Patterns is Malcolm Galloway’s sixth solo classical/minimalist album, and whilst not ‘prog’ in the way most of us might use the word, it is an intriguing, deep and contemplative instrumental musical collection which is definitely ‘progressive’ and rather delightful in both its compositional simplicity and yet its complexity as well.
Many people will know Malcolm for his more prog/alt rock-orientated band Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate (HOGIA), along with Mark Gatland and Kathryn Thomas. Their most recent release, The Confidence Trick, remains one of my musical highlights of this year. Now whilst it doesn’t preclude you enjoying Malcolm’s contemporary classical and minimalist releases as well, it is also true that Patterns is very much a different ‘kettle of fish’. However, for those who have enjoyed instrumental passages in the HOGIA albums – especially the linking, transitional pieces – and maybe would like to have seen these melodic fragments developed and extended into longer, more slowly evolving and emerging repeated patterns – then Patterns will definitely be worthy of further exploration.
The album is a cross between one of new material (three tracks adding up to just over 30-minutes) and a retrospective look at eight of Malcolm’s favourite tracks from previous releases, most of which have not previously been on Bandcamp. With a running time of almost two-and-a-half hours – it is certainly value for money!
Most of the pieces are minimalist in style, with simple repetitive patterns and phrases which are allowed to develop and evolve into more complex, emergent patterns and iterations. Composed on computer, using audio recording and musical production software – the compositions are inspired by pioneers of the minimalist genre, such as Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley and even Michael Nyman. Although individual patterns may repeat, they are often juxtaposed with other repeating patterns of different length, so that although the sound may appear repetitive, very few bars are identical. However, several tracks are also more atonal and orchestral in nature, where gentle string motifs are allowed to hang and gently change to great effect.
“I used to be a doctor (specifically a neuropathologist) and medical school teacher,” says Malcolm. “During my medical training, I spent a year doing a degree in developmental biology and neuroscience. I was very interested in how something as complex as the brain can develop, given our limited number of genes. As in other areas of nature, the interaction of simple chemical gradients, and processes involving iterative feedback can produce remarkable complexity of form and function. These patterns in nature are an inspiration to me and led to the title of this collection.”
As many of you might know, Malcolm suffers from a genetic collagen disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome – which affects his mobility and ability to play some instruments for extended periods of time. Composing music directly onto a laptop (with keyboard and mouse) whilst spending time lying down is of great help to him, and by using sample-based and synthesised sounds, with headphones to hear the patterns in stereo space, he plays his computer very much like an instrument, to great effect.
“A technique I quite often use is one that to me resembles a doily. I have a repeated pattern, and then use a different length of repeating pattern with every third note cut out, for example. When these are combined, different patterns emerge. Sometimes these techniques are the dominant structural component of the piece, whilst in others it is just one technique used to build the piece. I don’t use these techniques on the more floaty, atonal pieces.”
The opening track Kites and Darts is one of the newer compositions, and is one of my favourites. With initial hints of the instrumental Perky Pat from the latest HOGIA release, Malcolm uses repeated and evolving piano and keyboard patterns mixed with percussive and bass sounds to create a bright, up-tempo piece that only shifts to a slower pace towards the end with the introduction of orchestral strings. Named after a type of Penrose tiling, Malcolm explains that such tiling appears superficially to be symmetrical, but on closer inspection they are endlessly varying, which was the idea he was exploring on this composition.
Pattern Jugglers, named after an aquatic life form feature in sci-fi author Alastair Reynolds’ fictional Revelation Space Universe, was originally released on the 2019 album Transitions – and the track is dominated by a hypnotic, percussive rhythm that gradually transitions into a busier and more complex structure, which is almost African-sounding.
Oblong is a more extended composition, originally on the 2015 release Malcolm Galloway – Minimalist, and uses soaring synthesised strings behind the repeated electronica and percussive theme. It appears to be hypnotically repetitive, but imperceptibly changes in intensity and structure as it progresses, with piano gradually coming more to the fore. A good example of the classical minimalist style.
