Clem Leek from Kent in the southeast of England is an ostensibly ambient composer who frankly invests too much emotion and melody in his music to be characterized as such. In less than two years since debuting as a recording artist, he has released an impressive amount of quality music and his international fan base is growing exponentially. “Lifenotes”, according to his own notes, is composed of pieces new and old, all close to his heart. So close that he plays it close to the vest by offering us mostly barest-bone sketches. Having persued rich and dense soundscapes in his previous work, “Lifenotes” is equivalent of back-to-basics folk – suggestions of suggestive moods in the spirit of Brian Eno´s very short pieces collected on the various “Music for Films” albums. The improvised piano sittings are intimate – you can hear his feet shift on the pedals – as are the solo electric guitar meditations. State of the art electronics are employed but leave little discernable trace. Opening appropriately with “Page One”, violinist Christoph Berg joins him to add a few deep strokes of the violin, but between that and his reappearance on “Closing (The End)”, the rest of the album is strictly a one-man show. Sixteen tracks scurry past in only thirty-five minutes. “My Little Boat” barely leaves the dock before it´s over. The rainfall almost drowning out “The Middle Part” is succeeded by an unseasonably warm “November 11th”, Remembrance Day, with a small choir of sparrows singing along with the piano and the drone which shadows it. Leek´s “Lifenotes” are as pastoral as a Wordsworth poem but then again, so really are many of fellow southeasterner Eno´s short pieces. Some of the more richly textuted pieces are vaunted and expansive, others are reticent and lo-fi. He is finding his own voice among similarly-inclined, conservatory-trained young composers like Nils Frahm, Dustin O´Halloran and Max Richter, all of whom make refined but accessible music. It´s too well-manicured for folk, but still has too much dirt under its fingernails to be chamber music for the salon. original review
“Lifenotes is a nice mixture of complex atmospheres and stripped back pieces. It has a long track list (sixteen), but they are all short tracks, easily digested.”
Clem Leek is a composer who has quietly been working away for some time now. He is very often described as neo-classical, which is a pretty loose term for modern music that is based on traditional classical constructs. Although it certainly draws influence from that genre, I would say it is a bit more soundscape oriented. Ambient washes of drones and electronica popping and fizzing while simple melodic motifs are used, often repetitively to add colour and definition to the pieces. Based in Bath, UK, I first came across Clem at a small gig in an underground venue in said town, and was pretty impressed. Not what I was expecting given the venue, it being more suited to a grimey punk band or or something, but the atmospheric and emotive music of his performance was engaging and interesting, if merely for its juxtaposition of content and context.
Since then, Clem has released several works, all steadily developing his style as a composer. This latest offering is another step on his journey. Lifenotes is a nice mixture of complex atmospheres and stripped back pieces. It has a long track list (sixteen), but they are all short tracks, easily digested. Centred on the piano, but also using many other real instruments such as violin and guitar, the album is very much played rather then produced for the main part.
The recording is pretty low tech it has to be said. I once read an article which argued that the recording process was as much a part of the finished product as the performance it captures, and the buzzing and clicking captured during that process is just important to the music as anything else, and should be celebrated as such. Well, you can certainly hear the recording process in all its glory on this album, which could be considered a celebration of the art, or could be seen as unnecessary hiss depending on where you stand on the argument. Either way, it’s a minor gripe, if that’s even what it is.
I managed to ask Clem a few questions about the album:
Gustave Savy / Igloo :: When and how did you first get in to music?
Clem Leek :: I have always had a passion for music for as long as I can remember. My parents exposed me to music at a young age and encouraged me with music lessons. I have been very lucky that I have been able to really explore music at each stage of my life.
Igloo :: What prompted you to start composing?
CL :: Well, as most musicians do, I used to write small melodies and improvise a bit, but it wasn’t until GCSE and the discovery of Sibelius (software not composer) that really got me thinking about the process and structure. Since then I have been exploring lots of genres, areas of notation and instrumentation. It is my favourite part of music, expression through composition is a huge part of my musical life.
Igloo :: What are you listening to at the moment? Not what influences you, but what do you actually get down to?
CL :: Well I am listening to a tonne of stuff at the moment. I’m loving the new Com Truise album, along with Nils Frahm’s new CD and i’ve been getting down to 65daysofstatic as well.
Igloo :: Your album Lifenotes has pretty melancholy vibe in places, is that intentional, or did it just turn out like that?
CL :: I think a lot of my work, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally is melancholic. The context in which some of the songs were written definitely lead to that.
Igloo :: How was this recorded? At home or in a studio?
