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Pinô by Otto A Totland (Review)

A collection of poignant solo piano pieces that’s perfect for looking at faded photographs and thumbing through dusty old books.
Pinô by Otto Totland

As one-half of Norwegian dark ambient duo Deaf Center, Otto Totland’s piano has often served as the sole source of light and peace in Deaf Center’s ominous, harrowing soundscapes. (Listen to “The Day I Would Never Have” or “Hunted Twice” from 2011’s masterful Owl Splinters for prime examples of this.) However, the dark clouds of synths and cellos are but a distant memory on Pinô (Totland’s first solo full-length), exposing his piano compositions in all of their fragility.

Modern classical composers like Max Richter, Jóhann Jóhannsson, and Ólafur Arnalds will understandably be thrown around as points of comparison. However, I’m reminded more of the handful of solo piano albums that Over The Rhine’s Linford Detweiler has released over the years. Like Detweiler’s albums, Pinô is an intimate, stripped down release that is evocative, not just because of its lovely compositions, but also because of how they’ve been captured.

We hear everything on this album, and not just the music proper. We hear the press of Totland’s fingers on the piano keys, the piano’s parts brushing and sliding past eachother, Totland’s intake of breath, and even sounds from beyond the studio walls (e.g., passing traffic, birds, the weather).

Of course, Totland’s music itself is lovely enough, albeit abrupt and concise — only two tracks cross the three-minute mark. But there’s a purity in compositions so short and fleeting, an immediacy that makes songs like “Open” and “Solêr” far more poignant than if they ran longer or featured more elaborate arrangements. The album is largely a melancholy affair, but more playful pieces (e.g., the title track, “Jonas”) serve to lighten the mood, and more freeform pieces (e.g., “Aquet,” “Flomé”) keep it from becoming too structured or formalist, though with no less emotional effect.

Pinô is music for nostalgia and rumination, for looking at faded photographs, thumbing through dusty old books, and watching old home movies. But those sounds behind the music, those stray bits of audio ephemera picked up by the microphone… because of them, listening to Pinô feels like peering into a whole other world, one where those memories preserved in old photographs and home movies might still be alive and well.

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