Review: Benjamin Finger – Ghost Figures

a1416271801_16The piano has long been neglected. Damp has started to soften the hammers and seep into the wood, tugging the strings gently away from perfect tuning. Each depressed key is a pronouncement of weather erosion and absent care, filtering each note through layers of the past as it pushes outward into the present. With the aid of the album’s numerous field recordings, I imagine this piano to be sunken into the mud of a swamp, or stooped beneath the trickle of an old water mill, or crookedly mounting a tree trunk in a forest thick with intersecting branches and birdsong. The cello of Elling Finnanger Snøfugl generates harmonies that run along the piano like deep surface cracks, while the creaks of old wood sound like the yawns of long-slumbering, sedentary material. Every sound that emanates from the instrument is scarred by dormancy and abandonment.

As a performer, Benjamin Finger is both an empathetic voice and a force of rejuvenation. He dwells upon sustained minor chords so that imperfection oozes to the surface, the harmonies rippling as the pitch falters, and melodies slowed as though pressing through the resistance of stiff joints and withered muscle fibre. Flourishes of melody urge the instrument into a state of awakening: the spirals of broken harmony on “Witness Hitch”, the rainfall descent on “Shadow Figures”, the optimistic turns of phrase on “Moment Arises” (which are threaded, in a rather sombre juxtaposition, through the yelps and thumps of a recorded carnival). His playing is spacious, with notes permitted to fade to silence before the melody resumes, with the exact shape and descent of each pitch informing the construction of the note that follows. With the grace and sensitivity of someone whose every action is driven by the scrutiny of listening, Benjamin Finger brings the instrument back to life.