Ukrainian pianist and composer Lubomyr Melnyk has spent his career developing a method of performance called "continuous music." In pieces that stretch anywhere from 10 minutes to nearly an hour in length, Melnyk delivers a sustained flurry of high-speed arpeggiated notes. By holding down the sustain pedal, he allows tones to ring out indefinitely, creating droning ambience and phantom melodies.
The pursuit of continuous music has brought Melnyk impressive chops—his website boasts that he is the fastest pianist in the world—but little in the way of critical recognition or financial reward. In interviews, he has expressed some disappointment at falling through the music industry's cracks, his playing too unorthodox for the classical establishment and too traditional for the experimental music community. However, in the last several years, Melnyk has begun to connect with a larger audience through releases on small labels like Unseen Worlds and Erased Tapes, which concentrate on modern classical and electronic music.
Rivers and Streams is Melnyk's third release for Erased Tapes. In execution, it's not too different from his previous works for the label. The music is busy and technique-intensive, but tuneful and meditative. As Melnyk plays, his melodies meld together, shifting in tone and volume. Because he allows the piano to resonate, the sound blurs, turning concise and complex patterns into aural fog. According to the composer, the album is a meditation on water—not a huge stretch given the steady, trickling, ambient nature of Melnyk's style. The performances are enhanced via co-production from label founder Robert Raths and London-based composer, Jamie Perera, who modestly augment Melnyk's arrangements with guitar.
Informed by the work of American minimalists like Steve Reich and Terry Riley, Melnyk's music draws on repetition and also a certain degree of impromptu inspiration. However, those composers—Riley in particular—often employed alternate tunings and distinctive harmonies that helped to distance their compositions from Western classical music. Melnyk's music is just as expansive, but more conservative in its approach to harmony. He's more overtly romantic. Listening to the plaintive minor key melodies on "Parasol", you can understand how, for some, the pianist's sensibility might have crossed the sometimes-thin line that divides minimalist classical and new age.
However, this is less of a liability than it might have been in the past. New age is no longer the reviled genre it once was. And there are other, more appropriate modern parallels. Melnyk's shifting chords and rising crescendos will click easily for those who follow post-rock bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Explosions in the Sky. And in continuous playing, sustained repetition, and simple harmony you can also hear him as a more organic cousin to the burbling synthesizer music of '70s groups like Tangerine Dream or Ashra. This is not machine music, though. It's very human—serenity delivered through sustained concentration and ecstatic energy, via a lifetime of practice and perfection rather than the twist of a knob.