choosing sounds and short percussive ideas that I could rearrange and build the track from. The opening of The Calm Before is built out of the clicking of clarinet keys and Quail starts with eerie sounding harmonics.’
Although a keen collaborator outside of her solo work – having created soundtracks for film, dance, physical theatre and radio – this is the first record for which Poppy has written for and employed other players, including Manu Delago (Bjork, Cinematic Orchestra, Anoushka Shankar) playing hang, Mike Lesirge (Bonobo, Andreya Triana) playing clarinets and flute, and Jo Quail on cello.
Through studying contemporary classical piano works and listening to electronic music, Ackroyd quickly developed her signature compositional style on previous albums, using contemporary pianistic ideas whilst also inhabiting the world of sound beyond the keyboard, using extended techniques to ‘play’ other parts of the instruments as well. The intelligent artist works by recording improvised contemporary classical piano motifs and then rearranging and manipulating these sounds digitally. The result is a fantastic fusion of acoustic and electronic in a post-classical setting.
‘A musical talent that straddles both old and new, harnessing the power and range of two very versatile instruments along with innovative use of samples and manipulation through technology. A must for fans of Silvain Chauveau, Dustin O’Halloran and Max Richter.’ – The 405
This show takes place at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, a charity that encourages and supports public and scholarly interest in all aspects of the life and work of Anthony Burgess, the late novelist (best known for A Clockwork Orange), poet, playwright, composer, linguist, translator and critic. The foundation, situated just off Oxford Road, features a fully licensed cafe-bar and an engine room, which will host this concert.