ARGENTINIAN composer, cellist, and producer Sebastian Plano is set to release his sixth album and his second for one of the blue-chip labels of modern composition, Mercury KX, this Friday; it’s entitled Save Me Not and it’s an incredibly pretty place of aural safety.
His most recent album for the label, 2019’s Verve, was (and is) a thing of very tender beauty, a real stillness at its heart, strings and piano swelling in grace, emotive, bleeding across into the worlds of post-rock and electronica with a masterful touch; and with Save Me Not he moves things on yet another level.
Born in Rosario, Argentina, in 1985, Plano was raised by parents who perform in the city’s symphony orchestra, and having first played cello aged 7, he began composing himself aged just 11. Aged 13, he was undertaking eight-hour round trips to Buenos Aires for hour-long music lessons, a travail of two years; there’s dedication. He was at the very top of the game for a young, upcoming classical talent. But he found himself seeking more, thirsting for other directions.
“As we grow up,” he says, “we spend our lives having to blend in, so, as our personalities develop, it’s inevitable we start cultivating our own reality.
“But for me this grew until it made me realise I didn’t belong in the world of interpretations, playing Beethoven’s – or anyone else’s – music.
“Many of us nurture our own space, “where we can be the essence of ourselves, and creative people arguably take this further, constructing a reality where their imagination can flow, free of awareness. In my case, writing music has, over time, turned into a need: it would be impossible for me to cope with life without being able to express myself through sounds.”
And since his debut album for Denovali some eight years back, Arrhythmical Part Of Hearts, he’s moved to develop a personal sonic aesthetic which utilises all the classical compositional chops that have been with him pretty much since day one, and pulling his music out into the ethereal; he plays every note, conceives every shift and tone.
“This wasn’t a matter of control,” he says, “but of being able to express what I want to the fullest extent. The whole album is just me: it’s about narrowing down the instruments to the minimum, and how much I can push myself to create an authentic, unique sonic world. I wanted to see how far I could go.” The album then, was conceived for three instruments: voice, cello and piano, with some electronica post-processing being limited to this trio of sound sources.
The title is a reference to the zone into which Sebastian fashions his music, one just beyond the strict acoustic possibilities of his instruments, which are thus dosed with that little sprinkle of ethereal production; a place within touching distance, not so far over the crest. It’s a zone, he says, where life is infinitely more bearable; and therefore forced to make a choice between this and the everyday, he says he’d resist any attempt at rescue.
“I remember when I was recording ‘Soul II (Elan)’,” he recounts, “and it came together with just one take from beginning to end. As it finished, there was this moment where it just knocked me over.
“That moment of ecstasy, that’s what it’s about: it’s inside and outside me. Every piece has at some point sent me into these mental ecstasies, and the record’s a statement about – and a celebration of – that place.”
And Save Me Not is also both a celebration and an arrival; he’s come to a place of freedom to compose as he wishes, reliant on no one but himself.
“Now I can do it all alone,” he says. “I’m the string quartet, I’m the orchestra, I conduct the piece. I don’t like to depend on anyone, and Save Me Not best defines who I am: as a musician, as a creative spirit, and as a person.
“I just want to be free. As free as possible …”
“Agos” is an incredibly pure introduction, almost Sigur Rós in its post-rock/electronica/wordless vocal beatitude; it pulses and wanes, pulses and wanes, and is all glazed around with a drone tone that’s part organ, part European electronica cleanliness, part Kranky solitary note bliss, weaving an undulating bright white light of sound. Luscious. “I wanted a choir, so that’s what I made,” Sebastian says. “Save Me Not” is one of those pieces of music which almost immediately grab your heart rate and slow it to a more agreeable pace, a lazy summer shower of piano garlanded with creaking percussion, ocean deeps of echo, a processed voice down within the refraction recurring and marking the overarching tempo. There’s that ethereal incantation of the title, three simple words, gaining more gravity with each insistence. The cello laments. And then it momentarily staggers, judders, quite literally pauses for an intake of breath, stops you slipping too far into a bliss drift; reforms as a ringing coda, the instrumentation falling away.
“A Present For A Young Traveller” has a European folk piano prettiness, that instrument key-stroke clicky and opulent with vines of cello; “Obsequence”, a more portentous, darker essay, still has a melodic grandeur, with the cascading four-note central motif never quite breaking free of the weeping cello underneath, instead rippling with a sad sleepiness. In April, Sebastian revealed a live-in-the-studio version of this; which, while not the album version per se, is a delight in a closely connected way. Hey, here it is.
And then we’re into the mantle of the album, a triptych entitled “Soul”, which Sebastian intends as “a personal depiction” of the same. It has a transitional cello prelude that develop from the previous track with a lone ambient majesty, inviting you to slip inside not just the sound but the spaces between, let the cadences tower above you. “Soul I (Avow)” descends further into the downtempo and the atmospheric, the cello theme beginning to mirror in lambent, percussive piano, each note captured in the reality of wood and wire and the harmonies extending out. “Soul II (Elan)” swerves into a delay-swathed waltz, comes over all Sixties minimalist, bipping with a mischievous merriment with strings way underneath in counterpoint; and placing Sebastian’s compositional alongside the current works of Adam Stafford and Bruno Bavota – each heading in this direction simultaneously from their respective disciplines. For me it brings to mind the majesty of The Irresistible Force mix of Coldcut’s “Autumn Leaves”; which, high praise.
The very heart of the “Soul” matter is the third part, “III (Ylem)” – ylem being the basic, primordial matter of the universe – an enveloping and gossamer pizzicato, the notes bouncing back off themselves in reflection, a delicate, smoother cello response sliding the track on, with an interjecting microtonal slide and a wooden, mechanoid beat. This third part seems somehow more connected to the everyday world, a quality lent by the express, rather than implied, rhythm; perhaps, psychoanalytically, the ego of the suite. There’s a video for this, down at the end there, so you can be hearing what I’m saying.
“Never Learned”, Sebastian reveals – and there’s a regret, even a bitterness to that title, sonically bounces between the positivity of hope and the inevitable acceptance of our limitations, reflecting on “the human character and our failure to learn from our mistakes”; which insoluble quality it laments in a slow drip of piano notes, contrasting and deepening cello lines, a lacrimosa for our inherent flaws; from which, albeit rather handsome, vale of tears we are returned to serenity in “Liv”, the opening “Agos” reversed and the circle of the record closed. Again, there’s that rarefied, brittle post-rock quality, that defining chiming note a beacon; as with “Agos” it has an ethereal heavenliness, a freeing from earthy woes. It abides and presides in a more eternal sphere, safe from all this.
Save Me Not is very pretty, often ethereal, has very clean and seductive lines; it also wordlessly illustrates some of the things which have led to Sebastian creating this magical retreat, this little euphoric bolthole, away from the wear and tear and entropy of the world right now, the world always. He has the talent to achieve such a thing; and in this record he’s opened a portal through which he’s inviting us to slip.
Sebastian Plano’s Save Me Not will be released by Decca/Mercury KX digitally, on CD and on vinyl on July 2nd; you can order your copy direct from the label here, or visit your neighbourhood record emporium.