Automatum A is the second previously unreleased track and it has a more urgent, pulsating character with keyboards, percussion and strings all taking the lead alternatively throughout its length – giving it a freshness through to its undulating piano-led conclusion.
Malcolm says that Chemistry was his attempt to musically reflect the interaction of particles in a chemical reaction, and you can imagine the reactant molecules continually bouncing off each other as the activation energy of the reaction is steadily reached by more and more of them. Originally released on the 2015 Dancing About Architecture album, the percussive nature of the piece is very immersive and there is a nice change in feel and pace after halfway with flute sounds joining in, before the tempo picks up again.
Slow, from the Transitions album, is a complete change of style. More atonal than minimalist, the track is more gentle, contemplative and dreamily haunting with orchestral strings creating a melancholic and unsettling tension, almost akin to a Górecki symphony. Very cinematic in nature.
Jewel Fish, from the album Malcolm Galloway – Minimalist is music to accompany a trip to an aquarium, according to Malcolm, which might explain its similar feel to the earlier Pattern Juggler track, although perhaps more insistent and tauter at times, with stabs of piano within the ostinato rhythm patterns.
Spiral is fairly hardcore minimalist, according to Malcolm, with over 35-minutes of very gradually evolving patterns around a repeated rising marimba. Originally from the Dancing About Architecture album, it is quite a marathon, and the mesmerising, repetitive structure is both engaging and yet soporific as well. Quite Japanese in character to my ears, the changes are very gradual, but still there as you climb this dauntingly high, spiral staircase of musical sounds.
By contrast, the more contemplative, atonal Shelter, from 2016’s Still Life album, provides a short atmospheric and off-kilter interlude, where subtle shifts in chords, floating strings and the occasional stabs of piano replace the dense rhythms of the previous track. This is continued with the newly released Lighthouse, with undulating strings over a more soothing soundscape create a calming, wistful piece of contemporary classical music, and one that actually could have been extended further for my liking.
The collection ends with Wasp-76b, from the 2021 EP of the same name. Named after an exoplanet, the piece seems to bring most of the sounds, rhythms and flow of the previous compositions together. There is almost a jazzy edge at times, with synths, bass and percussion combining and gyrating – whilst maintaining its central theme throughout.
Patterns is a very strong and welcome showcase for Malcolm’s classical/minimalist work. There is a range of light and shade exhibited in the music and it has surprising warmth at times given its electronic origins. The pulsating, percussive, rhythmic patterns, repeated and evolving melodies, create a powerful ambient synergy, with all these elements dovetailing together seamlessly, making it an album to absorb, ponder and enjoy – if you allow yourself to let the music take you on each musical journey. It won’t be for everyone, as Malcolm acknowledges himself, and the extended, repetitive pieces might be challenging for more traditional prog rock fans used to a myriad of time signatures and rapidly changing themes and melodies. However, there is not too much distance between them and the earlier works of the likes of Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno or even Mike Oldfield on occasion, to create a progressive context for the compositions. Malcolm has collated a fine collection of his solo classical and minimalist works for listeners to dip in and out of, rather than need to listen to it all in one sitting – very much the proverbial, musical chocolate box, in effect. Worth taking a step outside your comfort zone to exploring further, for sure – if the accompanying video clips whet your appetite.
01. Kites and Darts (13:44)
02. Pattern Jugglers (7:40)
03. Oblong (20:45)
04. Automatum A (13:41)
05. Chemistry (15:55)
06. Slow (6:17)
07. Jewel Fish (12:00)
08. Spiral (35:46)
09. Shelter (3:45)
10. Lighthouse (3:26)
11. Wasp-76b (14:49)
Total Time – 147:48
Malcolm Galloway – All Instruments
Record Label: Independent (Digital)
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 12th August 2022