A few sips calmed the nerves to near vanishing under the ethereal resonance of the experimental pianist and minimalist composer Martin Kohlstedt, whose hands drifted over black and white keys to unlock the secrets of the universe in instants and flashes of insight, illumination, epiphany, eureka, enlightenment. Powerful charges of coursing musical delight advanced and retreated at once like the crashing and receding flow of the ocean’s waving tide under a full moon setting above a wine-dark sea, rushing as through a mouth wide-open to gulp the all that is in one inhale of bliss.
Everyone present heard it. It was there, that thing that will always remain unnameable, but may be called by a song, a prayer, a word, and any intention that rises, upward, lifting the heart strings to lightness, beauty and dream. And there were long pauses before he stopped playing to say thank you in Turkish, for his concert at Salon IKSV in Istanbul, on the cool night of February the 21st. And in his soft, careful voice, almost painfully shy, he spoke about his earliest meetings with the piano.
“That was a piece from the very beginning. I started to play the piano very late. I was twelve years old. That’s a very long classical way. I just played one key the whole time for hours. That was very important to me, as a twelve year old boy. I should talk a little more,” Kohlstedt said to the listening audience through his brittle German accent. “The pieces are combinations. They have relationships and interact with each other. HAR is the brother of NAO. And TAR is a good friend of NAO too, but, okay, it’s a very long story. The next piece is TAR, NAO, NIO, HEA. [Laughs]. See you.”
The tracks on his albums, from “Tag” (2013) and “Nacht” (2014) with Kick the Flame records, and most recently to “Strom” (2017) released by Edition Kohlstedt, are each named after three-letter acronymic enigmas. He has a dark aura about him, Kohlstedt, as he is veiled in pitch black surroundings, emerging with a human grin to fire the heart with unseen worlds and invisible experiences of pure grace and splendor, although at times mixed with a healthy dose of dramatic gravity churning in the smoky underbelly of spiritual conflict and its aftermath. A stretch of silence peaks before and after his songs, as part of the composition, essential to the effect of the music itself.
The quiet strength of his minimalist aesthetic is reminiscent of early John Cage and the life’s work of Steve Reich as percussive composers and experimental pianists who forewent harmony in favor of rhythmic dynamism towards a kind of music of the future. Yet, Kohlstedt is entirely harmonic, even melodious at times. His entrancing displays of handwork are cathartic, therapeutic in how they send wonder through the deepest crevasses of the body, as a complete network aligned to the intricate cellular systems of human physiology, only with a metaphysical, ameliorating effect. Every last sense of quotidian human pain is muffled and finally resolved by the parallel high road of his music as it props up the mind and sends the heart flying doused in the passions of its empowered lifeblood: minimalism.
His brushes with electronica are comparatively reflected in the work of Scott Hansen, best known as Tycho, although Kohlstedt remains startlingly authentic to his acoustic roots. Even when exploring the range of synthetic percussion to complement his piano compositions, often experimenting in the moment with simple time signatures that gain complexity through subtle surprises of change, also reaching arrhythmic structures amid noise fireworks that go off as in the distance, accentuating the romance of his stellar performative elegance, the worldly refinement of his musicianship. Despite professing a technical foundation in the magic of musical repetition, his flourishing across the keyboard dances on strong layers of beats with justifiable groove enough to charge the pulse of his frequencies with a supernatural life.
Fantastically cinematic and symphonic in his scope, at times his pieces sound like the equivalent of textural overgrowth in a climaxed rainforest ecosystem. A single bell will incite cycles of syncopated backbeats marching to a choral force of unearthly tones. And then the spring gushes out into a waterfall of atmospheres that blanket the listener in a rousing bonfire of raw sound. “Okay, now we are here. I need to calm down a little bit I think,” he says, to pause for a moment and give the audience a well-deserved excuse to lighten up with laughter out from under the sheer weight of his music, which can be austere at times in its earnestness.
He played “HEA” like a patient hiker standing up to a snowy peak, gazing up at the encircling clouds above before taking one step at a time on the long journey to the top. His solitary ventures in sonic invention are spatially generous, as they give the human ear a chance to stop, to think, to imagine. The feeling is like that of being a child, awake at night, lying in bed, and looking up through the bedroom window at the stars, and for the first time to have the sensation of an unprecedented thought, realizing the meaning of all relations in a universe where each and every is connected personally, individually to the all and one. And then to whisper it out to the blackest void in the invisible universe beyond, and finally to listen to the silence and hear music as the only answer.