CL :: Some of it was recorded at home, some recorded out and about with my little travelling studio. It’s nice to be able to record something In the spur of the moment, little moments like that can really add to a piece. All the mastering was done in a studio though.
Igloo :: Did you have a definite concept for this release, or is it a coincidentally harmonious collection of disparate pieces?
CL :: The album is a collection of pieces written over the last two years, so really in its element it can’t help but be a disparate album. Although I like to think that adds something rather than detracts. Each piece really is a Lifenote and I really wanted them to be seen that way.
Igloo :: What’s your live set up? Is this stuff in your live repertoire and is playing live something you spend a lot of time working on? Translating recorded material to a performance context can be a technical conjuring trick.
CL :: Preparing live material is always a challenge. Most of the pieces from Lifenotes I will perform live. Some, just being piano pieces, remain like that for live performances. I like to adapt other pieces so that they are recognisable yet I re-imagine them for a live situation. My setup always changes. Sometimes I love to keep it simple and just use piano and other times I’ll have laptop, piano, guitar, violin and other instruments. It depends on the piece as to how long I spend on preparation, I always like to keep an element of improvisation in my sets, meaning I can work with timbre and structure. Using Ableton live allows me to be flexible live, it is a great platform to work from.
Lifenotes is the latest album from the multi-talented composer Clem Leek. It is available now on Drifting Falling.
Compared to Max Richter, Dustin O’Halloran and others in the current school of neo-classical composition, Clem Leek is as much a miniaturist as a minimalist. The pieces on the UK artist’s second full-length have the fragmentary character of in-process sketches or thoughts. Piano chords are played tentatively, with pregnant intervals allowing for full breaths, or briefly flourish amidst rain and birdsongs before fading away ghost-like. The guitar pieces are a little more earthbound, but are still pensive and in the moment, like Leek is discovering the soundtrack to some real-time scene. The mood grows a little repetitive at the halfway mark of the 16 tracks and a greater intrusion of field recordings or some other complication (such as the drone and telegraph noise of “Origami Soldiers”) might have jarred the rising somnolence. The quality of play and conviction to keep thing micro rescue the album from also-ran status. Leek is one to keep an ear on.
In keeping with its pencil-drawn cover illustration, UK-based composer and multi-instrumentalist Clem Leek intentionally chose to keep Lifenotes‘ songs, in his own words, “very basic and raw.” But while there may be bedroom-styled production ambiance in play, there’s nothing unfinished about the material in terms of quality. The album’s sixteen pieces, old and new pieces alike, capture the full range of his composing gifts and command of multiple instruments, including piano, violin, and guitar, and software, such as Logic and Ableton Live. Some tracks are more piano-centered, while others use guitar as the point of lift-off. Regardless of the contrasts in arrangement, the material exudes a strong emotional punch, given the plaintive character of the songs and Leek’s willingness to wear his heart on his sleeve so openly.
The album’s pieces generally slot themselves into one of three categories: solo piano pieces, guitar settings, and field recordings-based meditations. Leek has sequenced the album, however, in such a way that the songs within each category type are dispersed, a move that camouflages to some degree the fact that the album’s material can be grouped into said categories. Regardless, “Breaking Down,” “Rain Song,” and “Trying Too Hard” are lovely piano settings that put Leek in the same category as Nils Frahm and Peter Broderick, as far as sensitivity and melodic gifts are concerned. One might even be reminded of Michael Nyman or Philip Glass when piano chords alternate so insistently during the lilting “The Diary I Never Kept.” Ambient noises are often audible, whether it be the creak of the piano bench or the instrument’s keys or someone making noise in an adjoining room, and rather than being distractions the sounds enhance the album’s personalized and intimate feel. One of the album’s prettiest pieces is “You’re So Very Far Away,” which is elevated by the graceful swoop and peal of the electric guitar, while “Past the Pasture and Beyond the Hill” is elevated by a violin’s mournful cry. Lifenotes covers many bases, as outdoors field recordings play a part in the recording, too, with a river’s flow and bird chirps heard respectively on the ambient settings “The Middle Part” and “November 11th,” and there’s also a rare excursion into experimental electro-acoustic drone territory (“Origami Soldiers”). Most of the songs are in the two-minute range, which on paper hardly seems long enough for a powerful emotional impact to be generated. Yet Leek manages to do so, with his compact vignettes enably inducing an affecting emotional response in the listener.
