BILL WELLS & STEFAN SCHNEIDER: Pianotapes (Karaoke Kalk)


Posted on Nov 22nd 2010 01:10 am

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Bill Wells & Stefan Schneider: Pianotapes

Karaoka Kalk 2010
08 Tapes. 46mins43secs

Amazon UK: CD | LP US: CD | LP Boomkat: CD | LP | DLD iTunes: DLD

It is not the first time that Scottish pianist, bassist and guitarist Bill Wells and German musician Stefan Schneider, best known as one third of To Rococo Rot, have collaborated. In 2003, the pair recorded an album, Pick Up Sticks (Leaf), with Annie Whitehead and Barbara Morgenstern, a collaboration which was followed by a second, Paper Of Pins, published last year on Karaoke Kalk. Pianotapes marks however the first time the two of them have worked on a record.

Pianotapes is the result of an intensely organic recording process. While Wells played delicate piano motifs, Schneider recorded them on old reel-to-reels tape machines and played them back at varied speeds, in turn impacting on Wells’s performance. The result is often very subtle, sometimes taking the shape of multiple layers of melody developing almost independently of each other, or slightly distorted reflections a theme which ripple down the body of a composition. Schneider’s part extends much beyond the simple interaction with Wells’s piano playing to incorporate a vast range of environmental sounds and noises which are captured, treated and often amplified to become part of the textured backdrop of a piece, and give it additional depth.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the process is found on Wells’s performance itself, and more particularly on how he reacts to Schneider’s live processing, at times with only slight alterations, at others with more defined changes in tone or pace. This is often done through such delicate touches and with such elegance that it doesn’t always gets noticed instantly. But, when Schneider’s processing becomes more intense and radical, articulated around echoes and reverbs, the resulting sonic spaces expand equally. This is the case on PNTPS 4 or PNTPS 88 for instance, which, in different ways, open up a wider sonic scale, the former as the piano sounds are applied in muffled swathes in the backdrop, with occasional touches of melody echoing down, the latter with the addition of rhythmic components built from static interferences as piano textures melt away in smooth droplets.

This is taken even further on PNTPS 3, on which the piano becomes almost secondary to the soundscapes and loops generated by Schneider, while on PNTPS 8, recordings of rubbed and creaking wood are placed at the forefront, with only occasional piano brushes woven into the piece. PNTPS 5 is a much more intricate piece in which live and processed pianos are fiercely blended together into a series of predominantly syncopated vignettes.

These are a sharp contrast to the more melodic pieces on this record. Opening track PNTPS 7 is ridden with backdrop noises, but it is the piano that dominates, as Wells constantly alters the course of his performance to build on Schneider’s soundscaping. PNTPS 112 is as exquisite and detailed, especially in its second half, as the processed textures become more prominent, while later on, PNTPS 6 is a tender composition which has Wells firmly at the forefront, while Schneider creates subtle rippling effects in the back.

With Pianotapes, Bill Wells and Stefan Schneider have created a rather wonderful piece of music, which continues to reveal its many facets with time. Schneider’s intense, yet respectful, processing ads grain and texture to Wells’s pieces without distracting from their overall structure or form. Together, they deliver a beautifully evocative collection.


Karaoke Kalk
Amazon UK: CD | LP US: CD | LP Boomkat: CD | LP | DLD iTunes: DLD

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2 Responses to “BILL WELLS & STEFAN SCHNEIDER: Pianotapes (Karaoke Kalk)”

  1. Bruce Langridgeon 22 Nov 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Thanks for the review. I heard a track from this on Stuart Maconie’s Freakzone on BBC 6 Music and it sounded great. Wondered what the rest of the CD was like – now I know. Reckon I’ll buy it.

  2. THE 2010 REVIEW | themilkfactoryon 29 Dec 2010 at 11:15 pm

    […] Community) 43. STRIË Sléptis (Soundscaping Records) 44. BILL WELLS & STEFAN SCHNEIDER Pianotapes (Karaoke Kalk) 45. TALVIHORROS Music In Four Movements (Hibernate Recordings) 46. MARCUS […]