Today we will be sailing with an ocean-going piano. With the piano we will take a yacht called Lady Flow, a pianist, singer and songwriter called Marieke Huysmans-Berthou and a cat, whose name I do not know. Together they have created a project called Pianocean, sailing from port to port, meeting the locals and putting on concerts. Is there a better way to spend your days than this?
The project has spawned several albums of songs and instrumentals. Discogs lists three: Lady Flow (date unknown), Sealand (2015) and Mistraland (2015). Spotify has none of those but does offer Pluie t’île (2018) and Water Music (2018). The Pianocean website adds LadyLand and Faoi íochtar na Spéire1 to the list.
The voyages of the piano, the pianist and the pussycat have been beautifully documented by the photographer, Anne-Lise Le Pellec. The pictures show that Marieke has collaborated with many other musicians as she has travelled through the coastal waters of the south of France, Brittany and Ireland, but the pieces I have listened to have all been either piano instrumentals or songs with just piano accompaniment. Perhaps the ensembles were not recorded or the recordings have not been made available.
The music laps quietly upon the ear like the gentle swoosh of a calm sea as it plays on the harbour steps. Here’s a track from the curiously named Pluie t’île album. The album title makes no sense – a literal translation would be “rain you island” – but it sounds so much like “pluie t’il?” (is it raining?) that we have to conclude it’s a deliberate play on words. Either that or a silly mistake that has been retained for its amusement value.
I don’t know if it was raining when Marieke composed that song but it’s always peaceful when the clouds pass over and the sun comes out again. So, let’s weigh anchor and head for the next port. This instrumental from Water Music seems to capture that sense of relief when the sky brightens and the decks dry out. The weather when lighthouses are most needed may have dissipated, but now we can admire their sturdy structures as we sail by.
The Irish leg of the tour includes a song about the Dangerous Sea. I’ve included this as much for the lyrics as for the multi-tracked voice and tinkling ivories. As you can see from this verse, the danger comes not from howling wind and crashing waves – it is far more subtle than that. Fittingly, the song is another quiet and contemplative piece.
“You’ll never raise a sail without leaving a friendExtract of Dangerous Sea
And never drop anchor without meeting one more.
And as you cross the sea, under the Western sky,
Be careful of this land, this dangerous Island,
This well sheltered harbour that is called friendship.
Because it’s a port of call you never really leave.“
If that piano comes to your home port, please say hello to Marieke, give the cat a cuddle and wish them all bon voyage. Tell them that, although I have never met the crew, it seems such a friendly ship that this landlubber will always be sorry to see them leave.
- It means Under the Western Sky in Irish Gaelic.