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Belle Chen Press Image A 3600x2400 photo credit Matthew Johnson 2
16.02.2024, Words by DMY Staff, Photos by Matthew Johnson

The 10 Best Modern Classical Tracks, according to Belle Chen

"Like looking through the other side of Alice’s looking glass"

London based Taiwanese-Australian pianist and composer Belle Chen returns with a brand new album 'Ravel In The Forest'.

Born from a need to find space and peace within nature - Belle set about to create an imaginative world the only way she knew how - through music. The album follows recent singles ’Three Birds’ and 'Passages of Time' - an ethereal introduction into Belle’s world, a richly cinematic exercise melding intricate piano passages to lure listeners into the colourful and whimsical world that Belle creates. 

She says: "This opening track was born out of an observation of a yellow Carabeen tree in a rainforest in Queensland. These trees live up to 800 years old, and before this ancient tree, I was in awe of the insignificance of humankind’s life span, and I began to wonder how this magnificent tree grew to witness shifts in environments as it grew from a seedling…." 

Listening through the album is like a journey: we're accompanied by birds, a chameleon, a dragonfly – the wonder of the natural world is imbued into this imaginary space. For although Belle has taken inspiration from her forays in the forest her distinctive music is not intended to be a straightforward representation. Taking cues from a breeze in the leaves, Chen fills her canvas with soft melodies and sympathetic synths. “I've kept things impressionistic – with space for the listener to fill in the narrative,” she explains, “the most important aspect of this record is the listener, and how his, her, or their own imagination enables them to find that wonderful, inquisitive forest from within.”

To mark the release of the album Belle has chosen her 10 favourite modern classical tracks.

1. Ryuichi Sakamoto - 'andata'

"The opening track of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s 2017 album ‘async’ is at the same time beautiful, profound, fragile, and uneasy. It is a track that is both personal yet worldly: the delicate and intimate piano timbre unfolds into an organ underwritten by washes of electronic textures and sounds reminiscent of city streets. When I first heard this piece, I became immediately drawn into Sakamoto’s world in ‘async’ - an album in its heart-felt pondering of humanity, death, and the fragility of society."

2. Kronos Quartet & Laurie Anderson - 'Riding Bicycles Through the Muddy Streets'

There is an eeriness to ‘Riding Bicycles Through the Muddy Streets.’ The interweaving and repetitive string lines ride with effort over the hypnotic electronics, and I could almost feel the effort and weight of the bicycle pedal through this piece. The album ‘Landfall’ was inspired by Anderson’s experience of Hurricane Sandy, and this piece was one of my favourites on the album."

3. Manu Delago - 'Parasol Peak'

"This tune was from an album created by an ensemble of 7 musicians on a mountaineering expedition in The Alps, where they created tunes at various altitudes on their journey. ‘Parasol Peak’ was created at 3,003m above sea level, and it is a fascinating intersection between folk, classical, and jazz. There is a rawness to the composition, something that is so natural and human, underpinned by a feeling of simultaneous openness, and joy, yet also a slight tinge of tiredness (possibly from climbing The Alps). A beautifully human track."

4. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Emile Mosseri - 'Moon In Your Eye'

"An ethereal piece that makes me feel like I’m surrounded by warm water. I love the textural layers that wash over in waves. It is a very soothing piece for me."

5. Jung Jaeil - '22.21'

"A beautifully scored piece that inspires me to spend time with myself. There is a lot of space in this piece (and across the entire ‘psalms’ album), where the tail of the choir leaves its colour hanging in the air. The harmonies are absolutely beautiful too."

6. Stephan Moccio - 'Le Jardin de Monsieur Monet'

A gorgeous piece on the felt piano that feels just right. I love how the charming melody balances with the elegant voicing across the hands. The vibe is also easy-going, and it is fantastically performed. One of my favourite solo felt piano pieces from the post-classical realm."

7. Koki Nakano - 'External Cephalic Version'

"A tasty piece full of a diversity of sonics able to be derived from the piano: from the percussive plucks, dampened strings, knocks on the wood, to scraps on the strings. An incredibly intense piece, expertly performed with incredibly precise articulation on the piano."

8. Caroline Shaw - 'Entr’acte'

"'Entr’acte’ is my favourite string quartet work written in the past five years. It is a beautiful piece of work, but at the same time slightly surreal and strange, like looking through the other side of Alice’s looking glass. When listening to this work, I find myself constantly surprised, and looking forward to where the piece would take me."

9. Mica Levi & Oliver Coates - 'Barok Main'

"I remember when I first heard ‘Barok Main,’ I put it on loop. There is something that is really deep-hitting with this tune - perhaps it is in the eeriness of the fragmented cello line, that sounded to me at the time like a desperate cry for help... perhaps it is the unsettledness of the electronics. There is something about this piece that is magical, grainy, out of this world, yet human."

10. Chilly Gonzales - 'Gogol'

"Chilly Gonzales is one of these artists whose personality and energy can be felt directly from his pieces. His album ‘Solo Piano’ is fantastic. It is so quirky, yet tastefully so. In ‘Gogol’, there is a Parisian and Satie-esque cheekiness and a strange sort of nostalgia. When listening to this piece, I’m transported to a cozy Parisian bar."

Watch Belle's live performance of 'Passages of Time' below:

Listen to the album on Spotify below:

Submit music to DMY here.

Read next: 10 Best Shoegaze Classics, according to Ride

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