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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

Few modern instrumentals capture me like "Bloodflow" does

Grandbrothers blur the boundary between classical and electronic worlds with this powerful, piano-driven production.

As much as I enjoy so many aspects of modern music from theoretical and production standpoints, it's rare for me to be continuously invested in a contemporary instrumental. This blog has made it evident just how much I focus on lyrics when it comes to analyzing and drawing conclusions on a track and the emotion it offers.

However, I realized that by being so lyric-heavy in my analysis, I have been missing out on a lot of the attributes which give a track such a profound character. Sure, I touch on various instruments and their roles, but rarely do I tie it all together as a proper instrumental would warrant.

After finishing yesterday's post on Adele's "My Little Love," and while I retained that piece's emotional affect in my head, I returned to that rare instrumental which has captured my musical conscience for the past few days: "Bloodflow," a 2017 release by half-Swiss, half-German electronic / piano duo Grandbrothers. Even though I have previously written about an instrumental for this blog, I shied away from writing about "Bloodflow" for multiple days before finally coming around to the idea this morning.

The second single from their sophomore album, Open, "Bloodflow" is built up from minimal ideas which gradually crescendo and set the stage a sweeping conclusion. The initial melodic cell is a single note (B-flat) repeated five times, a point from which the entire track begins to blossom. Somewhat interestingly, this first note is not the tonic, or root of the key, but rather the fifth degree, the dominant. What may in the very first bars feel like home quickly becomes a pole a certain distance away, but still feels related. This feeling of a degree of distance remains prominent throughout the track as it builds, as even when the home chord sounds, something gives off the impression that the listener isn't quite home.

Around the initial notes, two riffs — which in their alternation define the track — emerge. The first riff stays closer to the key center of E-flat, moving only a step away and back. The second, meanwhile, takes a slightly longer and farther journey, and it is this second riff which to me gives the greater feeling of distance and not quite being settled. The riffs are largely arpeggiated, giving "Bloodflow" a greater harmonic depth as it moves through the chords which correspond to each line.

One would expect such material, all from one instrument, to end up being repetitive over the course of six minutes, but that's where the other element of Grandbrothers' sound takes hold: the electronic side. Whereas jazz-trained Erol Sarp plays the piano, engineer and software designer Lukas Vogel mans the modules and software which combine acoustic and electronic elements to produce the duo's sound. Between programming lines for the piano to hammer out alongside Sarp, sampling and modifying the sound of those some lines, and adding further electronic elements — which on "Bloodflow" include percussion and synths — Vogel's work both augments and works in tandem with that of his partner's to create a full soundscape.

Thanks to the instrumental's sonic arc as well as its official video (directed by Hugo Jenkins), I find "Bloodflow" to be a profoundly compelling listen. In building from minimal origins, Grandbrothers keep the piece's initial idea at the forefront, adding and crescendoing in ways which serve that first cell. In maintaining that identity, the duo keep the piano in front of the sound, while still building an electronic atmosphere behind it. The result is a unique sonic profile for an act which keeps one foot in the classical and jazz piano world, while placing the other foot in and looking toward the continually growing and evolving land of electronic music and manipulation thereof. I really look forward to exploring the rest of Grandbrothers' growing catalog and hearing what further boundaries they will push.

Check out Grandbrothers on Bandcamp, where you can listen to and purchase "Bloodflow" along with their other works, including the album from which the track comes, Open, and their 2021 release, All the Unknown.


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