JOEP BEVING – the Dutch composer and pianist whose music, streamed many hundreds of millions of times, is as instantly recognisable as his 6’10” frame – has confirmed details of the ZERO EP, which will be released by Deutsche Grammophon on 14 July 2021 at 20:00 CET. It offers four brand-new remixes of “Hanging D” – taken from his second album, 2017’s Prehension – by Max Cooper, Polynation, Afrodeutsche and Alva Noto. For the occasion Cooper has teamed up with Polish artist Ksawery Komputery to provide a video to accompany his interpretation. In addition, each track is accompanied by artwork by award-winning Australian artist and designer Jonathan Zawada, who has consolidated the four images for the main EP cover.
As with “Hanging D” itself, named for the note that Beving plays persistently throughout, the EP’s title, ZERO, is also significant. A reference to the piece’s cyclical nature, it contains an “O” – as do Zawada’s artwork and the names of each artist – and is reflective of the manner in which the choice of start and end for “Hanging D” ultimately has little impact. Additionally, the title invokes the composition’s multiple manifestations so far: as well as the original version, a rework by Colin Benders and an arrangement for eight cellos by the Amsterdam Cello Octet were included on 2018’s Conatus remix album. These latter two remixes will also be included on ZERO alongside the four new remixes, each an innovative reincarnation breathing yet more life into the piece.
Speaking of the EP, Beving says, “This piece is very dear to me, and I remember when I wrote it. Most of the pieces I had written up to that point were soft and understated. I was looking for a way to channel the other side of the emotional coin, something with energy and intensity. While playing, it felt like a vortex appeared, engulfing me as a player, and it’s still one of my favourite pieces to play. The resonance of the piano and the interplay of all the frequencies is just magical. I’m very excited that we get to share new and amazing interpretations, and my hope is its transformative energy will find new ears outside our genre.”
The EP’s opener is by renowned London-based electronica musician Max Cooper, whose work also explores visual art, technology and science, and who refers to his pulsing, dramatic adaptation as “one of the most enjoyable remixes I’ve ever worked on”. Elaborating on the experience, he says, “I changed the rules of remixing for this project, and instead of using audio from the original piece, I imagined what could happen if Joep was in my studio playing my synths instead of his piano. Each piano note was converted to synth notes and then I set about becoming an orchestrator. It was nice to discover that hiding in there, in his beautiful stripped-back piano piece, was a synth epic crying out for hugeness. The whole thing turned into a contrasting range of emotions, from defeat to victory, with the idealism of screaming Prophet and Moog oscillators hard panned for maximum width.”
Cooper also proposed a video. “I wanted to find something similarly reduced and built on contrasts, so started chatting with the algorithmic artist Ksawery Komputery. Ksawery had the great idea of linking the constant flow of the musical structure with a constant flow of particles, which would tell a story via fleeting moments of image formation.” The result is suitably hypnotic.
“‘Hanging D’ puts me in a deeply nostalgic mood,” explains the graphic designer, animator and programmer, also known as Ksawery Kirklewski, of the inspiration for his imagery. “The dense ticking calls to mind passing time, while the strong piano chords point to the different stages of life. The track reminds me of my phone’s gallery, filled with tons of memories and growing every day. It’s a completely new situation in history, since our great-grandfathers left us with just a few blurry photographs. The data we generate will remain as a substantial historical archive for future generations. It will grant posterity the chance to travel in time, browsing fast backwards through our lives. Inspired by the track, I focused on this idea of ‘data excavation’ and attempted to visualise the feeling of this process.”
“I create my videos mostly through coding,” he adds. “This time I wanted to build the scenes with rows of timelines, consisting of simple shapes (‘pixels’) occurring as life events, constantly passing the screen to the left. I used my own pictures and movies that I felt were important to me (like Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Talking Heads, 1980) The retro stylistic also fitted here for me, so I created the colour palettes out of old computer games. The algorithmic transitions between the scenes refer to the progress of image/video processing techniques such as dithering, interlacing, caching, buffering, compression or noise reduction. In my work I’m interested in low-resolution effects and exploring the limits of legibility.”
Additionally, Amsterdam-based Polynation – producer duo Stijn Hosman and Hessel Stuut, who work across the peripheries of dance, ambient music, minimalism and IDM – have lent the piece an irresistible downtempo groove which ebbs and flows over the course of its nearly seven minutes. “Although it’s minimalistic, the original piece has lots of interesting twists and turns and we wanted to emphasise them,” they observe. “In order to do this we deconstructed the harmony and melodies and played them out over various synths, muted piano strings and other instruments to create bigger contrasts. Being able to start with the cello octet version of the track gave us lots of beautiful textural layers to work with. When combining the different elements we created with the strings it reminded us of a seventies disco vibe, which inspired us to record acoustic drums to give the piece more drive and dynamics. It was a true pleasure to work on this remix – it ended up being quite a complex puzzle which magically came together.”
Meanwhile, British-born Ghanaian / Russian / German composer, producer and DJ Afrodeutsche, currently based in Manchester, turns in a grand, percussive interpretation swathed in ethereal vocals and strings. “This remix was a wonderful opportunity for me to orchestrate layer upon layer of strings to a very ‘keys and rhythm’-led piece,” she says. “My vocals play a huge part, and I was stepping out into avenues I hadn’t had the confidence to venture out into and explore in the past. You could say that this remix helped me find my voice! It was a joy to combine my electronic and contemporary music production points of view through a piece that was already so moving to me. The introduction of organs, granular synthesis and vocals seemed to create an otherworldliness to the piece which I love. I have to confess, this piece quickly became a track I play on repeat.”
The package is rounded out by Berlin-based Alva Noto, aka Carsten Nicolai, who runs the NOTON label and, alongside Ryuichi Sakamoto and Bryce Dessner, helped compose the score for the Academy Award- and Golden Globe-winning The Revenant. His “remodel” reduces the piece to its muted, minimalist essence, with the eponymous “hanging D” nonetheless insistent throughout its atmospheric six-minute lifespan.