I take electronic music for granted now, but it’s easy to forget that it’s been around for decades and was not always so much in the forefront of popular awareness. After artist like Brian Eno began to flirt with digital melody as art, others like Phillip Glass and Steve Reich explored the bridge between electronic and certain forms of classical music with often dramatic results.
From the experiments of early electronic pioneers came others who took the music in a more placid direction. Classically trained, these musicians were steeped in music theory and came from backgrounds where classical or jazz music was commonplace. Sure they knew their way around a Fairlight CMI or Yamaha DX7, but the piano was the instrument all of them had in common.
By the mid ’80s a movement was beginning to come together, although it still had no particular name but often lived near the classical music record bins. A part of this musical big bang was captured in a compilation called Piano One. It highlighted a select group of young experimental artists, many of whom combined the structures of classical music with emerging electronics.
Originally copied from a library CD while I was in college, I had no ideal how difficult it would be to find this special compilation years later (before the internet made it easy). Even today the artists featured have not strayed too far from the timeless formula represented here.
Piano One featured tracks from Eddie Jobson, Joachim Kuhn, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Eric Watson. All of these artists were relatively early in their careers and would take their music to various directions we now would call New Age, Neo-Prog or whatever.
Like the title suggests, stripped down piano tracks have a calm, placid atmospheric nature about them. When Piano One was released, Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” may have been the ‘hit’ of the 8 tracks as it came from the film of the same name a few years earlier. The piano version here differs from the two or three others Sakamoto made for other projects.
Other songs like Eric Watson’s “Puppet Flower” and the beautiful “Housewife’s Song” by Joachim Kuhn were made just for this compilation. From the point of a casual listener, all of the tracks sound as if they came from one composer which highlights the cohesiveness of the style that was emerging.
Piano One predates the popularity of Windham Hill Records and it’s branding of this type of music as New Age. While other were making similar music (Phillip Glass for instance), the artist represented here presented a stark yet calming approach that was not quite as pop leaning as Muzak or as formal as classical music.
Today none of these artists are household names (or at least not in a typical American household), but have achieved considerable acclaim and respect in their respective musical genres. Be it jazz, art rock or experimental music, Piano One takes a snapshot of four artists at a point where their music visions converge at the piano to striking effect.