Colin Riley’s ‘Isolated Pieces’

Composer Colin Riley writes: “ISOLATED PIECES is the culmination of the work of 27 contributors from across many genres of music. As an experiment on ‘connection’ and ‘trust’ during the isolating period of lockdown, I asked musicians I knew to respond to several small fragments of piano music I’d created. Everyone said yes and emailed back all kinds of unexpected fragments of connected material. It came in from percussionists, string players, singers, poets, and electronic musicians. This was my box of musical Lego. I set to work building the music from these disparate elements, knowing that at their root, there was some DNA that held them together. After a 18 months the album was complete.”

A good deal of music – and art, poetry and more – has come out of lockdown as composers, musicians, artists and writers have tried to make sense of, or cope with the strange situation we found ourselves in during 2020 and 2021.

Despite the isolation, composer Colin Riley found connections with fellow musicians through his online project Isolated Pieces. Begun in 2020, the project is based on musical “trust”: none of the 25 musicians involved in Isolated Pieces knew who else was part of the virtual musical ensemble (called Assemblage). The music on the album is the result of a back-and-forth exchange of fragmentary responses in the form of short audio files which Colin then assembled to create a larger whole, an album of 18 pieces released in Spring 2022.

The 27 artists involved in the project come from a range of musical genres as well as poetry, and include up-and-coming artists as well as established names such as Steve Hackett (guitarist with Genesis), keyboardist Roger King, jazz pianist Liam Noble, and dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah.

The pieces are miniature musical haikus, a matter of a few minutes in length, 5 minutes at most, with pithy titles which, for me at least, reflect some of the sensations and scenarios many of us experienced during lockdown – for example, ‘Sunlight Patterns’, ‘Most of My Day’, ‘Ease the Pressure’ or ‘Look Back’. While each piece is different, Riley employs repeating textures, instrumentation, electronics, loops and other sound effects, which make connections between the pieces and create the sense of an album as a whole, rather than an assemblage of disparate fragments. There are elements of jazz, folk, minimalism, experimental music and spoken word within these fleeting pieces, and the result is an intriguing compilation. The range of moods is interesting too – some pieces are intimate, reflective, at times almost painful (Dislodged) while others are upbeat (Twister), moving forward with pulsing rhythms.  I found the vocals of Savannah Roberts particularly haunting in the opening track Sunlight Patterns.

Read about the project and the contributors


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