In Hamburg geht grad die Welt unter. Der richtige Zeitpunkt, bei diesem Schietwetter beruhigende Musik raus zu kramen, über die ich schon seit längerer Zeit mal was machen wollte. An solch einem Sonntag ist es nun soweit, wo kein Stück Kuchen, kein Becher warmer Tee und auch keine noch so schöne Kerze etwas entgegen zusetzen haben. Da hilft aber Musik, denn die richtige Wahl kann aus dunklen Wolken wahren Sonnenschein zaubern. So auch…
Ein Album voller Emotionen. Es nimmt den Hörer an die Hand und spaziert mit ihm durch kunstvolle Klangwelten, die der junge Leek auf seinem Tasteninstrument kreieren kann. Die 16 Lieder wurden mit großer Sorgfalt eingespielt und auf einem Tonträger gebracht, der genauso reduziert gestaltet wurde, wie die Musik auf der Scheibe. Nur das nötigste, was Schönheit ausmacht, wird hier in den Fokus gesetzt.
Seit längerer Zeit nun endlich von mir ein Import-Tipp, da Lifenotes in Deutschland (noch) nicht zu haben ist – jedenfalls nicht in physischer Form. Clem Leek hat aber großes Potential uns noch mehr mit solch großartiger Musik zu verwöhnen. Seine Diskografie spricht Bände…
Lifenotes est un carnet de croquis, d’œuvres de circonstances et d’instantanés. Le format d’un album – le second après Holly Lane (Hibernate, 2010) – mais la même spontanéité et la même simplicité confondante que Through The Annular et Snow Tales, les deux EP qui ont inauguré la discographie du jeune Anglais.
Les seize titres de Lifenotes semblent être rassemblés comme au gré d’un inventaire, au hasard de la mémoire, pour être présentés à nos sens, accompagnés d’un simple et humble « hum… voilà… je vous laisse avec ces petits instants. » Ce sont les témoins d’un talent brut, qui n’est pour l’heure jamais aussi flagrant que lorsqu’il s’offre ce plaisir des bonheurs de peu de choses et de bon goût. Au cœur de ce panier gourmand, le rôle central du piano, sobre et minimaliste. Chuchoté en charmantes gouttes. Mais aussi, des caresses de cordes à petites touches. Et pour la première fois, une guitare, fluide et limpide. On pense à July Skies, autre impressionniste de l’english countryside.
Lifenotes. Une ligne claire, d’évidence et de douceur. Les couleurs et la rondeur des saveurs d’automne. Compote de pommes et de coings. Éclats de cannelle et de poivre de Sichuan.
Vorige maand heb ik al gesteld dat het kwaliteitslabel Drifting Falling een ware hofleverancier van de dromerige muziek begint te worden en ergens in het rijtje van Kranky, Darla, n5MD en Under The Spire past. Op het label verschijnen uiteenlopende artiesten uit diverse genres die als gemene deler hebben dat de dromerigheid voorop staat. Dat wordt andermaal onderstreept door de nieuwe, officieel pas zijn tweede cd Lifenotes van Clem Leek, die eerder al een cd, cd-r’s, mini’s en cassettes uitbrengt op labels als Hibernate, Schedios, Dead Pilot, Rural Colours, Experimedia, Brian en Gizeh. Daarnaast geeft hij eerder dit jaar acte de presènce op de compilaties For Nihon en Kanshin, beide ten bate voor de slachtoffers in Japan. Deze Britse muzikant en multi-instrumentalist (piano, viool, gitaar, elektronica, veldopnames, drones en diverse andere instrumenten) brengt op zijn nieuwe cd wederom dromerige, verstilde en bovenal filmische muziek, die hij speciaal voor dit jaargetijde wellicht herfstachtig inkleurt. De hoofdmoot wordt gevormd door de droefgeestige pianoklanken, waarop hij zijn uiteenlopende creaties bouwt. De ene keer overheersen de veldopnames en drones en op andere momenten brengt hij ook andere instrumenten als viool en gitaar in stelling. Daarmee laveert hij op fraaie wijze tussen neoklassiek, ambient en minimale post-rock. Alle composities, die slechts tussen de minuut en 3,5 minuut eindigen, lijken zo weg te zijn gelopen uit een denkbeeldige film. Het geheel houdt het midden tussen Library Tapes, Max Richter, Dustin O’Halloran, Nils Frahm, Aaron Martin, Goldmund, Peter Broderick, Philip Glass, Wim Mertens en Michael Nyman. Stuk voor stuk zijn het breekbare, melancholische en bovenal wonderschone composities geworden, die diep onder de huid kruipen. Heerlijk om je gedachten en verbeelding even de vrije loop te laten. Zoals hij zelf in de cd stelt: “When your body hurts with emotion, only then do you know who you are”. Prachtige droomplaat!
