Download of the Week: Ólafur Arnalds & Alice Sara Ott

The Chopin Project is a re-interpretation of Frédéric Chopin’s music by Ólafur Arnalds and pianist Alice Sara Ott. The recording, produced by Arnalds, employs vintage microphones, analog recording equipment, non-traditional microphone techniques, and subtly prepared piano. In part, Arnalds and Ott wanted to bring "humanity" back into their recording. I think they've accomplished their goal.

From an excellent interview with Arnalds and Ott on NBHAP:

Ó: ...We are doing this more to bring out the humanity of what’s happening. Usually you are listening to classical records and they are very pure and clean, and there are never any mistakes, and you never hear any extra sounds. I wanted to hear ALICE‘s breathing. I wanted to hear her feet clicking on the pedals. I want to hear the creaking of the chair. These sounds are there, but not to be intrusive – they’re there to tell you there is a person present.

A: Part of the live experience that you lose in the recording experience or in a big concert hall where people are so far away, is that you don’t hear those things. You should. They belong to the performance.

Ó: We want to put you in a chair next to the performer. A: I had to get used to recording my breathing. It was so loud. We listened to what he recorded, and suddenly you hear this animal-esque inhalation. It sounded like I was running a marathon.

Ó: At first she apologised. She was singing, and I said ‘Oh, you were singing.’ She was like ‘I’m so sorry, I’ll stop it.’ I responded, ‘No, don’t stop’ and I went and moved the microphones closer to her face to get more of it.

I recommend reading the entire interview if you want to know more about the artists' intent.

I have to admit, I felt I wasn't sure about picking this recordings for a DotW. My objection? It felt as if there wasn't enough of Arnalds' and Ott's voices, their musical stamp if you will. It felt like Chopin with very subtle noise added. The thing is, I kept listening to The Chopin Project, over and over, day after day. It was soothing, peaceful, beautiful, and I often found myself drifting along with its slow moving tides led by Ott's piano accompanied at times by a string quartet and synthesizer. Some songs interweave Chopin's original with reinterpretations, as if memory and time have informed the music.

The thing is, when I left my critical hat at the door, I found myself warmly enveloped. What more can you ask for? I very much enjoy Glenn Gould's recordings where you can hear him singing, which is also why I pretty much detest those Zenph recordings. Bring back the human in humanity.

The Chopin Project is available in 24/96 quality from Presto Classical and you can also stream the entire record in CD-quality on Tidal. Check out this the track "Verses" and a short video that gives another peak inside the performance.

BradleyP's picture

I'd say that this melancholy, soporific recording treats both music and recording as artforms. Tubes are the ideal intermediary for this kind of aesthetic. The album is pleasantly surreal, and it evokes an emotional response exactly as intended. There's plenty to critique, but doing so would rob one of the joy in the thing.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
mytek's picture

Interesting to see our professional client featured here. Olafur uses Mytek 8x192 multichannel ADCs for recording at his studio in Iceland. Haven't heard this one yet, hopefully will get a chance to listen soon.

Thx! Michal at Mytek New York

jim tavegia's picture

I bought the hirez versions and burned 2 2496 DVDs with Cinlinca and enjoying the music through my 2 Sony DVD/SACD players. Excellent value and very enjoyable.