Poppy Ackroyd is a London-born, Brighton-based composer, pianist, and violinist. She not only plays her instruments conventionally, but employs drumsticks, e-bows, picks, and all five fingers on both hands to pluck and scrape them, creating unusual timbres and textures. She uses both the insides and outsides of her instruments, then manipulates and multi-tracks her sounds via a computer and a live microphone. Despite her very physical approach to composing and performing, the music she creates is intricate, delicate, and lyrical. With the exception of some economically layered field recordings, virtually all of the music she makes comes from her two instruments. Classically trained, Ackroyd possesses a Master's degree in music for piano performance. She is a student of modern piano music and is also a full-time member of the Hidden Orchestra. Ackroyd has collaborated with dancers, choreographers, actors, poets, filmmakers, and videographers. Her debut album, Escapement, appeared on Denovali in late 2012. A DVD version of the album, with visuals by Bristol-based audio-visual artist Lumen, was released in September of 2014. Ackroyd's second album, Feathers, soon followed. Expanding on the unique sound of her debut, the album's compositions featured parts for a few additional instruments, including harmonium and harpsichord, as well as cello by guest musician Su-a Lee. In 2017, Ackroyd signed to One Little Indian and released The Birds, an EP containing acoustic piano reworkings of pieces from her first two albums. All three of the EP's tracks were included on full-length Sketches, which included reworkings of previous compositions as well as rough cuts of four newer pieces that were later included on her February 2018 album Resolve. Ackroyd played both upright and grand piano on the date, as well the inside of the instruments using fingers, drumsticks, and plectrums (fingerpicks) – and then arranged and multi-tracked the resulting sounds. She employed the same technique to record herself on violin, pianino, harmonium, and spinet, and to record other musicians who played cello, flute, clarinet, and bass clarinet. ~ Thom Jurek
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Classical - Released August 4, 2017 | One Little Indian Records
Following two albums of inventive compositions for piano and violin released by Denovali Records, Poppy Ackroyd moved to One Little Indian in 2017. Her first recording for the label is Sketches, which finds her revisiting pieces from her prior albums in addition to presenting some new material. On 2012's Escapement and 2014's Feathers, Ackroyd demonstrated a highly visceral, physical approach to working with her instruments, playing them inside and out in percussive as well as melodic manners, and creating unusual and fascinating tones and timbres. On top of all of this, she utilized computers to edit, multi-track, and metamorphosize the sounds, as well as adding field recordings for additional sonic impact. On Sketches, she presents her pieces in solo piano form. Field recordings are still present on select pieces; naturally, "Birdwoman," "Glass Sea," and "Rain" feature the sounds of birds, a body of water, and rainfall, respectively. Ackroyd's playing is highly nuanced and delicate, and she's able to gracefully flow from sweet, hopeful melodies to more sad, haunting ones. "Time" is a particular standout, rippling from fear to ecstasy without sounding jarring or conflicted. It all sounds incredibly pretty, of course, but after listening to these pieces in their previous forms, these stripped-down interpretations inevitably feel like a step backwards. Perhaps this is simply a clearing of the palette, with Ackroyd feeling the need to get back to basics before she makes her next sonic breakthrough. It sounds perfectly fine and relaxing, but her earlier albums stand out more. ~ Paul Simpson
Classical - Released December 7, 2012 | One Little Indian Records
Composer and multi-instrumentalist Poppy Ackroyd is best known for her membership in the wonderfully eclectic Hidden Orchestra. But she has also done lots of work in collaboration with choreographers, videographers, performance artists, and filmmakers. All of these experiences inform the music on Escapement, her debut offering on Denovali. Ackroyd has obviously studied 20th and 21st century piano music, as well as composers such as Steve Reich, Terry Reilly, and Michael Nyman. But the seven pieces on the 31-minute Escapement are unquestionably her own. All of the music made here was composed and performed on just two instruments -- piano and violin. It was recorded with a single microphone and then manipulated, looped, delayed, remixed, cut, pasted, stretched, and edited on a personal computer. That said, what's here feels incredibly organic. Perhaps that's because Ackroyd's approach to playing her instruments is often unconventional. She regularly employs mallets, her hands, or an e-bow on the strings of the piano to create a percussive or glissando effect. Likewise she will gently scrape, pick, pluck, or rub her violin's strings to get a desired sound. Sometimes the outside -- the wood -- of her instruments is used, as are the piano's pedals. The end result feels fluid, intimate, delicate. Check opener "Aliquot," as piano keys and a strummed string introduce a repetitive motif for violin, which is built upon with both her bow and finger plucking. The hint of melody is more pronounced than the melody itself, but is wrapped in seamless layers that use space and a restrained dynamic palette. Even as its sections shift continually, the result is haunting, nearly magical. On "Glass Sea," she hammers one note in the piano's middle register continuously, embellishing it with a chord sequence that in turn is underscored by occasional hand-strummed sweeps across the strings on the inside of the instrument. Though its pulse is constant, its various textural elements and noted motif layers travel vast distances. In the middle, the field recording of a bird chirping quietly is nearly startling. Field recordings are also used in "Rain," "Grounds," and "Mechanism." These outside sounds feel intrinsic to her detailed compositional process, offering small cinematic glimpses into fleeting or even hidden emotional spaces in these works. Escapement is gentle, alluring, even beguiling in its quiet dialogue with beauty itself; Ackroyd invites the listener in unequivocally to eavesdrop. ~ Thom Jurek
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