Otto A. Totland: Pinô (Sonic Pieces)
Otto Totland is perhaps best known as one half of experimental outfit Deaf Center, having released two well-received albums on Type Records over the last several years. Pinô is quite different from those dark excursions. Without the menacing cello drones of his partner Erik Skovdin, Totland is free to focus on the piano as his primary instrument. Recorded at Nils Frahm’s studio, it has the same fragile quality of Frahm’s own Felt, where the guts and mechanics of the piano often come through via Totland’s extremely light touch and some amplification. Fans of Deaf Center might recall the delicate piano interlude of “Time Spent” on their last full-length album, and it’s a pretty good insight into what Totland is up to on his own here. It can be difficult to tell which pieces are improvisations versus compositions, but that is the strength of most of Pinô.
Many of these pieces feel effortless, like a dream that rolls in like fog and then just as swiftly fades. Fans of Nils Frahm’s solo music will no doubt find much to love. As a solo piano album, it contains few surprises, but occasionally something breaks the sound, like a random bird call during “Julie” (and is that Frahm rummaging around in the background? most likely an improvisation). I don’t think it’s particularly worthwhile to dive into specific pieces on Pinô as the album works best as a continuous suite of stark sketches, ideas, and polished compositions. That he shifts between more fully formed pieces and ones that are just barely there is a strength in its arc, covering a substantial amount of ground in just over 40 minutes with his axe of choice. Well worth a listen for fans of solo piano music or ambient crossover performers like Harold Budd or Dustin O’Halloran. Tragically beautiful.