Nick Abadzis

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A Weekly Song: Episode 18 - Yann Tiersen

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Whoa, I’ve fallen behind with these. I have several more of these “Songs” half-written, but between juggling work commitments, setting up new projects, home renovations and various other interruptions there hasn’t been much time for finishing those, nor for choosing more and listening.

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Amidst the craziness, last Tuesday, my wife and I went to see Yann Tiersen at the Beacon Theater. I’d always planned to include Tiersen in one of these “weeklies,” but now I’m bumping another one along so I can record my impressions of this gig, which was astonishing, mesmerising, and just full of unexpected turns, mischief and beauty raining down upon us. Yes, I love Tiersen’s work, but my other half was unfamiliar with him. One concert later, she’s a convert.

Tiersen’s widely known as a pianist or for his film scores (such as Amelie) but that belies his inventiveness. There’s something fiercely independent about him (a quality I love) that makes him unallied to any one musical movement – every album he releases is very different from the previous one. He’s essentially unclassifiable. Each of his albums are all recognisably Tiersen, but he seems to reinvent himself each time, pursuing a curiosity about the world that, in turn, repays his listeners every time with new eccentricities to explore.

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Seeing him live was revelatory. Sometimes it sounded like there was a full orchestra onstage, but along with Tiersen himself, there were only three other people and an anthropomorphised reel-to-reel tape machine named Alex, who contributed all manner of field recordings, including birdsong, children’s laughter, wind, air, seashores and ambient textures. (“I first met him when he was shitfaced in a bar,” explained Tiersen, and this seemed in no way improbable, but maybe you had to be there. Alex was a definite presence.)

A Tiersen piece might begin very quietly at a keyboard, maybe a piano, a harpsichord or even a toy piano or some other noise-making device. It builds, individual strands merge with voices and chimes, the different elements coalesce into something new and the whole shifts direction. At one point, Tiersen played both piano and accordion at the same time and, leaving little room for applause segued into another gigantic wave of sound that felt like it described some windblown, stormlashed landscape. It was huge and yet also somehow serene.

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Here’s a song from the last album, All, which I can’t recommend too highly. There are a number of collaborators on the album and this is sung in Faroese and/or Breton by Ólavur Jákupsson plus a choir made up of a regular company of Tiersen collaborators. It’s called Erc’h, which I think translates as ‘Snow.’

Tiersen’s canvases are often drawn from nature and he is a master who paints with sound.  Everything about him is unique and remarkable so, if you would like to be transported elsewhere, this is your ticket.

Thank you Yann, for an amazing gig.

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