Reviews – Music For The Home II

Review: Trax (France)
Music For The Home

Rob Ellis est le type d’arranger producteur dont la demarche, singuliere mais parfois absconse, trouve un point d’equilibre en se confrontant a des personnalities plus carrees, dont le style ne serait pas aussi marquant sans cela (les meilleurs examples: PJ Harvey ou Placebo). Autrement dit, en solo, libre d’invoquer la musique francaise (Four Pictures With Debussy) ou le piano ‘prepare’ de John Cage (THree Pieces For Fake Piano), il lui manque cette connexion a un format pop dont le caractere contraignant est pour lui la meilleure discipline. D’ou cette incapacite a faire la part des choses entre le bon et l’anecdotique, a travers cette collection de pieces dont la pertinence ne tutoie que momentanemont celle de leurs ainees (les oeuvres de Satie, Schoenberg ou Arne Nordheim, ici largement cites). Meritoire, main frustrant.

Julien Welter © Trax

Review: Poteapote (France)
Music For The Home

Connu pour son traivail de producteur sur les albums de PJ Harvey, Rob Ellis n’en est pas moins un musicien d’exception dont les oeuvres personnelles sont a ranger du cite de gens comme Steve Reivh ou John Cage. Ce second volume de Music For The Home est la production d’un homme a la sensibilite tourmentee, exprimant ses maux a travers de petites pieces de musique contemporaine, jouees pour la plupart a partir d’un piano, sans pour autant oublier quelques experimentations electr(on)iques. Beau, etrange et envoutant.

unknown © Poteapote

Review: Cyclic Defrost   Date: June 2004
Music for the home vol II

Although he’s worked with artists like Marianne Faithfull and Martina Topley-Bird, Ellis is best known for his long-time association with PJ Harvey as opposed to projects like Music For The Home. Released three years ago, the first volume emphasized computer-based compositions, whereas volume two collects twenty-seven tracks, seventeen of them solo piano. Even though he’s self-taught, Ellis’s piano playing is accomplished and assured. The manic style of many compositions, however, more often induces admiration at the technical prowess required for their execution than it does appreciation for their emotional depths. In “No. 2 The Rank Outsider Triumphs” (“Three Nature Studies For Three Pianos”), for example, one is entranced by its rapid-fire figures but more impressed by the ruminative mood conjured on “No. 1 60 Francs” from the “Four Pictures With Debussy” series. Obviously the very idea of solo piano engenders “classical” associations and there are certainly some here. The four pieces in the Debussy series are, in fact, not overly Debussy-like in style (notwithstanding the opening of “No. 4 La fille aux cheveux bouclés”) than sound inspired by him. The andante “No. 1 Figlio Di Venezia” (“Three Pieces For Fake Piano”), on the other hand, evokes Stravinsky and the oft-percussive approach Ellis deploys throughout suggests Messaien.

Ellis isn’t above injecting humour into his playing as well as his song titles. “No. 2 Tom & Jerry & Claude” (“Four Pictures With Debussy”) appropriately simulates the chaotic sound of mice scurrying up and down the keyboard. As their titles suggest, “No. 2 Short And Curly” (“Three Pieces For Fake Piano”) features brief runs and in “15/11/95 (Six Pieces For Fake Piano)” Ellis plays “No. 1 At 2 B.P.M.” pensively and reflectively. In “No. 4 Dreaming,” the notes flit about like beetles darting about a water surface, while “No. 6 Starry Sky” features sparkling filigrees that explode like night-time showers of stars.

The non-piano works include excursions into minimalism, drones, and field recordings. “Triminufakeinsymph” sounds like a mini-piano concerto performed with an electronic toy orchestra, and the marimbas and child-like harpsichords on “If You Were The Only Girl In The World” and “And I Was The Only Boy” maintain the playful mood. The “Music For The Home” series includes blurry hum in “No. 7 – Anniversary Bed,” repetitive percussion patterns that evoke Steve Reich (“No. 5 – The Climbing Frame”) and Philip Glass (“No. 6 – Things Around The House I’m Not Familiar With”), and topsy-turvy church bell effects on “No. 4 – Church Opposite.”

Clearly, Music For The Home Vol. 2 is an idiosyncratic and challenging release. At almost eighty minutes, it’s also long, although the closer, “Music For The Home No. 9 – The Empty House,” is a superfluous nineteen-minute field recording that could have been omitted. Given its solo piano emphasis, it likely won’t have the same broad appeal as does his work with PJ Harvey, but props to Ellis for taking the road less traveled, as he’s produced here a rewarding work of rich stylistic range.

