Rémi Fay - Funambulist (Album Review)

Father of the smartphone Steve Jobs offered some remarkable quotes during his lifetime, but perhaps none encapsulated his ideology of 'less is more' than: "Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple." This minimalist approach to problem solving and creation helped usher in the modern trend for slick and clean design. If simple really is harder than complex, then when it comes to playing piano based composition, French composer Rémi Fay is a virtuoso. His triads and ostinatos are so elementary they have a distinct and interesting personality; like how talking to the most boring person in the world is still a once in a lifetime opportunity and memorable experience. 

That's not to say that Fay's debut album, Funambulist, is sloggy juvenilia void of life. In fact, there is rich harmonic work going on as the music stretches out like the rope of a tightrope walker who is suspended, not looking down, but lost in the infinity of the present. Had Fay sped up his notes, or displayed what others might consider traditionally impressive musicianship, the project would be turned into something entirely different. Instead this is a haunting, ethereal, and ultimately comforting exploration of contemporary classical minimalism. The composer's nine dream-like instrumental compositions, featuring collaborations with violinist Ben Russell and cellist Hamilton Berry, are all crafted with meticulous attention to textural details.

Fay's penchant for creating soundscapes with desert-like openness is apparent from the opening track, "Funambulist No1", which lays out the project's armamentarium; an mesmeric combination of ascetic piano and strings. Fay's piano work relies heavily on the inherent beauty of those instruments, his playing reduced to phrases so simple and contemplative they give the crying strings of his collaborators space to react to his staunchly musical-box innocence. The standout track, "Funambulist No4", captures the essence of the titular tightrope walker, suspended in mid-air with its lilting quality and effective use of silence. However, if Funambulist were to soundtrack the actual performance of a tightrope walker, I'd fear for their safety; the urge to fall asleep while listening is sometimes too great to overcome.  

Overall, Funambulist is a testament to the simple that soothes the listener with its undemanding and well-produced sonic landscapes and captivating combination of tension and silence.