The universe is making music all the time

Step Right Up: Carlos Cipa & Sophia Jani

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Interview with Carlos Cipa & Sophia Jani.

“The classical background is definitely important for us, especially for the playing but also for writing the pieces. In the end it’s the love for popular/modern music, though, which brings us to make the kind of music we do.”

—Carlos Cipa

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry



Earlier this year marked the release of a special collaboration between the gifted young musical talents of Germany’s Carlos Cipa and Sophia Jani. The two-piece collaboration, entitled ‘Relive’, was released on the ever-dependable Denovali label, which contains two stunning neo-classical works: ‘Anouk’s Dream’ and ‘Whatever A Sun Will Always Sing’.

‘Relive’ is appropriately titled, especially when you consider the compositions themselves were played exactly as in the live situation (with no electronic manipulation), which became a very important theme throughout this collaboration. Both pieces were written for the pair’s performance at the Denovali Swingfest 2013 in Essen. The idea was to jointly compose two piano pieces for four hands, which do not only include playing the ordinary way, but also utilising rather unusual sounds from inside the piano. The result is nothing short of staggering that brings to mind luminaries such as Hauschka, Nils Frahm and Max Richter. The contemporary techniques included plucking and beating the strings with their fingers or different kinds of beaters, bowing them with nylon guitar strings, creating harmonics while pressing fingers down on the strings during playing, using the aeolian harp technique or creating beats on the cast iron frame. The endless array of sounds, timbres and textures that Cipa and Jani create from their beloved piano instrument is a joy to witness, as is the deep musical telepathy that flows throughout the utterly transcendent creations.

‘Relive’ is the follow-up to Cipa’s solo — and Denovali debut full-length  — entitled ‘The Monarch and the Viceroy’, released in the summer of 2012. At the tender age of 6 he began taking classical piano lessons with various renowned teachers. Ten years later after he started playing drums in different bands he became more and more interested in composition and improvisation. In the following years he made experiences in different music styles like jazz, hardcore/punk, indie rock and orchestral music. In recent years, Cipa has shared the stage with the leading lights of modern-classical music: Icelandic composers Ólafur Arnalds, Valgeir Sigurðsson; Germany’s Nils Frahm and the legendary duo A Winged Victory For The Sullen. Still in his early twenties — like Jani — a vast collection of artistic treasures will undoubtedly see the light of day, from this exceptionally talented pianist.

Sophia Jani discovered her fascination for piano at a similarly young age. She is classically trained on piano and violin and has deepened her skills at the conservatory of music in Munich before she began studying piano at the conservatory in Bordeaux, France. The young musician left Bordeaux after one year turning away from just interpreting classical pieces to concentrate on writing her own music. Recently, Jani has developed an interest in film-scoring as well as experimenting with vocals.


‘Relive’ is available now on Denovali Records.


Interview with Carlos Cipa & Sophia Jani.

Congratulations Carlos and Sophia on your truly breathtaking work ‘Relive’. I have been obsessed with this record of late, and have fallen particularly for the ambient flow of sound you so effortlessly create. The two pieces ‘Anouk’s Dream’ and ‘Whatever A Sun Will Always Sing’ were written for your performance at the Denovali Swingfest 2013 in Essen. The root to this special collaboration is the live performance, and indeed your shared love for composition and improvisation. Please take me back to the concert in Essen, and the creative process involved with writing these two sublime piano-based compositions? I can imagine you had certain aims or guidelines in mind for this project?

Carlos: Thank you very much for your kind words! That’s rather appreciated. We’d love to tell you more about our work and the writing and recording of “Relive”.

We’ve been together for a very long time, but have never made any music together, so during summer holidays we decided it was about time to be creative. As we both play the piano as our main instrument, it came very naturally to focus on this instrument. As the problem with four-hands piano music on one piano is, that it can get very boring after a few minutes, we had to think about a solution for that problem. Since it was not very realistic to get two pianos on stage, we decided to experiment with the inside of the piano and searched for interesting sounds to combine with the four-hands playing. We used only a few utensils to help us creating the sounds (like guitar nylon strings or different kinds of beaters) but refused to use any kind of electronics, as we wanted to stay as natural as possible. As we also wanted to present our solo works on that particular concert, we decided to write two longer pieces which should frame the solo parts. That was also the birth of this collaboration EP called “Relive”.


The plethora of sounds you generate from the piano instrument is really amazing. For example, ‘Anouk’s Dream’ contains distinct movements which ranges from the more traditional piano sounds to the more experimental. Can you please talk me through the various techniques you use throughout these particular pieces of music? For example, the “aeolian harp” technique that is utilized opens up a beautiful awakening of joyous sound. I also love the beating sound that conjures up the sound of Steve Reich’s rhythmic pulses.

