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London, 2024

Ravel in the Forest is Australian-Taiwanese composer Belle Chen’s latest project, and perhaps one of her most original too. The album converges some of Chen’s most important influences; from the impressionist music of Ravel to the wonders of nature — and particularly Oceania, where she grew up. If in the past, the musician has explored the world of field recordings, it is this time a project where Chen leaves space for interpretation and imaginary narrative and creates rather than exploits. The listener is taken on a journey through an imaginary forest, and is invited to admire the fascinating natural ecosystem that she creates. 


Most of the music of Ravel in the Forest is based on the meeting of acoustic and electric, and intends to portray and describe the animal kingdom. From “Three Birds”, “The Chameleon” — and its kaleidoscope of colours and sounds — and “The Dragonfly” — where synths cleverly depict the movement of the animal —, to “My Deers” — in which through repetitive patterns and motions, Chen creates vivid pictures of running mammals and the sounds which surrounds them — and “Lone Wolf” — where once more, a very inventive compositional technique is used to portray the howling of the animal. Then, there are the pieces describing the surroundings, the environment — such as “Whispering Tree” which uses repetitions and patterns to recreate the rhythms of nature — or the passing of time — such as “Passages of time, “Half a Moment” and “Moonrise”. Lastly one must note the romantic “Closer”, the volatile “Fleeting Aromatic” and the delicate “Birthday”. Ravel is of course omnipresent, and this throughout the album; from “And It Rains” where Chen explores her impressionistic images with modern techniques of post-minimalism — and quotes Ravel’s “La Vallée des cloches” — to “Kingdom Animalia” in which she blends sounds and effects to portrait a musical fantasy — and using Ravel’s string quartet as resource for her musical quotes. Both closing pieces are again based on some of the French composer’s ideas: “Adagio, Sans” which borrows some of his piano concerto’s fragments, and “Assai, Assai” which concludes by bringing peace and serenity to what has been quite an adventure. 


Ravel in the Forest is a very clever project. It portrays a musician who reflects her time and the technology that surrounds it. Chen uses her tools in a traditional way — in the sense that rather than exploring new sounds, they reflect existing ones — and through that innovates in her own musical approach. One of the intentions of Chen for the album was to create a music which exposes herself; a music which is flawed, and in a way more human. This can be heard in her recording techniques, which rather than presenting a perfect piano sound aims at revealing the subtle details such as the movements of the piano keys and pedals. Ravel in the Forest is a beautiful musical journey and an opportunity, through Chen’s musical suggestions, to rediscover the natural world which surrounds us.

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