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Gymnop​é​die No. 1

by Joseph Shabason

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Inspired by Erik Hall’s recent update of the Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, we’ve invited other artists in our extended label family to cover the classical compositions that inform their respective musical journeys, culminating in a series entitled Composure: Classical Reworks for Modern Relief. Aimed at providing mental and spiritual respite in our uncertain era, the series is appropriately commenced by Joseph Shabason’s take on Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie No. 1.”

"When Satie premiered this piece for the first time, he gathered all of Paris' music critics and musicians into a theater, and had a big cocktail party with a piano player playing background music.” Shabason explains, “Off to the side there was a concert space with a stage, piano, and chairs. After the party everyone filed into the concert space and found their seats. Satie got on stage and told everyone that the background music they just heard over drinks was his new material, ‘thank you and have a good night.’" Motivated by this story of an innovator breaking format, Shabason's version of the piece intends to capture the opium infused feeling of Paris in the late 1800s, at a cocktail party where voices and conversations drift in and out, ignoring the music that would later prove immortal, let alone spur an entirely new way of listening and composing music in the century to come. Shabason elaborates, invoking the ego dilemma of all working musicians, "I wanted to capture the loneliness of playing something that's musically meaningful while people just talk over what you're doing and what you've created. It's something that every gigging musician has experienced, and it's fucking awful...but there is also a kind of warm loneliness to it. You know that no one cares about your music, and in that knowledge you are left with the feeling of doing something just for yourself…which further solidifies your resolve and investment in what you’re doing."

Collaborating with string player Drew Jurecka, Shabason uses woozy tape-manipulated sax, piano, and string swells to create an enveloping world that's both forward-facing, and faithful to its source material. Shabason warps the piece into a mildly hallucinatory depiction of isolation in a crowded space, with hazy synth melodies that urge us to pay the tab and head home, though not-so-deep-down we know there’s not a cozier space on Earth than our table for one. In this period of social distancing it invokes a paradoxical, yet relatable, sentiment: a longing for the day when the crowds reassemble, so we can find our own fond loneliness amidst them once again.


released May 26, 2020


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Joseph Shabason Toronto, Ontario

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