This album was released on the Erased Tapes record label. And is now also available through streaming services such as Amazon music, available here.
Review by Vanessa Ague, on February 25, 2022, originally published on pitchfork.
It was a dream come true when Ohio-based composer Tim Story met German experimental music pioneer Hans-Joachim Roedelius in the 1980s. Story had long looked up to Roedelius’ groundbreaking work in kosmische group Cluster, whose sprawling sound influenced his own spacey music. The two would go on to collaborate on a series of albums, including 2002’s Lunz, 2008’s Inlandish, and 2019’s Lunz 3, which all feature electronics, and sometimes strings, that swirl around piano melodies. On 4 Hands, their latest effort, they’ve pared down their musical partnership into something more intimate: Both artists play the same grand piano, twining simple melodies into quietly contemplative songs that oscillate between heartfelt reminiscences and a playful lightness of spirit.
As its title suggests, the 11-track album explores the intimacy of the piano as written for four hands—in their case, not a typical duet formation, but two musicians playing one instrument in alternating takes. Roedelius and Story recorded their parts separately, improvising one on top of the other, but the album still sounds like a collaboration made in one moment. A stripped-down snapshot of the two musicians as they explore a variety of warm textures, their music is at once spontaneous and structured, phrases tumbling out and floating together with ease.
Most pieces on 4 Hands are built from patterns of rippling ostinato bass interwoven with delicate melodies. This structure often works well, like on opener “Nurzu,” whose title comes from a German phrase meaning, roughly, “Go ahead!” and builds on a series of arpeggios that blossom and recede as laid-back chords pulse on top. “Rever” works similarly, highlighting the interplay between rolled melodies that form a loose web of pensive sound. In these tracks, the duo’s goal comes into focus, but at other points, the music becomes easy to tune out—like “Bent Rhyme,” which features the same pattern of interlocking fragments but never latches on to a memorable melody.
The two artists make use of the entire piano on a few occasions, which gives the album much-needed motion. The piano has many parts to play with—some composers have been known to nestle metal objects among the piano’s strings, or pluck them, to explore new ways of making sound with the instrument. On 4 Hands, those extended techniques emerge with electric flair, offering distinctive new timbres that break up the sameness of the duo’s undulating sound. On “Seeweed,” plucks mix with rounded tones to make the piano sound three-dimensional, while on “Crisscrossing,” metallic sounds mix with traditional playing to form an intricate lattice. It’s here that the artists’ more experimental sides come out, showcasing subtle moments of exploration within an even-keeled palette.
But it’s 4 Hands’ intimacy that’s most compelling. The hidden meanings behind every song—one’s a tribute to their departed friend Harold Budd, others are inside jokes that we can only guess at—add to the overall feeling that 4 Hands is a celebration of friendship. They don’t need much more than a few notes sprinkled between a repeating bassline to convey the depth of their bond.