What music would Erik Satie be making in 2017? And if you were organizing a record store, where would you file his new records? Should he be in Classical with Mozart and company? Or would you place his work alongside Philip Glass, Eno, the Masters Musicians of Joujouka, Arthur Russell and Aphex Twin’s Drukqz? And what would you call that section?
All these questions are relevant when talking about the immensely talented Kelly Moran. A strikingly original keyboardist, composer, and electro-acoustic sound producer living in New York City, Moran is releasing her new album through Telegraph Harp. A small masterpiece, Bloodroot is a series of compositions for prepared piano, with and without electronics.
Blurring distinctions between acoustic music and electronic music, Bloodroot also unearths the venerable prepared piano as a proto-avant-garde ancestor of today’s electronic music, splitting off shards of shimmering bell and bow tones that lay hidden as latent possibilities within the strings. Moran takes the prepared piano on an evocative journey that calls up the ghosts of a supernatural gamelan and makes them dance in a land neighboring John Cage’s imaginary landscapes. She turns the instrument inside out, celebrating the piano (and sound itself) down to the cellular level.
“For Bloodroot,” Moran explains, “I sampled plucked and ebow piano strings and mapped them to MIDI controllers so I could trigger the samples and play them on a keyboard.” Using custom digital instruments she has created from her own recorded samples, and her pieces maintain a sonic identity that is entirely her own. Bloodroot is an exploration of timbres within the prepared piano, coupled with the digital processing of extended piano techniques.
Hiding among these shimmering pieces, however, one also finds an unexpected sonic influence: Metal. “I started getting into various iterations of Black Metal in graduate school,” she recently told an interviewer for Nine Circles, “and it really amazed me how much the genre shared in common with certain kinds of minimalist music. I had been doing a lot of theory analysis on pieces by John Adams, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of their music when I’d listen to Black Metal. The steady pulse, adherence to tonality, and overlapping patterns… I truly think if you orchestrated a band like Mgla for piano, it would sound a lot like Steve Reich. I often think about what the scores would look like if someone transcribed bands like Burzum, Krallice, or Drudkh; they would probably look very post-minimalist.”
And to that point: Moran’s album Bloodroot also happens to be mastered by seminal Metal producer and Krallice/Gorguts/Dysrhythmia guitarist, Colin Marston.
As a collaborator, in recent years she has performed as a bassist in Weasel Walter’s no-wave outfit Cellular Chaos, and keyboardist for avant-rock band Voice Coils. Other recent collaborations include projects with Toby Driver (Kayo Dot), Geryon (Nicholas McMaster of Krallice), Charlie Looker (Extra Life, Psalm Zero), and Joshua Strawn (Azar Swan, Vaura). An accomplished pianist in her own right, Moran has given numerous recitals of contemporary repertoire and specializes in works that employ extended techniques and a prepared piano. She also works as a piano accompanist at Barnard College and the Martha Graham School for Contemporary Dance.