Kelly Moran is a new signing to legendary electronic music label Warp Records. The young New York based pianist released her full length album Ultraviolet at the tail end of last year, to critical acclaim. The album showcases her immense talents playing prepared piano, a technique originally pioneered by composer John Cage. In this practice, Moran bolts different size screws into the strings of a grand piano in order to naturally manipulate the pitch of the keys. Kelly Moran has collaborated with the likes of Kayo Dot and label-mate Oneohtrix Point Never, who lends additional production on Ultraviolet.
Opening at Band On the Wall tonight is electronic musician Kayla Painter, providing an audio-visual set. Opening with spacey ambient synths and planetary imagery, she gradually brings in a slow, pounding dub techno beat. What promises to be a quiet evening is quashed by loud beats and rumbling low end bass. Her second lengthy composition finds even darker territory, with ominous low-frequency tones and manipulated, glitchy, skittering beats reminiscent of Burial. She follows this with a more playful tone, with a pulsing bass groove weaving in and out of clicky, hyperactive drum samples. This gently subsides into a stirring ambient piece, adding in violin samples and birdsong. Her set concludes with a wonderful tribute to musique concrete pioneer and BBC Radiophonic Workshop artist Delia Derbyshire, creating a unique piece of music consisting from samples of her work. Kayla Painter is a talented sound crafter, marrying disjointed sounds into collage-esque compositions.
As silence and darkness falls upon the seated Band on The Wall stage area, Kelly Moran approaches the prepared grand piano to play her new album Ultraviolet in full. Throughout the set she is backed by a phenomenal visual display projected onto her and the piano, with each song having a unique visual theme; from images of fields and rivers, to multicolour refracted light displays, enhancing the atmosphere of her music. Opening with ‘Autowave’, Moran strikes the piano with only one hand. Her synchronised electronics are loud and bassy, sometimes swelling and tactically overwhelming the natural sound of the piano. In particular her performance of ‘Helix’ is stunning and moving. Moran loses herself in the music, playing frantic and fractured staccato arpeggios at blistering speed. She performs with such gusto and attack that she becomes visibly exhausted towards the end of her set, resting her head on the piano to draw some breath. Her performance of ‘Halogen’ is one of her rawest and most stripped back pieces, letting the piano keys do the talking, with the prepared piano evoking a sound akin to a child’s music box. After a rousing applause, Moran finishes her set with a new song, ‘Helix 2’, stripping away the visuals and playing her heart out.
Throughout tonight’s performance, Kelly Moran becomes one with the piano, almost as if she is performing in a hypnotic trance. Not only is her technique and technical approach to playing piano awe-inspiring, but her compositions display an array of moods, from beautiful, to playful, to haunting and manic. Her ability to twist rhythm and form in her compositions fits perfectly into the glitchy electronics of Warp Records label mates such as Aphex Twin, Autechre and Oneohtrix Point Never. Kelly Moran is a breath of fresh air, with an approach to piano playing that could appeal equally to classical purists and ravers. Her performance tonight leaves the Manchester crowd stunned.
Words by Chris “Frenchie” French . Photos by Emily Smith.