Carlos: In “Anouk’s Dream” you can hear bowed strings at the beginning. Each one of us had a nylon guitar string with a lot of resin on it, and we combined finger picking and bowing to build up the first part of the piece. In the middle part you hear felt beaters hitting the cast iron frame (there are three main stress bars, which fortunately have different key notes) and the same beaters hitting the low a- and e- string. Another technique that was used in this piece is the “Aeolian harp”-technique, first used by Henry Cowell in 1923, where you press down keys silently and allow them to sound by sliding over the open strings. The last part of the piece is us picking the strings at different positions (in the middle of the string for a rich sound and near the pin blocks for a more restrained sound). The second piece “Whatever A Sun Will Always Sing” picks up the idea of beating the lower strings with the felt beater and also the beating of the cast iron frame. A new technique in this piece is the creation of harmonics, where one player presses down his fingers on the exact position for the flageolet on the strings and the other player presses the key.


During the recording process, neither of the compositions had changed in any way from the initial live performance. Was it a challenge to capture the energy of the live performance in the studio environment? Where was ‘Relive’ recorded?

Carlos: The two pieces of “Relive” were recorded in our home studio in Munich. The recording really was a challenge! As there are so many different parts and different techniques, it was not able to record the pieces with the same position of microphones, for example the beating of the cast iron frame needs a really close position of the microphones to sound as rich as in a live performance. After all, we are really happy with the resulting recordings, but it surely was an intense weekend!


‘Relive’ is a record that conveys the special musical telepathy that exists between two like-minded artists and composers. I would love for you to discuss how you first crossed paths with one another? How soon did you realize that a collaboration would blossom?

Carlos: Funnily, we’ve known each other since elementary school as we had the same piano teacher for nearly 7 years. After having changed to different teachers we met again and eventually fell in love with each other (we’ve been together for 6 years now). At this time I started to make my own music and Sophia left after a year of classical piano studies the musical paths for 4 years to study economic. She returned to music last summer to concentrate on writing her own stuff. At this moment it was obvious, that we would do something together, and finally last summer we could find the time to compose these two pieces.


Please talk me through your musical backgrounds? I can imagine you both must have been immersed in music from a very young age?

Sophia: We both started taking piano lessons at the age of 6 and followed the classical path for nearly 12 years. After school, I couldn’t see myself as a classical pianist and left the musical path to study economics. During those studies I began to write own pieces on the piano and after finishing the studies this drew me back to music. Though, I still enjoy playing classical pieces, I can only see a way for me in writing my own music. I love to experiment, try new things, but in my own way.

Carlos: For me the turning point was when I started playing drums at the age of 16 and eventually played in a hardcore band with 3 of my best friends. From this moment on, I started to write my own music on the piano and saw a way in music for me. Right now I am studying classical composition.

The classical background is definitely important for us, especially for the playing but also for writing the pieces. In the end it’s the love for popular/modern music, though, which brings us to make the kind of music we do. We think it’s advantageous if you’re a part of both worlds, especially if you work mainly with instruments that have a classical connotation.


It must be special to be on the Denovali roster. It’s a label that ceaselessly inspires and with each new release, a new discovery is made. The latest one for me is your ‘Relive’ record. It must be a wonderful time to be making music, particularly with the strength of modern-classical music that is out there, especially in the last few years. Can you discuss what music you are passionate about of late and what composers and records (old and new) have inspired you the most to make music?

Carlos: You’re right, it is really amazing to have the opportunity to release music on such a great label as Denovali. As you say the times now are really great to make music that definitely has roots in classical music but still has its place in popular music. As mentioned before, we think it is really important to know both worlds. That being said, inspiration comes in equal measure from the great composers (like Mozart, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, etc…), but also from modern bands like The National, Mogwai, Sigur Rós (and many many more). Right now, LPs who are rarely leaving our record player are the new Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (“Push the Sky Away”), the new David Lang pieces (“Death speaks”) and also Haim (“Days Are Gone”) and Daughter (“If you leave”).


What’s next for both of you? Are there future projects on the horizon for you? I wish you all the best with the release of ‘Relive’ and congratulations once again on the remarkable record.

Carlos: Thank you once again for your words and wishes! Right now we’re working on new material.

Sophia: I am currently writing music for a short film, and preparing pieces for a debut album.

Carlos: Whereas I had a concert premiere of a string quartet piece last week and from now on I can find the time to get back to working on my second full-length solo-album.


‘Relive’ is available now on Denovali Records.


Read our interviews with fellow Denovali labelmates Birds Of Passage (HERE), and Dale Cooper Quartet (HERE).

This year’s Denovali Swingfest — showcasing the best in experimental music — takes place in London (18th-19th April), Berlin (25th-26th April) and Essen (02-05th October), with guests including The Haxan Cloak (UK), Ulrich Schnauss (Ger) and Anna Von Hausswolff (Swe) [London]; Murcof (Mex), Oneohtrix Point Never (US) and John Lemke (UK) [Berlin].



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April 8, 2014 at 11:57 am

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