Against all odds, pianist Ludovico Einaudi has emerged as one of the worldâ€™s most exciting and beloved voices in classical music. Living during a time where modern sensibilities are marketed as easily manufactured (and easily forgettable) pop hits, Einaudi stands tall as a passionate purveyor of his lifelong muse. None of this implies that the Milan resident is without knowledge of the present: his latest collaborationâ€”Whitetree, with brothers Ronald and Robert Lippokâ€”is an important contribution to the century-old search for the merging of classical and electronic music. Considering Einaudiâ€™s recent accolades, such as being the only classical artist invited to perform at the European iTunes Festival, Whitetreeâ€™s success is guaranteed.
The trioâ€™s debut, Cloudland (Ponderosa Music & Arts/Harmonia Mundi) is an exciting blend of Einaudiâ€™s gorgeously refined aesthetics on piano set against Ronald Lippokâ€™s sympathetic and knowledgeable rhythms on drums (not to mention the magic he creates on marimba and keyboards), as well as brother Robertâ€™s wizardry with electronicsâ€”the brothers are two-thirds of the Berlin and Dusseldorf-based palindromic post-rock group To Rococo Rot. Meeting in 2006 when Einuadi invited the Lippoks on an Italian tour, a collaboration seemed necessary and, as one can hear on every one of Cloudlandâ€™s ten tracks, effortless.
Whitetree has been born into an important musical heritage, one professed by musical experimenters such as Erik Satieâ€™s minimalist efforts and â€œbare bonesâ€ sounds, Luigi Russoloâ€™s search for the â€œart of noiseâ€ (in which music is differentiated from noise by its purposive arrangement), Jorg Magerâ€™s love of microtones and the invention of his â€œvoice of the spheres,â€ and later Edgard VarÃ¨se, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Indeed, that last contemporaryâ€™s film work recalls Einaudiâ€™s own cinematic efforts, such as his soundtrack work for Fuori Dal Mondo and This is England. Perhaps these three men, upon entering the Berlin studio in 2007-08, set out to champion the message of conductor Leopold Stowkowski: â€œSoon we shall have entirely new methods of tone production by electrical means. Thus will begin a new era of music.â€
One certainly feels that listening to Cloudland in the comfort of their headphones, or snuggled into a warm space encompassed by crisp speakers from which these artists speak. The surround-sense experience is gripping: the opening â€œSlow Ocean,â€ a reverberating, lo-fi echo creeps into a synthesized dreamscape before Einaudiâ€™s first notes take hold; instantly one is hypnotized. It is the type of songâ€”indeed, this is the type of albumâ€”that holds the listener in its spell. When the drums finally emerge on â€œKyril,â€ the release is rapturous; this is the ecstatic union of classical temperament with technology, an audio textbook of generations bonding. When one is aware of history, one can write it into the futureâ€”this is Whitetreeâ€™s great gift.
To pigeonhole Einaudi would be fruitless. While classical music is his foundation, he is no less educated in that fine line where popular music meets film meets radio play. His contribution to â€œKyrilâ€ hints at this, as does the simple and direct melody of â€œMercury Sands.â€ His sense of timing is superb, as when he hangs a half-beat behind his piano with the guitar on â€œKoepenikâ€ every step of the way. The naturalness in their music was the result of time well spent on the road and a natural camaraderie formed between the three, as Robert says:
â€œWe played as a band. Always live, always in one room. With just a few overdubs. We wanted it to be as natural as possible. This is what made mixing the record so adventurous. We had so many takes of our songs to go through! Going into the studio together was very special. Our tour had been quite â€˜loud,â€™ full-on. Recording the material, we had the chance to add some quiet ideas as well.â€
These quieter moments are of equal merit. â€œDerekâ€™s Garden,â€ with its haunting effects reminiscent of one trudging along the interior of a dark castle that he or she was not invited to, calmed by the sensuous strains of Einaudiâ€™s ivory. The playfully titled â€œUlysses and the Catsâ€ also exhibits those reflective, internal qualities, reminding one of the mythological inspiration for Einuadiâ€™s last solo recording, Divenire: the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, with the famous maxim attributed to him: everything is in a state of flux. One can claim this to be a headline for all of Einaudiâ€™s projects, Whitetree contributing the most recent and possibly most versatile to his vast catalog. Given the fluidity by which the album was recorded, Einaudi seems to agree:
â€œIt all came out very naturally, from the first sessions in the rehearsal room. Listening and concentrating to sounds and loops made by Robert and Ronald, sometimes I didnâ€™t even know who was making it. I sat at the piano and closed my eyes, entered that space of sounds, and I opened my imagination. It was like searching figures and forms in an abstract painting or pulling out emotions from the clouds. Then we were playing for long, losing ourselves into the music, responding to each other inputs, it was like building castles with the sand, no rules, everything was possible.â€
This then is the role of the artist: to make real the images and sounds one hears in their imagination. Borrowing its name from the Amos Tutuola novel, The Palm-Wine Drunkard, Whitetree is forging a modern mythology, both very old and rooted in the Western classical tradition as well as up-to-date with the everyday life of our technologically-inclined world. Interestingly, another of Tutuolaâ€™s novels, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, was the title of the seminal album recorded by Brian Eno and David Byrne in 1981; today it is heralded as the first â€œworld music electronicâ€ album. Perhaps in three decades Whitetree will be seen to have made a similar mark for their important blend of classical and electronic music. With one listen to this album, you will agree.