Chosen One: Lubomyr Melnyk
Interview with Lubomyr Melnyk.
“In Continuous Music, the piano is your lover, the piano is your slave, the piano is your glorious friend, it is your angelic friend. The piano is sort of like your breathing and it is a beautiful thing. I want every pianist to know that every piano on the face of this earth is their friend, so they do not fear the piano, but come to it with joy and say “My dear friend, let’s make this music.“
Words: Mark Carry (with foreword by Peter Broderick), Illustration: Craig Carry
“just a quick note on this song . . . this was the very first thing we ever played together . . . Lubomyr was tuning up my piano, making a ruckus, boing, boing! and i was setting up my violin with some pedals and effects, and at one point i asked him if he would mind if i sang over his piano playing . . . and he said sure! so i sat there with a pen and paper and slowly wrote out these lines as he fiddled around with the piano until satisfied. i showed him the words and said, how about if i sing these words? and he took a minute to read them and then looked at me and said, those are really good peter! so then we started recording, and on the album you can hear me say, let’s just see what happens… and then we played that music . . . it was a magical moment, and very encouraging for the days to come with all of our plans at various recording studios.”
—Peter Broderick, describing the recording session for ‘Pockets of Light’, the opener to ‘Corollaries’.
‘Corollaries’ occurred in a sense, by accident. Ukrainian pianist and composer, Lubomyr Melnyk met Peter Broderick and Nils Frahm last year in Cologne, Germany at an ambient music festival. It was destiny that these special souls would cross paths and soon, light was shone on a dream collaboration. This project was given a name – ‘Corollaries’ – and represents a truly beautiful moment in contemporary music. As ever, the Erased Tapes label is responsible for a truly innovative and imaginative work of art. The five pieces of music contained in ‘Corollaries’ is steeped in unerring beauty and human emotion. ‘Corollaries’ is one organic whole-piano music so pure and divine. My heart was immediately taken by Melnyk’s piano compositions, as you become immersed in a sacred dimension, where space and time stands still. This album becomes the very air you breathe; each and every piano note becomes the first and last drop of water on this earth.
In the words of Melnyk: “Nils and Peter really have a beautiful sense of the music. They have an inner vision of things, that suits the music beautifully.” These gifted composers and musicians share a common vision and effortlessly tap into the ambient flow of the sound and space. ‘Corollaries’ was recorded and produced by Peter Broderick with the additional help of Nils Frahm and Martyn Heyne. Each musician adds a new dimension to the sound. A deep connection is formed that resonates beautifully throughout the compelling pieces of music. A musical telepathy exists between Melnyk and Broderick-two gifted composers from different generations, who become one. This is a collaboration in the truest sense. The supreme divinity of Melnyk’s Continuous Music, which he has developed over thirty years, has evolved yet again, exploring new directions and sonic terrain. Melnyk’s sheer joy and unwavering devotion to the piano instrument breathes endless inspiration. As I listen to ‘Corollaries’ I feel the composer’s sacred devotion, and with the touch of his hand on each key of the piano-I have fallen for each and every note.
from the hammers to the ears
we invite our fears
to sing outside
little spaces turn wide
Lubomyr Melnyk is a true innovator. The Ukrainian pianist and composer is the pioneer of Continuous Piano Music, which he has developed and mastered over the past thirty years. In essence, Melnyk has developed a new language for the piano, named after the principle of maintaining a continuous unbroken stream of sound. The Continuous Music is a miracle and is an eternal gift to all who witnesses this remarkable world of sound. He says: “It’s in a sense a tiny little miracle, this seed of a concept of music that actually grew and became what it was.” An array of different elements have led to the development of Melnyk’s Continuous Music. Composers such as Steve Reich and Terry Riley provided huge inspiration that opened up a whole new language in music for the young composer in the late 60′s/early 70′s. As well, being part of the hippie movement in the 70′s, the music of John Maclaughlin, witnessing Jimi Hendrix and realizing this is what a pianist should be able to do. Spiritual techniques, and the martial arts, the Zen and eastern philosophy – these are all just some of the multi-faceted elements that form the foundations to the workings of Melnyk’s Continuous Music technique.
