Nine Songs: Ludovico Einaudi
"In music, I think that when there’s an elusiveness in what you hear it leaves you the space to think, to actively be a part of the moment that you are connecting with."
As Ludovico Einaudi explains his fascination with the songs he loves, he simultaneously draws parallels with the sensibilities of his own music. Known for his minimalistic, cinematic, classical-pop style, Einaudi’s emotive compositions have soundtracked global film and television - This Is England, Intouchables and Nomadland to name a few - as well connecting with the lives and trials of millions across the world.
Appealing to such a broad demographic on a global scale, Einaudi’s work has also recently materialised on TikTok, and again has demonstrated its power to resonate with so many people from different walks of life. Of his emergence on TikTok, Einaudi tells me, “I don’t think about this when I compose music. I just think about how I can create something that resonates with me. And actually, in a way I’m looking to create the same qualities that I can find in the music that we are talking about - in Ali Farka Touré, Prince, Radiohead - so I just struggle every day to create the same feeling.”
A simplistic beauty resonates in the work of Einaudi, which feels ever more at home in the challenging presence of the past year. Difficult times have proven to be the ideal foundations for Einaudi's creative work and he explains that while he’s waiting to return to his home in Milan, he’s also relishing the opportunity to pause in the peace of his temporary Piedmont studio, where he’s waiting out the worst of the pandemic. “I’m very much enjoying this situation, because personally I was travelling so much with my work that I needed a moment for reflection and concentration, so I’ve been composing and thinking a lot”.
The power of Einaudi’s music lies in its fragility, alongside grand, sweeping atmospheres, pensive minimalistic piano loops and cinematic beauty, that attracts over one million listeners to his compositions each day across all streaming platforms. It’s a feat that was revealed in his first YouTube podcast series, Experience: The Ludovico Einaudi Story and one which speaks volumes of music so delicate and refined. His music offers the audience the space to think, to feel and to breathe, where rather than spelling out the stories for people to digest, it instead suggests the path and allows audiences to wander, offering the listener the opportunity to write the story for themselves, to paint themselves into the landscape.
Such themes and thoughts about the art of creativity and its impact on the listener ripple throughout Einaudi’s Nine Songs selections, themes which reside in much of his own work - a sense of the cinematic and spaciousness, darkness and pensiveness. The composer laughs as he recalls the process of mulling over and boiling down his selections. Faced with a broad range of inspirations, and dipping into pools of influence from classical, pop and rock, he admits there are many more he neglected from his catalogue of the pivotal songs in his life - although he does manage to squeeze a U2 song into his story of falling in love with Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad”.
“It’s very difficult to choose and I could have changed it many times, but at one point I decided ‘Okay, let's stop and see how it goes with these.’ Even choosing one of The Beatles’ songs is very difficult! I avoided classical music because I feel it’s more interesting to talk about the songs that everyone knows, and that I actually listen to often. Next time we will pick other nines!”
“This song is connected to a couple of trips to Mali in the beginning of the '00’s. I believe the first was in 2000 and the second one was 2003, and I met many musicians there, including Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté. There I started my introduction to Malian music which I had heard something about, but being there and being in touch with this music made me understand it more.
“It’s also interesting because geographically and culturally, you immediately hear the connection between African music and how this music became absorbed and spread around the world with the blues. It’s fascinating when you arrive at a place where you can actually see the roots of culture, and where you can see that it’s a root that is still alive. It was very inspiring for me.
“My experience with Malian music was incredible because I found that what was very fascinating, apart from the cultural syncopation with the music, is also the idea of time. You start to learn how time can be different and freer. In our Western culture, we structure every moment of our lives; if we are not doing something we say we are ‘losing time’. After a few days of personal difficulty for me to relate with this new dimension, I very much started to enjoy that one hour can be equal to one day. You just have to be inside it and enjoy life in a different way. I loved that this was a possibility.
“Heygana" is one of the many songs that you can choose from the repertoire of Ali Farka Touré, but this song specifically very much resonates from another song, “On the Road Again” by the L.A. band Canned Heat that was composed in America. They started playing in 1965, so when I heard the piece from Ali Farka Touré I realised that there was a very similar chord progression between the two songs, they resonate in each other.
