Classically trained pianist, violinist, producer, and composer, Poppy Ackroyd turned heads in the neo-classical world with her previous works Escapement and Feathers, as well as her involvement in Hidden Orchestra (Tru Thoughts). Advocated by giants of the genre, Hauschka and Nils Frahm, the unique musician has returned, freshly signed to Bjork’s label One Little Indian Records, with a mini-album to be released on 14th July 2017.
The songs serve to reintroduce listeners to Ackroyd’s most stunning pieces from her previous albums, all of which have been reworked into ‘acoustic’ solo piano arrangements alongside four brand new unheard pieces, which offer a taste of a new forthcoming record. The mini album sees a July release in preparation for a brand new full length album to be released in October, and One Little Indian will also reissue Ackroyd’s back catalogue on CD and vinyl alongside the new mini-album.
The record, aptly named Sketches, due to its stripped down nature, is bejeweled by thematic undercurrents – birds are the inspiration for three of the tracks, which are to be released together as the lead singles from the album.
“‘Birdwoman’ and ‘Glass Sea’ feature field recordings of birds and the ocean, recorded on Brighton beach and North Rona respectively. ‘Feathers’ is the title track of my second album Feathers” says Ackroyd, discussing the theme of birds.
“’Feathers’ is a piece about hope – ‘Hope is the thing with Feathers’ (Emily Dickinson), ‘Birdwoman’ is a reworking of a piece I originally wrote as a soundtrack to a silent film based on a Siberian folk tale, and ‘Glass Sea’ attempts to capture the feel of a boat trip I took to the remote islands of North Rona and Sula Sgeir, North of the Outer Hebrides. The ocean was unusually still, reflecting the sky like a sheet of glass, but the sky became busy with birds as we approached the islands.”
Ackroyd is a keen collaborator, having created soundtracks for film, dance, physical theatre and radio. The artist won a BAFTA for an animation soundtrack that she wrote and performed in 2015. Through studying contemporary classical piano works and listening to electronic music, Ackroyd developed a unique compositional style, using contemporary pianistic ideas whilst also inhabiting the world of sound beyond the keyboard, using unconventional techniques to ‘play’ other parts of the instruments as well.
The artist’s debut album Escapement was released in December 2012 on Denovali Records, and a DVD – ‘Escapement Visualised’ – featuring bespoke visuals by Lumen for each track on the album, was released in September 2014. Feathers, her second album, followed in November 2014, and builds on the concept behind her debut, with most of the sounds again coming from the violin and the piano, however this time the tracks featured other keyboard and string instruments. Both records are being re-launched through One Little Indian Records.
Talking about the recording of Sketches, Ackroyd said: “The songs were recorded just outside of Brighton at Retreat Studios, close to the sea on the edge of the village, surrounded by hills, fields and wildlife. As if by magic, it began to rain just before I began to record the track ‘Rain’, and ended shortly after I finished. You can hear the rain build and then die away with the music on the finished piece.
“I have loved creating this solo piano album. There are normally all these layers that I use to create a world of sound, that I love to build and sculpt, but there is something really special about communicating simply through the instrument alone. With other layers there is always something to hide behind, with only the piano you can just focus on your technique and expression, everything feels very audible and exposed and that is very exciting, especially in a live context.”