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Side By Side: Richard Reed Parry on Lubomyr Melnyk's Corollaries

31.5  2023


Our Side by Side series returns with Bell Orchestre member Richard Reed Parry's essay on his love for Lubomyr Melnyk and his Erased Tapes debut, Corollaries.

"When I sat down to write this appreciation of Lubomyr Melnyk’s album Corollaries, I couldn’t help but start writing about how I first discovered and then became obsessed with his music. So, en brève: I heard a brief excerpt of Lubomyr’s double piano/mystical behemoth/gorgeously impenetrable piano barrage the Lund St-Petri Symphony in a university class. I was blown away and inspired. It sounded like music emerging from a cave on top of the great mountain (a cave with a piano in it, obviously). It was music I had been waiting my whole life to hear. I immediately needed to hear more and to know more. However the LP belonged to the teacher, who declined to let me borrow it. I tried in vain to track down a copy of the album, or of anything else by him, to learn more about who this mysterious musical creature was.

In the school library I found what I think was his master’s thesis, and read it. Or most of it anyway — it was written in an impassioned, somewhat stream of consciousness fashion, verbally spinning in ecstatic circles almost to the point of incoherence — trying to describe his own mystical experience that he was in the process of discovering. Through pioneering and exploring his own piano technique, he was creating the shape and scope of his compositions: a thick, beautiful barrage of melodic figures played over and over again, slowly changing over time, in a way that sounds clearly related to other minimalist composers of the sixties / seventies / eighties, and following it’s own impulses with an improvisatory spirit — more related to Terry Riley’s In C and Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert perhaps than to the ultra-precisely scored works of Reich or Glass.

I was thrilled. I thought that I had perhaps found a mentor.

This was all circa 2001, the internet was burgeoning (but slower), and there was barely a trace of Mr. Melnyk’s existence online. No email address, no mentions of any albums by him (although it turned out he had recorded many), no website, nothing. An internet search for his name (I think the search engine might actually have been the pre-Google WebCrawler?! Wow. Time is weird) turned up the name of a play that he had created and performed music for in Manitoba, and his parents’ address was also available online after some searching. So I wrote him a letter, telling him what a thrilling discovery his music was, and probably all sorts of earnest rambling about the things it made me feel, and asking if he’d consider letting me study with him. I mailed it to his parents’ house, and put a note on it asking them to forward it to him.

Magically, some weeks later, a letter from Sweden arrived with a very open-hearted, friendly message from Mr. Melnyk. I was beyond excited — this mystic from the piano cave on the mountain was in fact a real life person, and had written to me, a university student in a general state of mild panic about life and my creative future in music, and which musical direction to head in the world.

Okay, this story is going on for far too long...  Quickly now, what happened next was: we corresponded, met up in person at a live show he was performing in Toronto in 2003, where he gave me his book of Continuous Music exercises (many of which I learned how to play, during long nights of concentration and ecstatic discoveries on a friend’s piano), and we agreed I’d somehow get myself to Sweden to study with him. But then the two bands I played in became overwhelmingly busy and began touring the globe, and the dream of living in a remote Swedish town and studying Continuous Music with Lubomyr became a path not taken. But that’s a whole other story and I’m running out of space... I’m supposed to be talking about his magnificent album Corollaries, which just turned 10.

Corollaries is, to my ears, the sound of the man coming down from the cave on the mountain, and finding musical rebirth within a new context and a new musical community.

He has in fact been self-releasing records quite regularly since the 1980s, and not actually been living far away from civilization as my mind had led me to imagine. But regardless, this album finds him making and releasing music on a label other than his own for the first time since 1981, and allowing his very solo approach to expand and intertwine with collaborators — some of his newfound label mates co-writing and performing multiple pieces on the album: Peter Broderick sings and performs here, and album production is put in the hands of Broderick, with help from Nils Frahm, Francesco Donadello and Martyn Heyne.

The gorgeous floods of piano notes are of course still here, front and center. But now they collide with subtle electronic flourishes, hints of guitar, with sung fragments, with songs. The monolithic washes of lonesome piano notes have opened up to embrace new musical interactions, new musical friends, new musical colours, and fresh new dynamic approaches — this album is a new world in which Melnyk’s beautiful piano barrage can wax and wane, make space for voices to enter and exit, take center stage and then sit back and support from a little further into the background, then rise up and rain down over everything again. Like a tide that rises and falls, sometimes leaving behind the floating treasures that the waves carry with them as they advance and retreat, gently enveloping and then abandoning the landscape again and again. Still present is that gorgeous quality that has always been present in his music — the fresh, naive magic of exploring and expanding within one’s own newly discovered territory, even though Mr. Melnyk is many decades deep in his career at this point. Perpetual motion on the piano keyboard as a direct path to uncovering compositions that assemble themselves through the physical act of playing as fast as he possibly can, though now with the gentler dynamic sensibilities that could only have emerged at a later point in life.

And still present is that feeling that this utterly unique music is, in some way, coming from deep inside a cave, high up on a mountain."

· discover the 10th anniversary edition of Corollaries