I have to admit I’m a fan of modified pianos, if you can call it that. There are prepared pianos, of course, where a variety of devices are attached to the wires on the soundboard, but there are also pianists who love to manipulate the wires with their hands. Satoko Fujii, for example, often seems to play with one hand on the keys and the other hand inside the piano, futzing around and creating truly unique sounds that seem outside of the realm of mere keyboards. Felicia Nielsen is another such pianist, and her new LP Mors Dag is a challenging and fascinating work that is like no other I’ve heard.
Words and Photos by Marc Phillips
Felicia Nielsen, a pianist/composer from Sweden, combines both of these elements–preparation and manipulation–and couples it with a unique piano that was built in 1914 and discovered by her in an abandoned cafe. That led to Nielsen exploring the instrument in a comprehensive way, on a very basic acoustic level, and eventually she discovered how unique the sound of this keyboard was, and how it led her toward very specific types of composition.
Mors Dag, if anything, is a document of that sound. Felicia Nielsen isn’t just plonking and making strange noises–many of her compositions are lyrical and melodic, often sad and spare, but very grounded in a modern style. These more conventional compositions are juxtaposed by that wonder, that curiosity that prompts Nielsen to find a sonic groove and see where it goes. That results in the “challenging” pieces, where she gets up into the soundboard and starts an expedition into sound that will often make you forget she’s playing the piano. In many cases, it feels as if she’s completely left the keyboards and has found something else in the room to explore, but no. It’s that 1914 piano with the broken leg, creating unearthly sounds that often transform into a lengthy drone.
In many ways these sonic experiments remind me of Yo La Tengo, and how that indie rock trio can perform a completely relatable pop song, often lovely, and then switch to ten minutes of noise and feedback. And it will be up to you, the listener, to decide if a lengthy detour into another world of sound is something you’ll sit through. I did, mostly because I succumbed to the trance Felicia Nielsen cast on me. But even if you have to skip a track or two on Mors Dag, you’ll still find this is a beautiful recording and pressing–and one that will only cost you $20.