Ron Schepper © Cyclic Defrost

Review: Freakout   Date: May 2004
Music for the home vol II

Tra le pagine del nostro sito non molto frequentemente ci capita di ospitare realizzazioni come quella che sto andando a presentare, interpretata al pianoforte ed elettronica da un musicista contemporaneo particolarmente impegnato in collaborazioni ed apparizioni per progetti musicali che si discostano non poco dalla sua preparazione classica; già le uscite per la sua band, Spleen, facevano pensare ad un tipo di attività tutt’altro che concertistica, altresì facevano le recenti collaborazioni nelle uscite discografiche di P.J. Havey, Placebo e addirittura per i nostri Marlene Kuntz. Avrete capito che di tutt’altro ci si occupa tra le mura domestiche della casa di Rob Ellis, dove ancora risuonano le moderne applicazioni della musica concreta e contemporanea dei maestri del novecento; Debussy, Cage, Reich, Messianen, Glass, artisti dalla grande personalità, da cui risulta difficile affrancarsi, seppur carichi delle migliori intenzioni, dell’esperienza e di tutte le apparecchiature

G Ancora © Freakout

Review: Splendid   Date: May 2004
Music for the home vol II

On the second instalment of Ellis’s Music For The Home series, the boffinesque PJ Harvey / Laika / John Parish / Kitty Wu cohort follows the same basic aesthetic that characterized the first instalment. Whereas that album reveled in electronic composition and manipulation, this volume is more of a “live”, performance-oriented affair, consisting primarily of discordant, Reich-ian piano compositions and meandering sonic treatments.

There are a number of exceptional moments here, such as the pitch-altered, dissonant tension of “The Wimp’s Trial By Fairground”, the plinky disorientation of “…And I Was The Only Boy”, and the eerily evocative backwards-sampling of “The Climbing Frame”. The creepy, haunting “2/10/02” is perhaps best of all — a hesitant pulse of reverbed piano and synth-strings that crawls slowly up the spine.

Unfortunately, despite these highlights, the album as a whole is defined primarily by its static air of rambling, lifeless inertia — a particular surprise given Ellis’s impressive track record. The 78-minute disc will be a difficult trawl for all but the most ardent lovers of meandering, piano-tinkering studiousness.

It’s a safe bet that if you enjoyed the first instalment, you’ll enjoy this. However, it’s hard to recommend Music For The Home Vol. 2 to anyone who isn’t firmly entrenched in the world of achingly academic musique-concrete.

Allan Harrison © Splendid

Review: The List   Date: May 2004
Music for the home vol II

If we always went for the easy option in life, we’d spend our time only listening to Abba and watching Hollywood blockbusters. Indeed, there’s nothing like a challenge to get the pulse racing, and this second album from Rob Ellis, more famous for his work as long-time friend and collaborator with PJ Harvey, is most definately that.

It is entirely made up of instrumental pieces composed and recorded from 1994 to 2003; 27 paino tracks which flit from Satie-esque sof touches of lyrical beauty to discordant slides, rage-fuelled clattering, frantic tinkling and then back again. An incredible, carefully constructed and extremely mininal opus that, with a bit of work, reaps many rewards.

Camilla Pia © The List

Review: DJ   Date: April 2004
Music for the home vol II

Probably kest known for his work with PJ Harvey, most notably on her Mercury Prize winning ‘Stories From the City, Stories From The Sea’, Rob Ellis is held in equal, if slightly more niche regard for his solo work. Whilst volume one of ‘Music For the Home’ supplied many a ‘Yokota-esque’ moment of reflection and ambient pleasure, volume two sees Ellis in far more challenging mode.

Largely consisting of his self-taught and ‘live’ recorded piano playing, volume two is a difficult and unsettling affair. What is most remarkable about it is that Ellis manages to create such dissonance and almost physical unease from an instrument so closely associated with gentle musical pleasures.

Steve Nickolls © DJ

Review: Independent on Sunday   Date: April 2004
Music for the home vol II

Self-taught avant-garde painist Rob Ellis sounds like Erik Satie meets Conlon Nancarrow on a very dark night. Unlinke the music on Vol1 of three years ago, which owed more to digital processes, Vol2 includes a fair bit of yer actual live piano-playing, although as the disc goes on, proceedings get progressively weirder, with repeating patterns (including the noises of church bells and what sounds like industrial noise) generating their own plinky-plonk vocabulary. As soundtracks to chin-stroking go, this comes somewhere between charm and irritation.

Phil Johnson © Independent on Sunday

Review: Q   Date: April 2004
Music for the home vol II

The co-producer, with Polly Harvery, of her Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea album, Rob Ellis’s own musical offerings are in a decidedly more esoteric vein. THe second album in his occasional Music For the Home series finds him plinking through a clutch of piano songs of an ambient, neo-classical bent that owe no little debt to Brian Eno’s Music For Airports. His Pieces For fake Piano echo the work of fellow experimental chin-strokers John Cage and Steve Reich, but unfortunately the collapsing chords of Triminafakesymph are more likely to remind the casual listener of the piano concertos of the late, great Les Dawson.

