Like ‘Escapement’, Poppy’s second album ‘Feathers’ mostly consists of piano and violin, but the palate of sounds is increased with other acoustic keyboard instruments – including harmonium, clavichord, harpsichord and spinet – and in the string sections Poppy’s violin lines are augmented by guest cellist Su-a Lee.
Poppy’s beloved, restored Blüthner grand piano in her studio is again the backbone of the album, providing most of the melodies, bass lines and percussive sounds. Other material originated from improvised recording sessions at the Russell/Mirrey Collection of keyboard instruments in Edinburgh. Having previously spent time there dismantling different pianos to understand how their mechanisms work and make sound, she was given complete freedom on her own in the museum to experiment with around fifty keyboard instruments from the 16th century to the 19th century. Selecting a few instruments for ‘Feathers’ that produced a variety of different timbres, it was again the other sounds these instruments could make that interested her, when treating them as sources for melodic or percussive material. Recordings of unfamiliar sounds, which include brushing/plucking the strings and tapping/stroking the frames or soundboards, are combined with accidental ‘imperfect’ sounds that come from playing the instrument, such as pedal noise or the sound of harpsichord shutters opening and closing. There is an intimate feel to the recordings as these older instruments are not designed to project sound loudly, so the microphones were placed very close to capture the minutest detail. Field recordings add to the cinematic and atmospheric quality of the music: chiming wall clocks in Timeless, traffic noise on Roads, and the wave and pebble sounds from Brighton beach in Birdwoman.
The title of the album was inspired by the line ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’ (Emily Dickinson) – it also references the feather quill in the mechanisms of some of the keyboard instruments, and the recurring themes of birds and flight. With its delicate textures, rhythmic intricacy and achingly beautiful melodies, ‘Feathers’ is the perfect companion for stories of love, loss, hope and migration.