John Palmer (electronics), Jane Chapman, Renate Bratschke (harpsichord), Pete Lockett (world percussion), Piet Van Bockstal (oboe), Neil Heyde (cello), Matthias Cordes (violin)

Listen & Purchase CD or downloads
Includes: BetweenEncounterepitaphhinayana
label: Sargasso
SCD 28038

John Palmer returns with four new thought-provoking compositions featuring Pete Lockett, Jane Chapman, Piet Van Bockstal, Neil Heyde, Matthias Cordes and Renate Bratschke. As Palmer states: “The music on this album reflects a search for deeper shades of meaning through the exploration of instrumental virtuosity not as a routine display of technical skills and dazzling-show-off dexterity – which I have always regarded as boring and suspicious – but as a key to a deeper level of dialectic expressivity”. Encounter is a dialogue between cultures and traditions. Jane Chapman’s harpsichord meets Pete Lockett’s world percussion in a sensual interplay of extreme virtuosity. The two are unified by the electronics which allow both opposite forces to melt into each other. In sharp contrast, Hinayana is a meditative oboe solo which nevertheless pushes the instrument’s possibilities to the extreme thanks to Piet Van Bockstal’s enormous skill. Epitaph is probably the most emotionally charged piece of the album, having been written after the suicide of one of the composer’s closest friends. Here the cello, masterfully played by Neil Heyde, and electronics blend in a maelstrom of often unbearably terrifying sound. The finalè Between takes the listener to a higher spiritual plane where Matthias Cordes’ violin and Renate Bratschke’s harpsichord evoke an imaginary space between two states of being. As with previous works, Palmer achieves his goals by extending the playing techniques of the instrumentalists and by careful interaction with the electronics, blurring the boundaries of where the instrument ends and where the electronics begin. All this never distracts from the powerful emotional ‘Encounters’ that are conjured by the music, leaving the listener with a sense of inner-journey and self-discovery.


John Palmer: electronics – Jane Chapman, Renate Bratschke: harpsichord – Pete Lockett: world percussion – Piet Van Bockstal: oboe – Neil Heyde: cello – Matthias Cordes: violin
Recorded and produced by John Palmer at Vision Studio, London – Logos Foundation, Ghent, Belgium – Radio Bremen, Germany.


1. encounter (19:12)
for harpsichord, world percussion and electronics

2. hinayana (11:28)
for solo oboe

3. epitaph (9:49)
for cello and electronics

4. between (11:05)
for violin and harpsichord


John Palmer’s music reflects an amazing diplomacy of time, as in old and new, and space, as in east and west. He puts the seemingly incompatible happily together as in, for example, the way he brings a harpsichord into a world with electronic sounds and Middle Eastern drumming. His range includes melodic woodwind writing, cello and electronics combined, and violin and harpsichord duo; and his moods change from reflective to dramatic to playful. And whatever he does, he does with talent, refinement, and originality.

CDe Music, New York, Electronic Music Foundation

I am ever more amazed at the development of John Palmer’s writing… The pieces are very strong and the command of sound – inner manipulation of acoustic structure – gets ever more magical! It is very powerful music that will demand as intense listening as it rewards with extreme emotional experience… Very admirable!

Jonathan Harvey, 2000

This album culls four works from the late-’90s by British composer John Palmer. The title piece is the longest (19 minutes) and the strangest composition here. Not that it goes further than the others in extended techniques, atonality, or any other post-modern avant-garde idiom. Simply, it throws together a harpsichord (Jane Chapman) and “world percussion” (mostly tablas and gongs, all performed by Pete Lockett. The culture clash is self-explanatory. A tonal instrument from the West “encounters” a percussive instrument from the East. The only point these two have in common is the attack (which can be described as “percussive” in both cases). Acting as mediator is a tape part, mostly made of manipulated sitar samples. The piece is intriguing, disconcerting, but not completely convincing — both instruments remain camped in traditional roles. And the way Palmer splashes the tablas solo sections all over the stereo spectrum can be downright dizzying, especially when listened to with headphones.

On the other hand “Epitaph,” for cello and tape, is a brilliant piece. Its rich emotional range and aggressive charge come from the composer’s feelings over the suicide of a friend. The electroacoustic part derives from female voice, train and cello sounds. Cellist Neil Heyde puts a lot of soul in his performance, making the piece stand out as the highlight of this CD. The closer “Between” offers an interesting study of the similarities between harpsichord and violin, especially when both are played pizzicato.

François Couture, All-Music Guide, www.allmusic.com

Palmer was born somewhere, lived elsewhere and was academically trained… It says here. But his reticence isn’t paralleled by the music, which is directly and often painfully expressive. ‘Encounter’ pits Western harpsichord (Jane Chapman) against Eastern percussion, notably tabla (Pete Lockett), fusing them through an electronic part extravagant in its effects and soundstaging. ‘Hinayana’ is for Piet Van Bockstal’s solo oboe, with florid ornamentation, pitchbending and multiphonics. But in ‘Epitaph’ for cello and tape, dedicated to a friend who committed suicide by jumping in front of a train, it was a mistake to draw the tape part so obviously from train noises, as well as female voice and cello. A raw and exciting disc.

Andy Hamilton, The Wire, January 2002

Abile a mettere nello stesso ambiente strumenti della tradizione (clavicembalo, violino, cello, oboe) e suoni sintetici, secondo un connubio che gli consente di passare con noncuranza da sensazioni acustiche delicate e introspettive a tensioni nevrotiche di grande durezza.

“Able to join in the same environment traditional instruments (harpsichord, violin, cello, oboe) and synthetic sounds, according to a marriage that allows him [Palmer] to shift with indifference from delicate and introspective acoustic sensations to neurotic tension of great strength.

‘Blow Up’ issue no. 52, Piercarlo Poggio, September 2002