“I love when you don’t feel like music has too much thought behind it, when the communication of music sounds very natural and pure. Of course, it’s not very easy for our culture to achieve this level, because we are used to always thinking too much about everything we do. When we write words, we are terrified, because everything we do must reach a level of expectation. The level that we expect is so high that we’ve lost the ability to approach the world as we did when we were children.
“I think this is a very beautiful possibility that everyone still has - to find that childish approach - because it’s very creative and true. I mean, if you look at the drawings children create, they are more beautiful than the ones we can make. If you think about painters that have also taken this approach in their work, you start to understand many things.
“I think that also in music, and in African music, you can feel this purity - the fact that there isn’t any fragmentation between what comes out and how it comes out. It’s very direct. It’s also what I also search for in my work; that not everything you do is good, but it’s just about finding the right channel to [translate] the ideas from inside yourself and not creating so many obstacles with our minds.”
“I love this song because it’s sad, and I love sad music. Sad music touches me more than a happy song, and I always have been like that. I start to think, to be moved, to be inspired - it’s the melancholic mood that is something I like to hear in others’ music. When I create my own music, I also need this.
"This song is a perfect example of a ballad that is very simple, very pure, but at the same time it is perfectly balanced. Sometimes those kinds of folk-ish songs can be a bit boring, but with this in particular, I think it is an example of a classic that has interesting movements that takes it to another level. It's one of those tracks that stands out from the media of things. This was less impactful for me when I was young, because it was the time of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, so you had new amazing songs coming from every angle. Now I have more difficulty finding music that really tells me something and that inspires me.
"There wasn’t space to include it, but for me the ‘80s wasn’t such a great time for music, so at a certain point I went into a record store and asked the guy if there was something new that he could recommend. It was the time of vinyl and I was desperately searching for new inspiration, and the shop worker played me “Where the Streets Have No Name” by U2. From just the first 10 seconds, the organ had a Brian Eno touch, and I immediately felt that this was something which would stay with me for years. Similar to “The Ghost of Tom Joad”, it’s a song that resonates in my life and that I still remember.”
“Maybe nobody expected that I would listen to Prince, but I was a big fan of him and still am. There was a time where I transcribed some of his music for an ensemble, so I wrote to him many years ago to ask for his permission and his thoughts about my work with his music, but he never responded. The piece was called “Purple Suite” and it was a medley of his songs.
“I think he was one of the greatest composers of the last century. For me, he was absolutely transcendental and so inspiring, complex, entertaining and deep - he was revolutionary. He had all the things I could possibly love in a musician and the emotion he created was so great. He [didn’t adhere] to one genre of music, he flew all over where he wanted, touching all the musical styles in such a personal way.
“Purple Rain" is great because it represents what I want in a rock ballad so well, but it’s in the sky - it’s so intense that it immediately transports you to the empire and the wisdom of the Gods. You feel yourself that you are part of the Gods. It just brings you to this level.
"Music is the only thing that I’ve experienced in my life that is able to take me to paradise and “Purple Rain” has this capability, also with the beautiful ending to the song. Normally it doesn’t get played on the radio, because they stop it at the end of the vocals. It ends on a beautiful instrumental chord with a string quartet that I just love. This part is as good as the song [itself]. It’s almost like you've been experiencing so much intensity during the song that you arrive at Nirvana, and there, you can stay with this chord forever. I could talk about this song forever!”
“This is a very personal story, because the version of this song by The Smiths was played by Gavin Clark. He was a very good friend of mine, and someone who I met during the time of This Is England, because he was also a friend of Shane Meadows. This song was used towards the end of the first version of the film and it’s very touching. The way that Gavin Clark sings it is really personal for me; it has all the sadness and character of what I like in a voice.
“Gavin Clark passed away a few years ago, and I was so sad because although we were very different, he was like a brother to me. We were very close, and so this is a nice way for me to remember just how great he was.”
