Petits Artéfacts is the debut solo album from Eighth Blackbird founding cellist and Co-Artistic Director Nick Photinos.
The album brings together never-before-recorded works from some of the most acclaimed names in new music — David Lang, Andrew Norman, Bryce Dessner, David T. Little — but also a newer generation of groundbreaking composers like Angélica Negrón, Florent Ghys, Molly Joyce, and Pascal Le Boeuf, who are quickly gaining notoriety as well. The music ranges from quirky and hilarious to profound and ethereal, and the pieces create worlds and context far outweighing their length. The music is enlightened with the help of Photinos’s favorite collaborators, pianist Vicki Ray and percussionist Doug Perkins. Perkins also serves as the album's producer, with Todd Reynolds and Pascal Le Boeuf as co-producers.
The idea for the album began to take shape when Photinos premiered a work by bassist Florent Ghys at the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival called Petits Artéfacts for cello, electronics and video. Florent’s piece explored a breadth of musical styles in a single multi-movement piece, with a mixture of play (in the movement "Game"), spoken word (in "Information"), electronic manipulation of sound ("Cuisine"), purely acoustic sound and emotional depth ("Factory"), playing against highly processed sound ("Family"), and layering of sound ("Flower"). Ghys's piece brought to mind all the other short yet powerful pieces Photinos had performed over the years, written by some of the most compelling creators in new music but never before recorded. The idea to create a collection of these special small, man-made objects — these “petits artéfacts”— was born.
Photinos hand-picked the pieces on Petits Artéfacts for the personal connection he has felt with them, and their creators, musically and emotionally.
"I identify with these pieces, and with the composers who wrote them. The composers span a generation but we all have a shared sense of musical upbringing, loving and letting in Classical music but also the many musical influences we grew up with — such as pop, jazz, rock, and electronica," explains Photinos.
"These are all pieces I love playing and love listening to, and I wanted this to be an album that doesn't just sit on a shelf but actually gets put on in a car, that someone can jam out to. These pieces share some of the hallmarks of pop without being pop: short length, 'hooks,' and a strong rhythmic drive. But they also explore the depth and breadth of these composers and what the cello can do, what kind of voices it can have in the 21st century."
Many of the pieces on the album feature the artifacting of the sound of the cello, which explores the concept of an artifact also being a computer glitch, whether aural or visual. This is most notable in Ghys’s piece "Cuisine", which breaks up the sound of the cello into a bubbling, boiling texture. It is also featured through use of delay as an artifacting of sound, which is prominent in David T. Little's piece "and the sky was still there". This definition shaped the album art as well, adapted from video Ghys created for his piece "Flowers"; the dandelion image is natural, but visual artifacting effects make it appear between two states, turning it into a man-made, manipulated object. Even the font is visually artifacted — a glitch in the computer program used to design the album art automatically eliminated the horizontal beam from capital A’s.
"I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to interpret and explore the music and ideas on Petits Artéfacts, and say something first about these special pieces since they are all debut recordings," continues Photinos. "However it would make me incredibly happy if this recording gave other cellists the opportunity learn about this music and start playing it themselves, expressing their own unique interpretations and connections."