Describing Continuous Music, Melnyk explains: “In continuous music, the music is the slave of the pianist; the pianist reigns supreme”. On ‘Corollaries’, this lies at the heart of the music. A love supreme. The opening ‘Pockets Of Light’ is the distillation of all light’s colours and its beautiful shades and textures. The piano swirls magnificently amidst a gorgeous violin accompaniment. The piano rises and falls, flowing endlessly into your heart’s chamber. The music is so natural. It becomes a part of you. Each movement is a new corner of the world. I think it’s the touch of the pianist that seeps into your consciousness. Melnyk is in fact, the Zen master. As his hand touches the piano he is walking above the ground; standing still in the hurricane. This is a truly magical piece of music that forms a tower of song. Several minutes in, Peter Broderick’s heartfelt vocals melt into the mix of Melnyk’s drifting piano. The ambient flow is so clearly evident. This piece of music amazes me. The lyrics are sheer poetry.
from the hammers to the ears
we invite our fears
to sing outside
little spaces turn wide
The closing section to ‘Pockets Of Light’ contains some gorgeous violin and piano duo work. A fitting close. ‘The Six Day Moment’ is next, which widens the dynamic range. A new world is calling you upon listening to the interwoven piano melodies that ascend into the atmosphere. I feel the composer’s beating heart in every bar of this stunningly beautiful piece of piano music. The piano instrument and Melnyk are one. Let the grace of each note soothe your every aching pore. ‘A Warmer Place’ is a cinematic delight. Soft piano notes are sustained that remain hanging majestically in the air. I am reminded of Peter Broderick’s ‘Float’ album upon this piece’s heart wrenching violin and meandering piano. Film score music, music for the soundtrack to your life. The emotional depth and spiritual realm therein is quite staggering. The piece slowly builds into an outpour of emotion. I feel a sadness, tenderness, and beauty radiating across the strings and piano. A vast ocean of hope breathes beneath the soaring strings, as the piano notes come in slow and soft.
‘Nightrail From The Sun’ is a gorgeous Reich-esque piece, with pulses of urgent piano and found sounds seeping into the slipstream. This music belongs to a new dawn. The instrumentation here is utterly innovative and compelling. Timeless music. Album closer ‘Le Miroir D’Amour’ is achingly beautiful. The dynamic has changed dramatically and a touching lament is beautifully upon us. The piano and violin duet forms one life-affirming whole. The ground upon my feet moves upon listening to the heart wrenching strings and endearing piano. Does music get more powerful than this? A crescendo of swirling piano notes is the sound of the hurricane happening all around you, yet you, the listener remain still and overcome by the beauty. Infinite and divine.
and on the first try
when the keys don’t cry
we find a place
time’s only race
with pockets of light
chasing the night
(all lyrical excerpts are taken from ‘Pockets of Light’, opener to ‘Corollaries’, lyrics by Peter Broderick)
I wrote to Peter asking if he could send me the lyrics he wrote for the opening song ‘Pockets Of Light’. In addition to the lyrics (which are dispersed throughout this article), Peter kindly wrote a note on this song. That “quick note” is presented here in the ‘Foreword’.
‘Corollaries’ by Lubomyr Melnyk will be released by Erased Tapes on April 15, 2013.
Lubomyr Melnyk Interview.
Thank you very much for the interview. It’s an honour to talk to you.
Thanks for thinking about me and my music.
I’d love for you to talk about your new album ‘Corollaries’ ; what you set out in the first place, and the theme to the album itself?
Well, ‘Corollaries’ occurred in a sense, accidently; it wasn’t sort of planned, directly not by me anyway. I met Peter Broderick and Nils Frahm back in Cologne, Germany more than a year ago at this ambient music festival; this glorious festival of ambient music. That was the first time we met personally, and then Peter wrote to me and suggested that I come and we do some collaboration. So, I went to Berlin and we recorded a whole bunch of rather short pieces-that I would call short anyway, and that was the creation of the album. But the actual concept of the album is very different from what I have done before. Usually, well all the earlier albums were of very large pieces; often a whole album would be one piece and so this was different because it had a lot of small little pieces in it, and each one is different.
It’s great because I love all the Erased Tapes artists, and you know, when I found out last year, when it was announced that you had a new album coming out with Peter Broderick. It really sounded really like quite something-even in writing, before ever hearing anything.