“This is another of those bands that I discovered at the beginning of the ‘90s where I needed some food for my soul, and ever since I discovered Radiohead I’ve stayed with them for a long time, I still love their work. They kept [making the music] that they wanted, even if they lost some of the commercial success that they achieved with OK Computer. But they started to [create] without fear, to investigate their territories and then they made some wild albums. I love them for that! If you want to be inspired or search for something subtle in music, their albums always hit the right spot. I love artists who don’t repeat themselves and who don’t just look for hits.
"Fake Plastic Trees" is another example of a very simple song, but here there is something so personal that every element is deeply connected to the idioms of rock music. It’s expressed in such a personal way that every note makes it unique. You can listen to it forever and you will always be touched by the fact that you never truly get acquainted with it.
"It never completely becomes a part of what you know - there is always something unknown about this song, and that makes it so great. In this song there is always a space that you can relate with. It doesn’t complete all of the parts that you need, so you always have the space to interact with it in your imagination. There is a space for your images, or a cinematic possibility.
“I always liked the fact that, similar to paintings, there is something that is not exactly clear, something that you don’t completely understand. And so, you want to go back to the signs that you notice, and every time maybe you take the same path, or you change your mind about what it is. It could be a song, it could be a piece of instrumental music, it could be a painting. I’m more interested with this kind of art, or possibility, when art asks you without directly asking, and in a way it connects to you and you establish a more personal relation with it.”
“You were not expecting this? I love her voice and the songs that she writes. In this case I picked “No Time to Die” because I have always been a big fan of 007, of James Bond, and the soundtracks. I loved the flavour of those songs, there’s so many great examples from “Goldfinger” to “Live and Let Die”.
“I think she expresses a great vocal style in “No Time to Die.” I like the darkness and all the nuances Eilish expresses in this track. It’s a perfect song for the Bond movies, it immediately takes me to this vibe of the Bond films that I just love.”
“I was a little boy when I started to listen to The Beatles. And so for me, The Beatles are really closely tied to the image of the posters I had in my room. From the haircuts to the music, I was a fan of the Beatles in every detail. I loved the timeframe of the Beatles, because it was a revolution between a world that was boring and a new world, and a different life that was becoming real.
“Musically it was a revolution for me; I loved the fact that they brought all of the styles of music together in a single album. They were creating those cultural associations between Western music and Eastern music, Indian music, all kinds of classical and blues rock. They were reinventing everything and putting all of those styles together in a new melting pot.”
“Brian Eno is a very interesting figure in the world of music. He was a musician from the rock sphere, but one who is open to experimentation. I think “Music for Airports” is one of the most famous pieces where he creates the space for you to live. I think it’s very interesting when music is like an object, changing with the light, and so the repetition of the elements that you have in “Music for Airports” float in the air.
“It’s very fascinating that, as we were saying about the other pieces, but this even more, it completely transports you. It’s basically [a piece] where you can really live and feel those musical objects around you, and you can look at them like they are floating sculptures. You’re in a space with these free elements that are all around you. It’s a very inspiring piece.
“It’s connected to an artistic moment of my life, where I was struggling to find a key for my music, for my musical future. I remember arriving at a party somewhere in Milan, I don’t remember where, but this music was playing. The effect it gave to the party was very interesting. Usually at parties you have music to make people dance, but this music was creating a beautiful space, and it was creating these waves that were arriving and disappearing.
"Normally dance music completely fills the space, you don’t have space to talk because the music is overwhelming, but at this party I loved being in those waves. It also helped make connections with the people there and I didn’t recognise it, but afterwards I started to dive into the work of Brian Eno.”
“I remember the sensation when I was an early teenager and I heard this music. I was surprised how those four guys could transport you into a different space and time, even just using the same instruments as all the other rock bands, with the guitar, drums and bass. They could transport you into a psychedelic, other dimension, you could travel there with just your mind, and just by listening to the music it was almost like a psychedelic experience.
“I remember looking at the album cover and listening to this music. I was experimenting with and exploring another dimension of myself as a teenager and it still transports me there today. Compared to all the other bands as well, this song opened up a different approach to time and a different space, that was really of another world. It [captures] the mystery of how, with a sound, you can open doors to other worlds.”