About Richard J. Birkin
Composer Richard J. Birkin presents matterlightblooming, a bold and epic orchestral work recorded with the London Contemporary Orchestra (Radiohead, Actress, Micachu, Steve Reich), one of the world’s most sought-after orchestras. This is his first album since 2016’s critically-acclaimed Vigils (“A small miracle” – Drowned in Sound).
The album was conceived as a soundtrack to a story written by Birkin about technology, empathy, and where we go next. Recorded in London, Derbyshire and Leeds, Birkin delicately weaves synths, pianos and drums around the orchestra, creating something that feels melancholic yet optimistic, intimate yet epic, mysterious yet familiar.
The album’s title is taken (with kind permission) from George Saunders’ Man Booker winning novel Lincoln in the Bardo. The ‘matterlightblooming phenomenon’ is a phrase used to refer to the rush of energy and light that occurs when a soul departs the liminal space between life and death. Whenever someone moves on from their transitional state, the matterlightblooming phenomenon claims their body, creating a “bone-chilling firesound” as it whisks them away. Birkin was reading the book when he happened upon his own “firesound”, that can be heard in the distance on tracks such as ‘Light’ and ‘Blooming’.
“I was writing the music and thinking about transformation, other states of being, drastic change. A blooming of kaleidoscopic possibilities for humankind, in the face of what feels like a decline. There is also a thread of loss throughout the album, for what is left behind or what could have been.”
Between albums, Richard has been writing and recording at Abbey Road Studio 2 as part of the Abbey Road Masters team of media composers along with Michael Price (Erased Tapes) and Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch (Fatcat/130701) as well as and producing the piano prodigy Shane Thomas and writing the soundtrack for Jon McGregor’s Man-Booker nominated novel Reservoir 13. Since it’s 2016 release, tracks from Vigils have been used in The Young Pope starring Jude Law, and the Silvio Berlusconi biopic Loro.
Sync: Night Sun used in two episodes of The Young Pope (Sky Atlantic/Canal+ starring Jude Law) 2.3 million Spotify streams. Vigil I used as the theme tune to the BBC Radio 4 series The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor. Vigil V used in Silvio Berlusconi biopic Loro and gets 3.5 million Spotify streams.
“Instant-classic in feeling: an essential, beautiful, alive, thrilling record.” – Norman Records
“Like so many of the best things about Vigils itself, it’s this humbleness and muted brilliance that make it so satisfying.” – The Quietus
A Lullaby Hum For Tired Streets LP (2011, Triste Records, ITA)
Mixed and Mastered by (and featuring) Nils Frahm. Sync: ‘A Lullaby Hum’ licenced for Emporio Armani’s 2012 Autumn/Winter campaign.
Five albums of production music cCommissioned by Globe Creative (Universal) & Recorded at Abbey Road Studio 2 with the London Contemporary Orchestra. Also featuring Michael Price, Samuel Sim, Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch and Paul Saunderson.
Contemporary Cinematic (2017, Soundpocket/Universal). Syncs: BBC Horizon, The Sky at Night, NASA YouTube + more.
Edith (short film) 2017, Mint Productions Starring Peter Mullan and Michelle Fairley. Written by Ray Robinson (Electricity). Directed by Christian Cooke. Awards: Best Short (Norwich Film Festival, Enginuity Awards, Indieboom!)
Reservoir 13 (novel). A soundtrack for live readings of the 2017 Costa Novel Award Winner by Jon McGregor.
2 x CNN Great Big Story (commercial shorts)
Twinklebox (animated short)
Loetzinn (animated short)
Reviews for Vigils (Reveal Records)
THE ARTS DESK – “Enjoy Birkin’s ability to squeeze maximum impact from slender, shrewdly-chosen musical resources.The five piano-led Vigils are the most instantly appealing; that you can hear the piano and stool creaking during “Vigil II’ adds to its charm, and the use of strings in “Vigil III” is charming but never cheesy.”
IRISH TIMES – “It is the dreamers that make life truly interesting, and Vigils is full of dream-like music. Inspired by science journals, writers Haruki Murakami and Dalton Trumbo, and the elements enveloping his countryside studio, Birkin concocts a compelling series of mostly instrumental, minimalistic pieces. Vigils I/II/III/V/VI contain the essence of primary sonic moderators (Brian Eno, Johann Johannsson, Nils Frahm), while the likes of Moonbathing, Night Sun, and A History of Good Ghosts highlight Birkin’s own special skills at setting plaintive moods to music.” (Tony Clayton-Lea)
QUIETUS – “Like so many of the best things about Vigils itself, it’s this humbleness and muted brilliance that make so satisfying.”
ANTHEM REVIEW – 10/10 “The album also provoked one infuriating notion to form somewhere between the haunting wonders of ‘Night Sun’; that no matter the emphasis or nuances placed upon these words, they will never truly convey the brilliance and ghostly magic of ‘Vigils’, and so the review simple becomes this. Buy ‘Vigils’, play it again and again until every delicate note has soaked your soul, and then go thank Richard J. Birkin profusely for his gift.”
NATIVE MONSTER – 4/5 review “…a series of short, sharp trips through the musical stratosphere. And that is the real beauty of the record. Nothing is overlong. Everything ends just where it should and you feel something extra may have been added to elongate it. This is a very hard skill indeed. It sits very easily between a feeling of half-finished and a sense of dragging it out, and deserves recognition.”
COLLECTIVE ZINE – “…eleven wonderfully arranged, spectral melodies that float out of the speakers and haunt the room like wraiths.”
AURAL AGGRAVATION – “Time is but a construct measured in lived experience, and subtly, subliminally, by implication and by simply side-stepping stylistic trappings of past, present or imagined future, Richard J. Birkin captures all of this in a beautiful, poised and soothing collection of work.”
MECCALECCA (US) – recommendation “…underhyped treasure”
BEARDED MAGAZINE – review “Solo album Vigils digs more into the realms of sound art and in-depth composition rather than a songwriter style angle, and it’s quite frankly struck gold. Inventive and intricate guitar and piano work take turns to lead the way while groundbreakingly atmospheric strings shimmer over the arrangements and characterise the sound to transform the music into the sonic wonder that it is.”
DROWNED IN SOUND – 8/10 “It is economic in length, but never in its application or reach. Its minimalism is never dull or slight and every song is fully realised; its discretion tantalisingly leaves you wanting more. Vigils is light and airy, but it has solid emotional purchase and is a fine addition to the piano music tradition. A small miracle it most certainly is.”
LOUDER THAN WAR – live review “Richard J. Birkin looped his voice into a one-man choir, I was moved to tears.”
FLUID RADIO – review “A confident, mature work of contemporary chamber music. Chamber music because, as the title suggests, it evokes small spaces and contemplation; a record to live with. Beautifully recorded and played, Vigils is an exciting addition to Birkin’s expanding discography. Where he goes next should be very interesting.”