Yeah, and for me too, it was a kind of exciting event because I usually don’t play with other people. I have not played and didn’t play with other people. I would do my multi-piano pieces by multi-tracking, so I would do all the piano parts. So, this was a wonderful chance-it was great for me to be able to hear the music with other elements happening into it, and they seemed all very natural. Nils and Peter really have a beautiful sense of this music. They have an inner vision of things that suits the music beautifully, and everything worked together really nicely.
Yes, I can imagine. It must have been very organic and natural. You probably felt like you have always known each other; just so natural.
Well, actually that’s to their credit because both of them really have a good sense of my music and the dimension of where it’s happening and that whole sense of the ambient flow of the sound and the space that as a musician, we go into a certain space where this music happens. We would immediately go there and be a part of the music. As it seems, totally effortless; it’s like they always belong to that music. For me it was wonderful to work with musicians who contribute things without destroying anything in the music; they simply add new dimensions. That’s really important because sometimes musicians can actually interfere with the music. Peter had suggested one time that there be a whole bunch of musicians coming to play, and you know I thought, I don’t know these people and what’s going to happen. I was worried, because sometimes you have a situation where musicians would interfere with the music. These two guys, and Martyn who also played on one of the tracks, they all just flowed directly in and it all becomes just one organic whole.
I’d love for you to discuss the Continuous Music; the form you have been developing over the years?
Well, it’s rather many-sided. Its actual growth and development has many different elements, and I think if you took any of them away then the music would not have existed. It’s in a sense a tiny little miracle, this seed of a concept of music that actually grew and became what it was. When you ask the question, I immediately think of all the elements that went into it; besides me. I’m not talking about elements of myself. I’m thinking about external things that brought something in there. It’s really important and it would not have generated this. People have asked me this and I always think after, I forgot to mention this, so now when you ask, I’m going to say something that probably was missed many times. The obvious things I have not missed: One is the continuous music wave that opened into North America and into Europe as well, during the late 60’s. Steve Reich and Terry Riley; that for me was the opening of a whole new language for music. I know that a lot of people started doing that kind of music. The thing that I think differed for me, right from the outset was that I respected musical technique and mastery as a VERY important element of music. This was evident, I think, when I experienced Philip Glass. I was at a couple of his concerts. This would have been in the early 1970’s. I did not like the level of musicianship for the musicians. It seemed far too simple. It wasn’t challenging enough. That was the reaction that happened for me. I haven’t really mentioned this much before.
It was because of being a hippie always from the very start, that made me aspire to something greater than before…I’m a classical music person; I’m not a rock ‘n’ roll artist. However, the hippies movement opened up that world to me, and that world was multi-faceted. Western musicians lack awareness of the aspect of the master musician who truly mastered their own body and the instrument he is playing, and this connected both in western music and in the east. So there were people like the guitarist, John Maclaughlin who started up the Maharishi band. I was totally, truly amazed by his incredible musicianship, which was very much based on the Indian musicians, like the raga players and things like that. All of that became a very important element in my music because for me, it was very important that I develop my fingers and my mind, and be able to do more and more complex things and go past what piano music is normally considered to be. To go beyond “the Norm” is beautiful, and so these elements were very important for me. When I was in my early 20’s this was a really important element in musicianship for me, and from there, that laid the ground for me to go and develop the Continuous Technique. Without the influence of those hippie years, and John Maclaughlin, and the Eastern raga musicians, I don’t think I would have arrived where I am, as pianist. But there are more elements of Eastern thought that I just don’t manage to bring in here.
I guess another example of this would be Jimi Hendrix. It wasn’t Jimi Hendrix’s music that affected me but it was his unmatched mastery of the guitar…his touch to the guitar was exactly what a pianist should be able to do. With Jimi Hendrix, when he touches a guitar, it’s no longer a guitar, it’s simply a part of his body and his mind just races off with it. And that’s what I wanted the pianist to be able to do, and in a way it became a secret goal. It wasn’t a sort of flagship in front of my eyes… “Oh that’s my goal”. However I realize in looking back, that yes, that was the inspiration that said: What he can do on guitar, you should be able to do on the piano. But I didn’t think consciously how I could do that, it simply seemed to all come together. Like in our life, we seem to get little nudges, as we’re walking down the road of life, something that just gives us a little push this way and another little push that way. We end up on this road we would never of taken had it not been for all these little nudges. It’s just these little puffs of wind that blew me in the right direction.
It was lovely to hear that; it was just this natural path that you found yourself on. Something that you said before, that I’ve always remembered, about your mindset – “standing still in the hurricane”.
