A couple weeks ago a very good friend of mine told me about an album that he had purchased on a whim. It was a re-release of the debut album of a semi-obscure minimal composer by the name of Lubomyr Melnyk, and he mentioned it to me because he thought it sounded like something I would enjoy. After going to the label website and listening to only a short soundclip, I ordered the release, and since it's been in my position it has been making near-daily (and sometimes more) spins in my CD player.
After hearing it for the first time, I was excitedly explaining it to my wife when I said, "it sounds like music that I wish someone had created, but I hadn't yet heard." While that statement may seem a bit hyperbolic (because there are certain references to his work, musically), it's true for the most part. Honestly, you have never heard anyone play the piano quite like Lubomyr Melnyk. He invented a style that he calls "continuous music," and it relies on deft, super-fast two-handed playing that at times sounds like the work of two people or more. Melnyk has actually set two world records for piano playing, with an astounding sustained rate of 19.5 notes per second (per hand, simultaneously!) and an unbelievable 93,650 notes in a single hour, averaging thirteen notes per hand per second for sixty minutes.
The speed records themselves are sort of an odd side note, but they do provide a bit of a background to his actual playing technique, which seems a bit frantic and even dizzying on first listen. As mentioned above, KMH is his debut album, and was originally released in 1978, but has fortunately now been reissued by the up-and-coming Austin, Texas label Unseen Worlds with nice packaging and remastering. A single, fifty minute piece, KMH has been split into five tracks here for easier access, but honestly this is the sort of thing you'll want to let play over and over again in its entirety.
It's hard to pick out favorite spots in the undulating piece, but one of only many places that melts me every time arrives about sixteen minutes in, when an almost water-like lyrical section gives way to lower-register ascending melodies that are in turn accented by higher and quieter cascades. The middle section of the piece is almost unrelenting, with places that are near-dissonant, while other moments are achingly melodic. About forty minutes in, it reaches an absolute fever-pitch, with a truly mind-bending passage that sounds far too lush to be the work of one person.
Even though it went unheard by most for a very long time, I can honestly say that KMH is one of the more affecting pieces of minimal (if you want to call it that) music that I've ever heard. It has things in common with everyone from Steve Reich to Terry Riley and Charlemagne Palestine, and stands up next to any of them in terms of quality. It's the kind of seriously stunning music that's suitable for either detailed thinking or flat-out meditation. I'm just happy that it has been re-released to the world and I can't recommend it enough.