Somnambule - Writing About Music

Rob Ellis ~ Music For The Home Volume 2

Although subtitled ‘Instrumental and Electronic Music 1994-2003’, the first track on Music For The Home, ‘No.1 60 francs’, immediately transports the listener back in time to early in the last century. Its rising, imperious chords and sudden twists and turns are redolent of Satie, Poulenc or Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives. Other tracks recall Debussy and John Cage’s solo piano pieces such as ‘A Room’ and ‘She Is Asleep’. Other reviewers have likewise noted such influences which serve to situate Ellis’s music within a compass of radical, but recognisable artists. These references reveal an understandable desire to contextualise music which appears, at least initially, highly idiosyncratic. Titles such as ‘Four Pictures With Debussy’ and ‘La Fille aux Cheveux Boucles’ do imply that such allusions accord with Ellis’s own view of his work.

Music For The Home as a title for may be interpreted in a number of different ways. Given the nature of the music there’s an element of irony in the usurpation of the piano’s role as a central form of domestic entertainment by the passivity of the television screen. The title might also be viewed as a denial that this music should be received as concert hall music, belying the impression initial listening conveys. There is indeed something intensely personal about the project, perhaps it’s the nature of titles such as ‘Music For The Home No.6 - Things Around The House I'm Not Familiar With’.

Listening to all 78 minutes 48 seconds of this album, with its five different suites and five single works can feel like entering a labyrinth whose walls are made of piano key ivory (though synthesizers, laptops and environmental recordings are used on a number of pieces). The predominant emphasis upon music, notes, metres and keys rather than the production values so highly prized by contemporary musicians can initially feel as challenging as any Merzbow or Russell Haswell record. The mixture of mostly piano music with some electronics works very well and results in the feeling of a coherent project larger than the sum of its parts.

The album ends with ‘Music For The Home no.9 – The empty house’. The piece consists of the sound of a door being shut followed by 19 minutes of traffic passing on a busy road and small sounds including footsteps and occasional birdsong. What we hear is refracted through the sort of ambience created when removal vans have departed and rooms are empty of furniture, curtains, even carpets. Given the context of the suite’s title, this might be a threnody for a childhood home, perhaps even the death of a parent. At the same time there’s an open-ended, hollow feeling to this final piece, a sense of nothing being left behind, which seems to underline the personal nature of the enterprise as a whole. It’s as if to say ‘all this music has been committed to disk and released, all that’s left behind is an empty shell’.

Whether Music For The Home is viewed as anachronistic, wilfully eccentric or visionary, it’s an open and honest work full of unpredictable compositions, rapid developments and detailed melodies. It’s music out of time, but, given enough time, mesmerising. It seems almost an act of cruelty that Rob Ellis’s rich, contrary music should be compressed into such a chilly, slender object as a mere cd, rather than the resonant darkness of vinyl. As most of Ellis’s pieces are no longer than four minutes in length, perhaps the Leaf label could be persuaded to issue Music For The Home in a limited edition of 78s?
Colin Buttimer
May 2004
Published by the BBC