Poppy Ackroyd is a performer and composer from London, currently based in Brighton. Classically trained on violin and piano from an early age, she studied piano and composition at Edinburgh University before completing a masters degree in Piano Performance. A long-term collaborator with Hidden Orchestra (Tru Thoughts Records, Denovali Records), she also works with other musicians and artists, creating soundtracks for film, dance, physical theatre and radio. Her debut album 'Escapement' (Denovali Records, 2012) impressed with its delicate, intricate and beautifully atmospheric music, created using only piano and violin (with the exception of a few field recordings). In 2013 Poppy collaborated with visual artist Lumen to create bespoke films for her live performances. Demand from audiences led to a DVD of the music and visuals combined - 'Escapement Visualised' - being released in September 2014. November 2014 sees the release of her second full-length album 'Feathers', which she will be performing live across Europe in the months following the release.
Through studying contemporary classical piano works and listening to electronic music, Poppy began to develop her own compositional style, using conventional pianistic ideas whilst also inhabiting the world of sound beyond the keyboard, using unconventional techniques to 'play' other parts of the instruments as well. Like 'Escapement', her second album 'Feathers' mostly consists of piano and violin, but the palate of sounds is increased with other acoustic keyboard instruments - including harmonium, clavichord, harpsichord and spinet – and in the string sections Poppy's violin lines are augmented by guest cellist Su-a Lee.
Poppy's beloved, restored Blüthner grand piano in her studio is again the backbone of the album, providing most of the melodies, bass lines and percussive sounds. Other material originated from improvised recording sessions at the Russell/Mirrey Collection of keyboard instruments in Edinburgh. Having previously spent time there dismantling different pianos to understand how their mechanisms work and make sound, she was given complete freedom on her own in the museum to experiment with around fifty keyboard instruments from the 16th century to the 19th century. Selecting a few instruments for 'Feathers' that produced a variety of different timbres, it was again the other sounds these instruments could make that interested her, when treating them as sources for melodic or percussive material. Recordings of unfamiliar sounds, which include brushing/plucking the strings and tapping/stroking the frames or soundboards, are combined with accidental 'imperfect' sounds that come from playing the instrument, such as pedal noise or the sound of harpsichord shutters opening and closing. There is an intimate feel to the recordings as these older instruments are not designed to project sound loudly, so the microphones were placed very close to capture the minutest detail. Field recordings add to the cinematic and atmospheric quality of the music: chiming wall clocks in Timeless, traffic noise on Roads, and the wave and pebble sounds from Brighton beach in Birdwoman.
The title of the album was inspired by the line 'Hope is the thing with feathers' (Emily Dickinson) - it also references the feather quill in the mechanisms of some of the keyboard instruments, and the recurring themes of birds and flight. With its delicate textures, rhythmic intricacy and achingly beautiful melodies, 'Feathers' is the perfect companion for stories of love, loss, hope and migration.
POPPY ACKROYD + LUMEN - ESCAPEMENT VISUALISED [DVD]
ESCAPEMENT VISUALISED is a collaboration between musician POPPY ACKROYD and visual artist LUMEN.
Poppy Ackroyd's debut album Escapement was released on Denovali Records in December 2012. Having first started composing through collaborations with artists, dancers, and filmmakers, she often dreamed that her first album would be accompanied by a collection of short films, animations or live dance performances. With the release of Escapement Visualised this dream has been realised.
In early 2013 Poppy met visual artist Lumen (Bristol based Tom Newell) when they were both working with HIDDEN ORCHESTRA (Tru Thoughts Records, Denovali Records). Poppy records and tours with the band on keyboards and violin, and Lumen was creating their new audio/visual show, a multi-screen projection-mapping spectacle, using a mixture of his own original footage with innovative use of live cameras, which has drawn enthusiastic responses from audiences around the UK and Europe. Shortly after meeting they decided to work on projections for her solo live performances, which they developed together on tour and over the internet between shows, resulting in Lumen creating a series of short black and white synchronised films for all the tracks on Escapement.
Escapement was created using only sounds from the piano and violin, exploiting the sonic possibilities of these two instruments, using both conventional and unconventional techniques. The result is a delicate, intricate and unique sound world which also features field recordings of rain and birdsong, which add to the cinematic quality of the compositions. Taking a similar approach in the creation of the visuals nothing is digitally created, and the visuals are more abstract mood pieces rather than figurative story arcs. Where the track had a clear story behind it, Lumen has tried to either recreate or be sympathetic to this, in some cases visually realising some of the mental images that were there during the creation of the music. When the compositions had a more abstract feeling and mood, these were taken as starting points. Footage from filming the insides of a piano, or driving through leafy countryside, combined with the use of found footage, reflects the ideas, themes and techniques from the album, and aims to conjure up a similar dreamy nostalgia. Although each of the visual pieces are individual and independent, they are linked by a monochrome aesthetic.
After live performances with the visuals over the last 12 months, requests from audiences have prompted this release of the music and visuals combined...Escapement Visualised.