Richard J. Birkin, London Contemporary Orchestra – Matter (Reveal Records)

Richard J. Birkin, London Contemporary Orchestra – Matter (Reveal Records)

Richard J BirkinArtist: Richard J. Birkin, London Contemporary Orchestra
Track: Matter
Label: Reveal Records
Released: 15 September 2020
Find it: Spotify | Bandcamp

A few years ago now I sat in the cold air of Derby Cathedral, a shiver down my spine as shadows of cars passed solemnly across the vaulted ceiling. Around me in the pews people chat quietly, the surroundings instinctively leading to hushed tones, as eyes with awe glinting wander around the space no matter how interesting the conversation.

It was a different sort of anticipation to a regular gig (you still all remember them, right?), a reverence among those who hoped to finally hear something in which they could really believe in this place.

“With rapt attention we listen, quietly contemplating as minimalist and modern compositions are pulled forth from the grand piano and then hauntingly beautiful loops of guitar and voice resonate through the space, through each of us, giving sound to those things which we must all feel within” I wrote, back then, of the experience, as close to religious as any has come. Bluntly I wrote, “Richard J. Birkin looped his voice into a one-man choir, I was moved to tears.”

There is no voice here, in his latest piece Matter, only melody and slowly rising sweeps of instrumentation bolstered by the London Contemporary Orchestra. Taking inspiration from literature – his own short story of technology, empathy and the road ahead, and in the album title a reference to George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo – the sound here is evocative:  ‘melancholic yet optimistic, intimate yet epic, mysterious yet familiar’.

Matter is, again, enough to stir deep emotion from the slow-opening bloom, and around the punctuated by the gentle beckoning of a simple, repeating piano melody.  The piece expands, becomes the moment inbetween some old way, some old world, some known and the growing exhilaration of transformation, before we can understand whether this step will lead us to something better or to the end.

It is these themes Birkin has built from, of the album he said, “I was writing the music and thinking about transformation, other states of being, drastic change. A blooming of kaleidoscopic possibilities for humankind, in the face of what feels like a decline. There is also a thread of loss throughout the album, for what is left behind or what could have been.”

Matter is the first piece to be revealed from forthcoming album matterlightblooming, set for release via Reveal Records on 16 October 2020.

Find Richard J. Birkin: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Spotify | Bandcamp

You can read Sarah Lay’s review of Richard J. Birkin, Haiku Salut and Grawl!x at Derby Cathedral in 2016 on Louder Than War.

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Sarah Lay

Sarah Lay is editor of Popoptica.
A long-standing music journalist she's also co-founder of independent record label Reckless Yes, an author of novels, and when not messing around with words and music, a digital strategist.
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