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A Magazine for Sheffield

Jan Wagner Nummern

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The debut album from Berlin-based pianist Jan Wagner is a spectral set of ambient and sometimes surprising soundscapes.

Sparse, delicate piano motifs are at the heart of these 'sonic diary entries', augmented by swelling synths brought in by producer James Varghese. Interspersed throughout are fragments of real-world sound - a whirring drill, a child's voice, an indiscriminate rustling. These poke through the dreamy piano like foley elements for a scene we can't see, coming up close and giving us the sense that we're intruding.

There's something reticent about this record. The tracks ebb in and out, never quite sure how far to go. It's a sequence of fragmentary thoughts, brief conversations dipped into. The synths grow, leading us onto something bigger, then they think better of it and subside.

There are no track titles. Each 'number' is labelled with a letter - 'Nummer A', 'Nummer B, 'Nummer E'. We don't know the significance of these letters or their ordering. This is fitting for a record that seems to champion simplicity and yet wants, at least in part, to remain encrypted.

Wagner has said the album wouldn't have seen the light of day if Varghese hadn't heard the early recordings and taken an interest. This hesitancy pervades the final record. Everything is pared back, understated, almost an experiment in sound rather than a statement.

But this hesitancy is part of the charm. Nummern is indisputably a beautiful album: meditative, intricate and restrained. It grows with each listen.

Sarah Sharp

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