Last month, I have argued that the quality Drifting Falling a true purveyor of dreamy music and starts to be somewhere in the list of Kranky, Darla, and n5MD Under The Spire fits. The label will appear different artists from various genres such as the common denominator that dreaminess comes first. This is again underlined by the new, officially begins his second CD Life Notes from Clem Leek , who earlier CD, CD-Rs, mini’s and cassettes an opinion on labels such as Hibernate, CAL Dios, Dead Pilot, Rural Colours, Experimedia, Brian and Giza . He also earlier this year will be present on the compilations For Nihon and Kanshin , both for the benefit of the victims in Japan. This British musician and multi-instrumentalist (piano, violin, guitar, electronics, field recordings, drones and various other instruments) takes on his new CD again dreamy, quiet and most cinematic music that he composed especially for this time of year perhaps autumnal coloring. The main part is the melancholy piano notes, which he builds his various creations. Sometimes dominate the field recordings and drones, and at other times, he provides other instruments like violin and guitar position. That he navigates nice way between neo-classical, ambient and minimal post-rock. All compositions, only minutes and 3.5 minutes between the end seem to have walked away as from an imaginary movie. The whole is a cross between Library Tapes, Max Richter, Dustin O’Halloran, Nils Frahm, Aaron Martin, Goldmund, Peter Broderick, Philip Glass, Wim Mertens and Michael Nyman . Each one the fragile, melancholic and most beautiful compositions became deeply under the skin crawl. Great to here your thoughts and imagination free rein. As he himself states in the CD: “When your body hurts with emotion, only then do you know who you are.” Beautiful dream album!
…according to our Brian on 14 October 2011.
This appears to be Clem Leek’s “24 Postcards in Colour” with around twice the amount of tracks as his lovely collection for Hibernate. Unfurling with sombre wisps of drift, piano flourishes and a Morse code track that I never want to fade out, I’m reminded heavily of the Le Lendemain CD from a couple of years back. Now we’re into the journey sights you may see are yearning chamber violin yawns seduced by sensual guitar exploration, sad-eyed choccie box piano interludes a la early Nils Frahm, meandering sun-kissed post-rock daydreams, vignettes comprised of field recording hiss and two-rooms-down-the-hallway piano and some lively birdsong sound-tracking some more longing piano musings. A sweet collection of briefer, charming pieces, lovingly rendered and presented in another sweet Christopher Robin-esque sleeve. I like this guys stuff lots and this seems like a nice counter-release to file alongside the brilliant ‘Holly Lane’.
Clem Leek only released his debut last year, but he already has several releases to his name and shows a maturity that dwarfs his experience. As a composer and multi-instrumentalist, Clem Leek navigates his tracks between a variety of genres, providing the listener with a constant source of intrigue and discovery. On Lifenotes, the artist plays to his compositional strengths by creating sketches of tracks that are as uninhibited as they are poignant. Although brief and sometimes rather sparse, the tracks on Lifenotes are never short on expression and demonstrate just how skilled Clem Leek has become at communicating with the audience. Less is often more, and Lifenotes is careful to not impose itself upon the listener; rather, the album passively unfolds and slowly draws the unsuspecting into its magnificence.
Multi-instrumentalist creates a personal work of art
Clem Leek is a young lad with maturity far beyond his years, producing haunting pieces of neo-classical compositions which capture the full spectrum of emotions that we expierience throughout our existance. Aptly titled, the album features 16 exquisite tracks which are each a quick sketch on various pivotal moments in life; be they joyful or bleak. The multi-instrumentalist combines minimal guitar, piano and violin work with more experimental samples like bird song to create a release which drifts through the senses and oozes pure emotion.
The beauty of the album comes in its simplicity. Clem himself says; ‘For this cd it was all about getting back to basics and recording pieces which were simple, which happens to be my best way of writing’. And that’s what shines through on the record; the fact that Clem is obviously putting his heart and soul into each reflective track. It’s sometimes brooding, sometimes stark, sometimes uplifting but you can guarantee that every second of Lifenotes is rich, raw and genuine. This is one for the loner, content with turning the lights down low and embracing the resonant ‘soundworlds’ that Clem creates through his haunting piano pieces.
Taking inspiration from composers like Steve Rich and Philip Glass, it’s hard to believe that Clem only released his debut album last year as Lifenotes establishes itself as a work of a genius craftsmen able of producing delicate and intricate pieces with what feels like effortless splendour. One track is entitled; ‘The Diary I Never Kept’ which I think is what Lifenotes acts as; it’s a way of taking note of his young life thus far. Indeed Clem states; ‘Lifenotes is a combination of old and new pieces, each one is very close to me heart’. It’s this dichotomy between the old and new which I think echoes throughout the album; it is both a reflective look back and a tentative hope for the future.