Artist: Yann Tiersen
Released: 6th of August 2012 (Australia)
Label: Mute UK IndieMy Rating: 4.5/5
Yann Tiersen has a unique ability to create music, sounds and timbres that are constantly evolving, changing and growing with every new album that he creates. It’s as though the instruments he writes for are a part of him…breathing with him and manifesting themselves at just the right moments in his music. These sounds are alive, and in his latest album Skyline, create a masterpiece of exquisite colour and personality.
Tiersen may be most well-known to the masses for his sound of piano, violin and accordian (famously used in the film Amelie), but in his latest album, Skyline, these instruments take a break, with a focus now back on guitars, vintage synths and experimental timbres.
Let’s live in an enormous world of sound we can use randomly, with no rules at all. Let’s play with sound, forget all knowledge and instrumental skills, and just use instinct – the same way punk did says Tiersen. As a teenager he was influenced by the post-punk culture of bands like The Stooges and Joy Division and at age 13, after years of classical training, broke his violin into pieces, bought a guitar and formed a rock band.
The opening track of Skyline, Another Shore, begins with child-like bells, playfully tinkering underneath an acoustic guitar, before a wall of noise rises from the looping musical cogs and washes our ears with pleasure. The looping structure continues to develop, with layers upon layers forming a snowball of musical texture. About half way through the piece, this texture is dramatically cut and a bass clarinet emerges, wandering around the lower registers for a moment, before an explosion of sound launches us into the remainder of the song.
You may find yourself becoming hypnotised by the continuously developing layers in his music, which seem to be a structural and developmental focus throughout the album. Little musical fragments unobtrusively begin quietly looping in their own organic time…then throughout the duration of a piece, start to take on different forms, changing shapes and intertwining together so intricately. The little animation by Ivan Rusev to the track Monuments reinforces this notion of layering sounds. The animation slowly rises upwards, guiding us to look into the different windows on different levels of a building. Although there are different scenes in each of the windows as we rise upwards through the layers, they are all somehow connected. Essentially, Tiersen creates a musical tower by stratifying individual sounds. Perhaps this attention to looping layers refers back to the early days when Tiersen would pour over records looking for appropriate loops to use in his music?
The way Tiersen combines sounds together shows a master at work. Sometimes the sounds are beautiful, sometimes nostaglic, sometimes haunting and sometimes frightening, the latter being especially evident in the opening vocal screams of “Exit 25 Block 20”. But whatever he does, he does with 100% conviction. He has a story to tell and through the diversity of instrumental sound combinations, draws us into an incredible musical journey.
I’m particularly drawn to the track The Trial. The lyrics include the line
someday my girl, in your mirror, darling, you will face the trial. I can’t help but think he might be referring to the ultimate trial, as in our mortality. The ‘siren’ sounds that finish the piece, to me, are also clear evidence of this. But after asking Tiersen about this piece in an interview with him on Kiss My Arts last week (Monday 2nd April 2012) surprisingly he said the piece was about…an ex-girlfriend! Well there you go!
He is often mistaken as a composer of soundtracks and although being most well-known for the music of the quirky little film Amelie, Tiersen’s real focus is on touring and studio albums (which sometimes, just happen to be suitable for film). He himself says
Written by Amy Bastow for the Kiss My Arts show on Joy 94.9. All views mine. Copyright 2012.
I’m not really a composer and I don’t really have a classical background. Although Tiersen doesn’t like to call himself a composer, he certainly treats all of the instrumental timbres in Skyline like a well-seasoned musical architect, with precision of design and confidence in execution. This album is a symphony of sounds. I give it 4.5 out of 5 kisses.