Susan Matthews - A Kiss for the Umbrella Man
Susan is a musician and composer based in South Wales. Her long and varied discography showcases her many talents as composer, performer and, in this case, interpreter.
Here she pays homage to the compositions of Erik Satie through this set of beguilling arrangements.
Some parts of the above rant may have appealed to the composer Erik Satie, whose piano pieces are often associated with a slow performance or a promenade around the park where we can simply take time to stop and stare. What would this cafe-society aesthete have made of the over-crowded blogosphere? His minimalist philosophy has been used as a springboard by later modernists, including Cage, Reich, Adams and others; I suspect he’s even been credited with inventing “ambient” music before Brian Eno. For a less formalist and far more imaginative take on Satie, may I recommend A Kiss For The Umbrella Man (QUIET WORLD 21) by Susan Matthews, the South Wales musician. She takes extracts from well-known Satie tunes and serves them up with her own unusual piano arrangements, sometimes allowing for the addition of recorded voices and other tape layers; even the sound of the piano is treated in suitably subtle electro-acoustic fashion. Classical purists would probably throw a fit after hearing eight bars of this, but Matthews has genuine affection for the music and reveals hidden truths in Satie’s music through her very creative exploratory methods. Unfinished, uncertain in places, and not a revolutionary art statement, but Satie’s gorgeous scales and chord combinations really sing under her fingers, although I doubt this album is intended to showcase a virtuoso piano performance as convention would normally demand. By which I mean the ideas of Susan Matthews are prioritised over technique, and that is a good thing. It’s as though an art student were allowed free rein to interpret the classics as they see fit, and I’d like to see more of that…in my ideal world this important stuff would not be left solely in the hands of the trained and established “experts”. Egads, only 50 copies were pressed of this lovely CDR, and I’ve had it here since November. Better order your copy sharpish. If it’s sold out, send an email directly to Ian Holloway demanding a repress. Tell him I sent ya!
Here’s a sweet little CD by Susan Matthews on the Quiet World label. It’s a limited signed and numbered thing and there’s only 50 copies for the world! Here Susan takes on the mighty Erik Satie and reinterprets his work Susan style! You get 7 tracks of piano based loveliness. It’s a gentle listen and one suited to an evening where log fires and wine are involved (which should be every evening!). It’s evocative music and when the odd sample pops up giving you a break from the piano you realise that it’s not Erik Satie you’re listening to and it’s interpretations of his work. Thoroughly lovely stuff!!
Where for “Umbrella Man” Matthews means “Erik Satie”, who was extremely fond of that particular object. In about 23 minutes (intelligent decision), subdivided in seven tracks, snippets of celebrated works by the renowned composer are altered, cut, speeded up or slowed down, spiced with sub-bass and other types of moderately displacing frequencies, or even short fragments taken from an answering machine. At first, an accelerated version of “Gymnopedies” (renamed “Ouvrez La Tête”) had me thinking of some sort of sick joke, but when the subsequent chapters start diffusing their aromas in somewhat askew tranquillity, a couple of listens is enough to appreciate the combination of love for the original and slightly bizarre twisting of an otherwise peaceful acoustic environment. This was a dangerous move – too many reworkings of famous music have brought loads of rubbish on us in the past – however in this circumstance the outcome is more than acceptable, an elegant yet quirky offer by an artist I was not acquainted with before.
The Umbrella man mentioned in the title of the release by Susan Matthews is Erik Satie. There is no sense in denying that: right from the start this is clear. It starts out with Gymnopedies No. 1, perhaps Satie's best known piece, but in quite a fast mode - is this a joke? As it turns out, not really (at least that's what I think). I never heard of Matthews although, according to Quiet World she has an extensive discography, and that she is also a performer, or even interpreter here, as apparently she plays all those pieces by herself. She also plays the first of Pieces Froids and Gnossiennes number two and four. I am not entirely sure what she does with that, except playing them a bit faster than usual, as the common opinion is to play them quite slow. There seems also to be a small amount of electronic processing going on, and it transforms these six (!) pieces into wholly something else. Satie is still recognizable, but there is something else going on, something that is not easy to define, but certainly something that is quite interesting. A very radical re-interpretation of the original Satie works maintaining a great sensibility. This is a work that should be heard by a greater audience then just those who still cherish CDR only release.
Frans de Ward, Vital Weekly
A trio of releases from Quiet World now, beginning with the work of Susan Matthews, who has been featured in these e-pages before. Taking extracts from and interpreting the work of Erik Satie, the EP "A Kiss For The Umbrella Man" is typically understated piano-based music. Vocals emerge from deep in the mix on 'Du Coin De La Main' and on 'Suel, Pendant Un Instant,' where the voice is recorded, like a treasured memory.