One hundred years ago, Erik Satie coined the phrase furniture music. The French composer and pianist applied the term—Musique d’ameublement, more correctly translated as “furnishing music”—to short repetitive pieces meant to be heard as background music in specific rooms. No one had heard music presented this way before 1917, and thus Satie presaged both minimalism and Muzak.
In 2017, a present-day American piano artist has shaped her own style of furniture music. New York’s Vicky Chow says this about her new album: “A O R T A is named as such because it is a collection of pieces from my heart. I searched for music that resonated with me during desperate times, alone in a cramped apartment at 2 a.m. and wide awake, trying to find meaning.” Unlike those intentionally arch, distancing pieces Satie wrote a century ago, Chow’s performances of works by her contemporaries are indeed deeply intimate and lived-in. Perfect for our Instagrammable, “staying in is the new going out” age, wherein we build an ever-greater familiarity with our private interior living-spaces, A O R T A’s calm, spacious, piano-and-electronic tapestry only makes sense on a home stereo system, where it can burrow into the walls.
The album’s centrepiece is Jakub Ciupunski’s four-movement Morning Tale, its hypnotic figures enhanced by swooping electronic lines derived from the piano itself. Ending with a bright array of percussive prepared-piano notes, Chow and Ciupunski’s Morning Tale is the hopeful sound of a dawn you never thought would come.