Ian Gittins © Q

Review: XLR8R   Date: April 2004
Music for the home vol II

If the name of this collection implies otherwise, the second volume of Rob Ellis’ Music For the Home could hardly be called calming. Ellis’ definition of home may be not so much a place of tranquility but a place where one can sift through these oblique modern classical piano workouts without the interruptions public spaces may offer. Make no mistake, there is nothing easy listening on offer here. The PJ Harvey drummer has conjured a diverse, challenging collection that locates him somewhere in the midst of Oliver Messaien, KArlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage. Indeed, it’s an impressive feat of composition when compared with the Neanderthal miming most pop has become.

Alexis Georgopoulos © XLR8R

Review: Logo   Date: April 2004
Music for the home vol II

As far removed from any pre-defined pop formulas as possible, this is the second set of solo tinkerings from PJ Harvey¹s favoured side-kick. The mid-point between Erik Satie and Brian Eno, here Rob Ellis improvises 27 piano pieces revolving around the concept of being trapped between four walls, with delicate thoughts tripping through the mind. Almost one continuous sprawl, ‘Vol. 2’ is often fairly self-indulgent, and sometimes near spell-binding. None more so than on the chiming bells from ‘Church Opposite’, and the spooky static crackles surrounding ‘The Climbing Frame’. Yet for the most part, Ellis¹ dabblings come on like the score for ‘The Shining’ that never quite happened. Just about safe for home consumption after all then.

Ian Fletcher © Logo Magazine

Review: Future Music   Date: April 2004
Music for the home vol II

It has been three years since the release of Music for the home Volume one, which saw Rob Ellis create virually the entire album on a computer. This new instalment features much more live playing, especially with the piano pieces that make up the first four tracks and also utilises domestic recordings and Music Concrete techniques. It’s a difficult album to review mainly due to its quite abstract nature. Improvised music is quite difficult to evaluate like a normal album. I quite like the pieces but some of them do have the ability to leave me cold and while I am a fan of Cage, Young, Reich, Glass and the like, there are still points where I am left wondering why? Let’s put Rob Ellis in context. He has worked extensively with PJ Harvey, co-producting and performing on the latest album as well as working with Charlotte Hatherley from rock band Ash and he’s also been musical director for Martina Topley-Bird, so he certainly knows what he is doing. These experiments and performances are great, if a little difficult to access (which is the reaction that I suspect on the whole he will get). However, for those that wasnt something different and those who like experimental music, then you are going to love this one.

7 Stars

Will Seelig © Future Music Magazine

Review:The Wire Date: April 2004
Music for the home vol II

The first installment of Rob Ellis’ Music for the home series was released in 2001 and consisted almost entirely of pieces created and edited inside a computer.

Although Music for the home vol II features compositions that have been similarly processed by way of technology, the majority of the album is made up of archived ‘live’ recordings, collected by Ellis over the last decade.

A self-taught pianist, the Somerset based Ellis takes a challenging, idiosyncatric approach towards his music. This is evident in his collaborative work (as producer and guest musician for artists such as Marianne faithful and PJ Harvey), but really comes through in his solo projects. He veers between the mathematically organised and the incidental – hence the offbeat resonance of his music. It is unsuprising that his style has drawn comparisons to the works of Satie and Cage.

Divided into titled sections such as ‘Three nature studies for three pianos’ and ‘Slightly exotic litle fake alarm clock piece’, it’s interesting to map the twists and turns that Ellis has taken in his compositions through the years. Take the contrast between ’15/11/95 (Six pieces for fake pianos)’, with it’s romantic subheadings such as ‘Dreaming’ and ‘Starry Sky’ and extended cascades of tumbling piano, and ‘Music for the home’, which was recorded in 2002 and is laden with titles like ‘Things around the house I’m not familiar with’ and ‘The empty house’. It was, Ellis says, a turbulent period in his domestic life, and this is echoed in the resultant pieces, heady and often tense, though never cluttered.

Ellis’s use of concrete techniques to domestic recordings is often striking in its simplicity – no more so than on ‘Church Opposite’, which punctures the dramatic impetus of the album with two minutes of church bells. Ellis’s delightful sensitivity to space and meticulous attention to detail, lovingly reflected in each brush and flick of a piano key, repeatedly upholds the old adage that ‘nothing is more fragile than subtlety’.

Mia Clarke © The Wire

Review: Uncut   Date: April 2004
Music for the home vol II

Second full-length adventure in uneasy listening from PJ Harvey collaborator Pianist, percussionist and producer Ellis is best know for his work with PJ Harvey, but also bangs his own highly distinctive drum. His band, Spleen, have released two albums, and Ellis made his solo debut with 2001’s Music For The Home. The follow-up is another bold adventure in contemporary classical composition, rather less soothingly ambient than the Eno-like title suggests. A collection of pieces written between 1994 and 2003, it’s more likely to inspire serious DIY activity than soundtrack a civilised soiree. Varese, Cage, Ligeti and Stockhausen are Ellis’ kindred spirits, but, despite their unsettling and fragmented nature, his scores stop precisely the right side of dissonance.

Sharon O’Connell © Uncut