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London, 2018 

The Sho is a traditional Japanese instrument, which in the national imperial court music—called gagaku—involves the use of tone clusters, known as aitaké. This collection of particular chords represents the basis of Mathieu Karsenti’s third independent release, Aitaké Suite for Solo Violin. Performed by Violeta Barrena on the violin as well as Karsenti on the piano, it was released in June 2018. The French composer paints a delightful oriental soundscape trough the sound of the violin supported by a diverse selection of instruments ranging from the piano to more exotic choices…


Aitaké is introduced by Dreams, a hypnotic piece based around a repeated descending minor melodic line that modulates over time,  supporting the sorrowful violin of Barrena. In the Vastness of the City opens on a cinematic string arrangement, later complimented by steel drums and various electronic effects that support the chanting violin, slowly becoming more and more lamenting. With a very simple role for the instrument, the piece is one of the most evocative of the suite and paints a sonic landscape that illustrates the title of the album flawlessly.

Unfinished Memories brings space and room to the piano as a main accompaniment—creating a sort of violin and piano duo, embellished with electronic textures. Back and Forth closes the suite and is perhaps the piece that gives the most of attention to the melodic qualities of the violin. The supporting arrangement is very discreet and complements the instrument very well. A few surprises on the orchestration should be noticed, especially with the addition of the sitar.


Although presented as a suite for solo violin, Aitaké is full of diverse instruments helping to illustrate the meeting of Karsenti’s music with the exoticism of Eastern Asian music. Similarly to his Cello Prayers, released in 2017, Karsenti delivers a contrapuntal, rhythmic and multi-layered cinematic suite—typical of his compositional style—which brushes the Asian concept of silence or negative space—Ma—as well as some Japan’s musical traditions. Karsenti being primarily a film composer, I could imagine his Aitaké Suite for Solo Violin being an homage to the wave of Asian movies’ soundtracks of the early 2000s—such as In the Mood for Love—or simply another beautiful musical offering from him.

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