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Sebastian Plano (Picture by May Xiong)

Have you ever been moved by the yearning blends of classical motifs with electronic atmospheres composed by the likes of Max Richter, Ólafur Arnalds, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Nils Frahm, and Peter Broderick? Does the thought of what their aesthetic might sound like if relocated to warmer climes and infused with the passion and counterpoint of the tango sound intriguing? If so, then you need to listen to Sebastian Plano’s debut album.

The Arrhythmical Parts of Heart was released last year with little fanfare, but is an album that should not be allowed to slip quietly by. Across seven short tracks Plano, a young San Francisco-based composer and multi-instrumentalist who plays everything on the album himself, weaves together an array of sounds including cello, keyboards, bandoneón, wordless vocals, and electronic effects and percussion into a compelling and emotive suite of compositions charged with tantalizing twists and turns.

Although the music is instrumental, there is a strong sense of storytelling, both within each track and across the album as a whole. Sounds and instruments are added and dropped, tempos are raised and lowered, sudden subtle changes of mood generate forward motion, leading us into new episodes and interludes. The tone is by turn insistently yearning, wistfully pretty, gently melancholy, and urgently rhythmic. The sequence of ‘In Between Worlds’ and ‘Emotions (Part III)’ is a good example. The yearning cello of the all-too-brief (but crushingly gorgeous) ‘In Between Worlds’ begins in a meditative vein that becomes more urgent and dramatic as the track nears its end. The track finishes on a provisional, questioning note, without full resolution, leaning us forwards into ‘Emotions (Part III)’. The transition catapults us from yearning strings into a passage of faintly exotic percussion, which in turn opens into a restrained and plaintive electronic keyboard motif before drawing us back into the cello’s ardently ascending voice. At each stage we are drawn onward, ears open for what comes next, needing more to complete the tale. The album is full of such miniature dramas, filled with life and beauty. It will reward the time you spend with it.

Sebastian Plano kindly agreed to talk to us about his music, the composers that have influenced him, and his future plans. You can stream The Arrhythmical Parts of Heart below (courtesy of Bandcamp) as you read, and at the end of the interview below you can view footage from a recent concert that includes two new tracks from a forthcoming album.

Since your name will be new to most people, tell us a little about where you are from and how you came to be making music.

I was born in Argentina, in a family of musicians. More specifically, we are a string quartet; 2 violins, 1 viola, and me on the cello. Don’t ask me how, but it happened. I have always been surrounded by music, which led myself to realize, at age 13, my love for it.

You are a multi-instrumentalist – do you see yourself primarily as a cellist? What other instruments do you play?

Yes, I do. My primary instrument is the cello.Regarding the instruments I play, I choose not to put any limitations on myself. If I have to record a line with an instrument that is new to me I go for it and look for a way to make it sound the way I want. I look to have full control of what I want to express. The instruments I play right now are cello, piano, bandoneón, percussion, and vocals, plus a 1-dollar, crappy-looking violin that rests in my closet…

Your debut album, The Arrhythmical Part of Hearts, uses electronic sounds alongside classical instruments. Is that an extension of the same impulse, using whatever will give you control over what you want to express? Are the electronic elements just another instrument?

I find no division whatsoever between using acoustic or electronic instruments. Again, it all serves the purpose of expressing something. It was for my 8th birthday that I told my dad I wanted a cassette of the album Themes by Vangelis, so electronic music has been always present in my life, even during the time of my classical training.

That reminds me of reading Max Richter talking about listening to Kraftwerk growing up, and how that affected his musical formation. The way that you combine classical and electronic motifs brings to mind Richter’s work, and also Ólafur Arnalds. Do you think those are good comparisons to your music? What composers and musicians have influenced or inspired you?

Yes, I can definitively say that my music goes along with the aesthetics of Max Richter or Ólafur Arnalds. Truthfully every composer I have ever heard has inspired me in one way or another. I have been surrounded by classical music since I was born, studying at conservatories led to a vast discovery of composers from whom I learned a lot. I highly admire Arvo Pärt for the energy he creates in his music. My debut album, The Arrhythmical Part of Hearts opens with “Homage to a Soul,” which is dedicated to him. As a native of Argentina, I have a strong influence from tango music, specially from the composer Astor Piazzolla. Radiohead and Sigur Rós definitively have an influence on me. I also listen to a lot of Jazz, specially Bill Evans, Miles Davis and the Swedish jazz piano trio Esbjörn Svensson Trio.

I was struck when I first listened to your album that so many of those working in this vein are from the Nordic countries (many of the names you just mentioned are from that region) – seeing that you were from Argentina was a surprise. I also think your album very much has its own character when compared with Richter or Arnalds. Were you consciously looking to bring a new element to this style of music? What has the Argentinian context brought to the sound?

Definitively. I still find it somewhat hard to classify my music into a specific genre or style. Being honest I am not very concerned about it, in the end what it sounds is what I have to say. When I lived in Argentina I was always surrounded with tango and folk music, this inevitably gives a trend to my music that is very present.

The title of the album suggests an emphasis on feeling, and the album is emotionally rich. You have referred several times to wanting to express something in the music – does the music usually start for you with a feeling that is to be expressed, or with an idea, or do musical motifs come first? What were the central things you wanted to express on this album?

It happens both ways. An idea could serve as the primary inspiration, at the same time a melodic line or a motif could be enough of a brainstorm to build up an entire concept. Several songs on this album have been gradually developing throughout the last few years, I had no rush whatsoever to release anything. There has been a lot going on during these past years for me and I am sure the record reflects that in a way; the different feelings and emotions I went through.

What comes next after the album?

Oh, there is so much new music coming up next. I will be releasing two new records soon (no release dates yet). One is going to be a new full-length album, with me being the only performer on all instruments, in all tracks. The second title, for which I am writing the music right now, will be an EP with cellist Jeffrey Zeigler from Kronos Quartet.

We’ll look forward to hearing those. Many thanks for talking to us.

You can follow Sebastian Plano via his Facebook page. The following videos offer a live preview of two tracks from Sebastian’s forthcoming second album.

David Smith currently lives in the Midwestern United States, where he teaches, writes, and enjoys a very wide range of music, with regard to which he claims no expertise whatsoever beyond that of a dedicated and appreciative listener.
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