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Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch is an award-winning French pianist/ composer currently living in London. Spanning film score, bespoke composition and sound design, her work is connected by both its high quality and evocative, meticulous craft – a common sensibility of elegant, instinctual composition. Signed by FatCat’s post-classical imprint 130701 following receipt of a stunning demo in 2014, Levienaise-Farrouch’s first album, ‘Like Water Through the Sand’ is set for a November 2015 release, and – alongside Dmitry Evgrafov’s debut for the imprint – marks an invigorating injection of fresh blood for 130701, introducing a striking new voice to the genre.
A collection of new compositions written primarily for piano, string quartet and electronics, ‘Like Water Through the Sand’ is equal parts graceful as it is dark; powerful as it is subtle. A wide-ranging yet cohesive collection, there’s an immediately evident sense of class in the quality of the instrumental playing and the beautifully nuanced sound design, marshalled masterfully throughout by its creator.
Born in Paris, Emilie grew up in Bordeaux, studying classical piano throughout her childhood. Recognising a strong early interest in “making up music rather than just fixating over perfectly playing other people’s,” her first experiments in recording began as a teen. Convinced of her vocation, in 2006 Emilie moved to London to embark first on a BA course in music at Westminster University, then a Masters degree in composition at Goldsmiths, studying new complexity and spectral composition. Alongside these studies, Emilie worked for three years at online electronic store Bleep, gaining enlightening exposure to a vast range of weird and wonderful new music. New influences like Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto, Richard Skelton, Andy Stott, and LFO were added to existing ones in Bach, Sufjan Stevens, soundtracks by Clint Mansell and Carter Burwell.
That confluence of academic classicism and the more populist, streetwise electronic experimentalism is clearly evident on the album. Shifting fluidly from solo piano pieces (the churning ‘The Sum Of Our Flaws’ and ‘Six Of Swords’; the poignant delicacy of ‘Hands Closed Together’ or ‘Strelka’) to stirring chamber pieces (the formal elegance of Cotidal Lines; the expansive ‘Minnesang’; the stirring sweep of ‘Sublimation’) and foregrounding explorative electronic enhancements (the delay-aggregation of ‘Tulsi’, the pulse-driven ‘Persephone’ and ‘Scale Of Volatility’), the album is broad-ranged and playful yet cohesive and fully formed. The sound design is by turns subtle, dynamic, adventurous and precise. There is a lovely sense of movement within tracks – merging the repetition of electronics and melodic figures with very dynamic and mature string arranging and narrative development.
The album was recorded over autumn and winter 2014-15. The strings and some piano tracking were done at Goldsmiths’ new music studio; the solo piano pieces were recorded in Dalston on the Vortex Jazz Club’s Steinway; Emilie’s beautiful string arrangements were immaculately played by soloists from the adventurous London Contemporary Orchestra (one of the UK’s most innovative and respected ensembles, who have collaborated with the likes of Johnny Greenwood, Arcade Fire, Jimmy Page and Foals); whilst all programming and electronics were done at Emilie’s own studio/music space in Hackney Wick. The mix was completed over the first ten days of January this year at The Cabin in King’s Cross.
The album’s title is a translation of a sentence from ‘L’Amant’, a 1984 novel by cult French writer Marguerite Duras. In the paragraph the fragment is taken from, the author wonders whether she might have been unable to truly perceive a specific feeling whilst it was being felt, due to all the events happening around it, and that she could only properly sense it retrospectively. The autobiographical book covers events that had been irregularly narrated by Duras in previous books, always eliciting a strong emotional reaction from both author and reader. “It started to make me think about how we (and myself especially) construct our episodic memories, how they evolve, how set and true they are, and how our perception and judgement of a situation changes with time,” Emilie notes. “There are themes and motives that run through the album, which are like little souvenirs, that continuously shift, change and evolve, sometimes nostalgic, sometimes euphoric.” Clearly, it’s a record that has been painstakingly considered and constructed and one that encourages and rewards deeper immersion.
A gorgeously detailed and hugely impressive debut, ‘Like Water Through The Sand’ manages to sound at once fresh and familiar. It nestles comfortably within the contemporary cannon of post-classical producers/ composers which 130701 played a formative part in helping establish (the adventurous modern landscape of Max Richter, Johann Johansson, Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka, Nils Frahm, et al), and reveals a brilliant new voice to add to the firmament.