That is the actual sensation of when you reach, after several years, and you reach a higher level of technique. Then you actually perceive your body being motionless. There is no movement…even though everything is happening very fast. I just want to qualify this. It’s not that every time you touch the piano, this is how it is. This is always the risk when you are describing something. You may isolate a moment and describe it to people and people think: “that’s the way it is all the time”. It’s not. So what I describe is simply things that do occur (and they do occur often) but it’s not like a permanent state. Although in a way it does become semi-permanent because when you start playing the piano; the continuous piano at high level and at high-speed, you must always achieve that state of being perfectly still in this incredible whirlwind. This hurricane is whirling around you but you are in a spot where there’s nothing moving at all. When I play, sometimes I achieve the sense that my arms and fingers are moving but I am not in that movement. My whole body is standing still in another dimension, and the sound is simply happening.
There’s a scene in a film. If people want to see what it is like to actually play in the higher levels of continuous piano. There is a film called ‘Hero’ by a Chinese director. It was made ten years ago, perhaps more. It is part of that wave of films focusing on Kung Fu and the martial arts. The film is remarkable, truly remarkable. The cinematography: it’s a masterpiece as cinema. However, philosophically it is the only film that actually presents true nature of the martial arts and what the Master is actually about. It is very connected to the Zen, eastern philosophy and everything of that nature…that what happens in the real world is happening in your mind. There is a scene there which shows the True Masters (a man and a woman), they are mythical masters but they are real. We westerners must understand that this is not fantasy. This is actually reality. What the film is showing is real. It is not like the stupid Hollywood fantasies like the X-Men etc. These masters are true and the film describes them where they climb to the roof of the temple school where they live. The temple where the students are studying is under siege by the army of the emperor, literally surrounded by thousands of soldiers and archers who start to kill every one with their arrows, infiltrating everything. These two masters go to the roof and there they start to spin, in one spot and yet through this moment they transcend time and space. They enter Hyper-Time, twirling faster than our normal time is functioning at. Also the actual space dimension is altered, they suck all the three-dimensional space into a new fourth dimensional one located where they are standing and they simply destroy the arrows coming at the temple. Arrows that are sucked into an invisible vortex!
Were I not involved with Continuous Music as a pianist I would like it as an interesting fantasy thing. But I understand that this is true because this is what actually happens when you start playing, like fourteen or fifteen notes per second in each hand, that the brain and the soul stop and starts standing still. You can control it with another dimension and it’s a glorious feeling. It’s so beautiful. If I give the world anything; that is if I can give anything (which is the question mark I admit), this is what I want to give; this joy of life, this joy of being. To be able to stand still in the middle of the hurricane, and make the hurricane happen around you, and yet you are still. But to be able to do that, there is a certain power. A physical dimension and muscular things you have to develop and grow. You can’t just think, “Oh I am going to do this”. You have to actually work, your body has to work, you have to discover things, you have to discover new dimensions inside your own physical flesh.
I can only imagine how the martial arts and these spiritual techniques have an influence on you, on your mind when you are playing.
It’s a profound element because people who are pianists; I would say there are three levels of piano playing. The first, ground level is the rock and jazz which has its own virtuosity, you know. However there is the touch to the piano which is at one level, which is at a very basic level-kind of slam bang. The fingers just slam the keys, that’s it. Sometimes, on occasion they would slam faster and that’s it. Either a slam or just a bang. Then you go to the classical musicians who have a little bit more gradation. I guess a lot more. Then, the highest level is the Continuous Player, where there are not millions but an immeasurable variety of touches. The touch to the keys as you are playing Continuous Music is in another total, different world, another dimension. The classical musician has no idea it exists, you know. Your brain and body are united with this sound of the piano in such a way that your touch…I can’t describe it, but it’s like your body becomes the piano. It is a great joy! I wish pianists could grow into that. I think in classical music you can’t do this, just because of the nature of the pieces you are playing. I mean that is not a defect-I am not saying this as a criticism, you know classical music is supreme, it’s magnificent. I’m just saying there is an element there that it cannot perceive of in music, because, in the classical world, the pianist is the slave of the music. If you’re playing Grieg’s piano concerto or any other piano concerto, you are the slave of that piano concerto: you have to play it the way it is, because it is perfection, it’s glorious beauty. The beauty will collapse if you don’t play it the right way.
