The Italian writer, Umberto Eco once said, “Solitude is a kind of freedom.” The statement certainly strikes a chord when talking about Pascal Schumacher’s latest album, SOL. The vibraphone player and composer, who has made a name for himself in a variety of collaborative endeavours from quartets to symphonic orchestras, has recently discovered the liberation and wisdom of going solo, “I found out so much about myself alone, more than I ever would have imagined,” he says.
Schumacher’s relationship with the vibraphone began as many love stories tend to; at first sight. “I remember from my percussion classes as a kid this golden, sparkly instrument, and as soon as the teacher left the room I couldn’t help playing it,” he reminisces. For those familiar with the vibraphone, the allure will be comprehensible. The set up of shiny plates and cascading tubes, that when struck by mallets produce a sound that is at once metallic and soft, ethereal really. An allure so well captured in SOL’s first track, Amarcord, a one minute tingling and tinkling of sounds, an invitation to the rest of the album so gentle and intimate that it feels more like a seduction, “That sound - for me it was always a magical touch,” adds Schumacher.
But intimacy is not easily attained. And as with most percussion instruments, where mallets or sticks play an intermediary role between player and played, there is distance. “It’s quite a process to become one with the vibraphone. I was always jealous of cello players who have their instruments in their arms and really feel it, embrace it,” says Schumacher, “At first the relationship is a very distant one, the challenge is to become one with the vibraphone.”
For the following decades, Schumacher would venture into this challenge. His relationship with the vibraphone would evolve, shift and strengthen album to album, band to band, in festival stages from Copenhagen to Tokyo. Schumacher argued with the instrument through the agitated improvisational riffs of jazz tunes, and made peace with it in the caress of classical chamber music. And through all the commotion, there was one moment that would always beguile him, that moment of solitude, when it was just him and the vibraphone, “You can be completely creative at that moment, everything is allowed, you don't need to stick to anything that has been organized or rehearsed… These were some of my favourite moments.” The point of no return arrived when, in 2018, he was invited to play solo for the first time at a festival in Salzburg. “During those concerts, I felt more free than I had ever felt before, and I enjoyed it so much. In the audience there was something very special happening too, they were getting deeper into the music and much more absorbed by it - I had never experienced that before,” he says.
Leaving his former band wasn’t easy, Schumacher tells, but there was no alternative, “Coming home from Salzburg I was in love. It felt like cheating because I still had my former project and plans to record an album,” he says. The feeling was too strong to dismiss though, he had to go solo.
SOL captures Schumacher’s newfound passion for solitude in all its magnetism. Yet, it remains true to a relationship’s main characteristic; intimacy. The album’s track Melancolia, conveys a unique isolation which is as sad as is beautiful. Twinkle expresses the extremely personal feeling of enlightenment. Even Tearjerker, a cover of Sakamoto’s famous song, is so intimately understood by Schumacher that it seems he could have himself written it. “When you are playing solo, you are really confronted with yourself. Your strong moments but also your weak moments, which are not necessarily your worst moments. There is something very beautiful about your fragility - that's often the starting point for magical outcomes,” he says “it's a really intense thing to play solo.”