Ultraviolet, Kelly Moran: An Introduction & Album Review / by Noor Kalouti

I’ve only just discovered Kelly Moran, but I wish I witnessed her evolution into Ultraviolet.  If you noted in this week’s roundup, I mentioned that I am a minimalist at heart—so discovering Kelly Moran was my week’s little miracle. It’s so rare for me to find a minimalist that is classically consistent and still novel.

Kelly is born and raised in Port Washington, New York, but has since moved to Brooklyn. Ultraviolet follows her self-produced album Bloodroot, dropped in 2017—a record you’d expect from someone dubbed a ‘prepared-piano specialist’. While Bloodroot is intense and calculated, Ultraviolet is this free-flowing, emotive promenade through Kelly’s colorful mind.

Of course, a lot of genres use minimalistic techniques, but they don't overtly reference geniuses like John Cage or Philip Glass. Prepared piano is a practice started by John Cage, where a piano literally requires ‘preparation’. Objects are placed on or between the strings, or some strings retuned, to produce a unique tonal effect. Most tracks using this technique suffer from a lack of beauty, so to speak. It never sounds like this: an emotive, expansive, and ambient atmosphere barely disturbed by the dissonance of the prepared piano.

This album is Moran’s Warp Records debut; a label known to sign some of the most groundbreaking musicians in this decade. The roster includes artist like Flying Lotus, Aphex Twin, and Squarepusher—all of whom have contributed hugely to the electronic genre.

Aside from being a classically trained pianist, Kelly also studied sound engineering and composition. This can be heard in how masterfully she composes with synthesizers.I find her use of electronic instruments to be the most original quality of these arrangements. She admits to improvising most of the piano melodies in the album, which she later embellishes with ambient synthesizers.

In songs like “Helix”, the synthesizers start as a buzz that grows, builds, and shapes the piece into a whole world. Helix is the song you listen to when you’ve reached the summit of Kilamanjaro—and you’re overwhelmed by the sheer terror and sublimity of natural landscapes. Moran’s inspirations are undoubtedly tied to nature, and this is heard through these world-building arrangements. In her Warp bio, Moran discusses the natural forces behind her music:

“I was squatted down in the forest, listening to the sounds of the wind and the wildlife, and all the echoes surrounding me,” Moran recalls. “I asked myself: How can I make music that feels like this: natural, connected, and effortless?”

Songs like “Water Music” are strong synesthetic experiences for me: I effortlessly drift into visions of flowing water—those windchime arpeggios bringing to mind streaking rays of light. I’d say you’ve succeeded, my dear Kelly, compositions like this one are the epitome of effortless.

In epics like the 10 minute “Nereid”, the fluidity of Moran’s playing and the explorations into dissonance and atonality are some of the most compelling moments of the album. In this, she is unhinged, free, and ephemeral and we’re merely witnessing her fly.

I have no negative commentary; the album presents itself as a complete project from start to finish. It’s cohesive, meditative, and engaging despite the similarities in song structure. Since Moran's work is so thoughtful, I'm excited to hear how she matures as a person, electronic musician, pianist, and composer. I’m sure I’ll be just as captivated as I am now, if not more.