But in Continuous Music, the music is the slave of the pianist. The pianist reigns supreme; he reigns supreme over the music and over the instrument. In Continuous Music, the piano is your lover, the piano is your slave, the piano is your glorious friend, it is your angelic friend. The piano is sort of like your breathing and it is a beautiful thing. I want every pianist to know that every piano on the face of this earth is their friend, so they do not fear the piano, but come to it with joy and say “My dear friend, let’s make this music.”
As you talk about this continuous music, I can imagine it’s a sense of oblivion.
It is. You’re talking to me now after working on this technique for over thirty years. So, it is a physical technique, like the martial arts that continues to grow the body and the mind. What you hear me doing now is not what I did, let’s say twenty-five years ago. I did not play in the same way. I did not have the palette of touches that has opened up. Or in fact, as recently as a few months ago some strange things happened in my knuckles as I was playing that seems to have opened up another dimension of the piano. The thing is that now, in the last few years, I have realized that the music is controlled more by the pianist’s mind and that my body has less and less to do, and I feel less and less of it (my body) as I play the concert. The amazing thing regarding the touch is that, for example when I play the audience will see the hand movement as I am doing this music and they will see all of this stuff happening really really fast. But for me, it is happening excruciatingly slowly, that when I touch the piano (for example to pull out a melodic note) it takes, let’s say, a fifteenth of a second to move the whole arm as I’m moving the hand about one and a half feet from the keyboard into the key, touching the melodic note and then pulling the arm away. For the audience, this goes by like a flash, like a single frame in cinema. One frame is what they see. Whereas for me it’s a whole universe. My mind actually perceives the whole path, every millimetre of the hand coming down. In the midst of all this note-activity, I am actually planning how I am going to touch the one note and this is what the mind does when doing Continuous Music.
There is everything happening all around you, it’s like you split your mind in many different dimensions and one of them is thinking, “OK this note is going to be touched that way”, the other hand is doing all this other stuff. It is a transition of space and time. It’s glorious. It’s beautiful. It’s not strange; If people see me, I’m just this normal guy walking down the street, right, (laughs). As John Cage says, the Zen master; he’s still walking, it’s just that you’re above the ground but no one can see it, and you don’t even think about it yourself, it’s just part of something you can do. It’s beautiful. I think the thing that I’m worried about is that, the more I talk about this technique and the wonderful things, the joyous things that happen as a pianist, that maybe it sounds so crazy, so far away for other people or “Oh boy, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be able to play the piano like Lubomyr Melnyk (laughs). That’s too hard, you know!” But it’s not: It’s wonderful, it’s a joy. It’s as easy as sitting down and eating something. It’s simply natural.
Do you have a source of inspiration above all else?
I think the musician must accept God as the supreme ruler and must accept the obvious. I think Continuous Music is inspired by the Divine, because I think it’s from a sense of the Logical and Perfection; that it’s simply the logical step by step conclusion as you perceive things around you. I realize (and perhaps in a way this is something negative) that what you ask as my main inspiration, was actually the fact that I finally became free from the tyranny of scientific thought/scientists. I hear and see programs by so-called scientists, that are so absurd; they are lying, literally lying every time they open their mouths! Everything they say today; these stupid lies that they shout in your ear and in your face that “This is what we discovered…; It’s all true and all new and I’m standing on the rooftop shouting it to you.” Five months down the line, someone will stand up and say, “Oh we have just today discovered that that guy was lying all the time”. This is happening all the time. It is constant. Everything that the scientists said for the last fifty years has been a lie and it was this freedom, of suddenly understanding that science has become a Religion of Deception, a lie and falsehood. That released me into the obvious, that, you know, God and the supreme divinity, is obvious. It’s staring you in the face, and that perhaps is part of it, because you feel it so intensely when you do art, when you reach levels beyond the day-to-day life levels. Then it becomes so obvious. In a way, that in itself is an inspiration.
Do you plan to tour Europe, Lubomyr?
Yes, I’ll be doing a tour in May. There are still venues and dates that have to be booked and finalised. But I’ve never been to Ireland, if I could one day come…like St Patrick bring something new (laughs).
‘Corollaries’ by Lubomyr Melnyk will be released by Erased Tapes on April 15, 2013.
For more information on Lubomyr Melnyk, continuous piano and the other artists on Erased Tapes please visit: