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Listen: Ben Cosgrove Makes Music For The Life Between The Cracks

This is an exclusive song premiere, part of The ARTery's effort to highlight ascending New England musicians.



Does the modest perennial that grows from the cracks in the sidewalk possess any less beauty than a towering redwood?

Boston pianist and composer Ben Cosgrove urges you to consider the equality of the natural world on the static tinkling of his sparse new single “The Machine in the Garden,” an impressionistic ode to the life that grows between the urban cracks. It’s the first song released from his forthcoming album “The Trouble With Wilderness,” due April 16.

As gleaned from his previous releases, like 2017’s “Salt,” the work requires context. A solo-piano composer and self-described “singer-songwriter who doesn’t sing,” Cosgrove works solely in abstracts, using minimalism and deeper concepts to paint portraits with a soft, muted palette. For instance, “The Machine in the Garden” is a borrowed title from a piece of 1960s literary criticism by Leo Marx, an observation of the industrialization of America and its impact of pastoral scenery.

Musician Ben Cosgrove (Courtesy Max García Conover)
Musician Ben Cosgrove (Courtesy Max García Conover)

Elsewhere, he utilizes every aspect of his instrument to explore a spectral sonic range, an effort intended to score an imaginary scene. “I've explained this song as being basically about plants growing out of a sidewalk,” Cosgrove says; to sharpen this image, he draped a thick layer of felt over the piano strings, resulting in an eerily restrained sound. Recorded with an excess of microphones, the piano beats with a tense pulse, the sound of his stifled breath and piano overtones decaying in a cold ether.

“It's meant to sound mechanical, organic and ethereal all at once, and I think a piano is just the perfect instrument for getting at those three moods,” he says.

But as it progresses, the song’s melody patiently blossoms with each chord change, like a flower emerging from concrete. “A lot of the album is abstractly about how there's still so much room for unpredictability, wildness and expression even within structures and situations that might seem rigid and artificial,” he says. It recalls the more acoustic compositions of weighty European composers Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds, who use classical components to make music feel organic and alive.

“The Machine in the Garden” is an elegant stride into the fragile dominion of prepared music. Cosgrove, who can also be found lending his talents to the Portland, Maine-based Americana group Ghost of Paul Revere, has long sidled the line of folk music and ornate instrumental compositions. But the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent quarantines encouraged the nature-minded musician to look closer to home for inspiration.

“Instead of driving eight hours to someplace new each morning, I went on these daylong rambles all over the outskirts of town pretty much every day for months,” he’s quoted mentioning in his press release. “I was amazed to find what strange, beautiful and interesting things I would notice as I passed all the same ordinary-seeming places again and again and looked at them more and more closely.”


Ben Cosgrove’s single “The Machine in the Garden” streams on all platforms Feb. 2 from the upcoming album “The Trouble With Wilderness,” out April 16.

Note: The audio for The ARTery's music premieres comes down after the track is released. You could still listen to the track via the streaming service embed above.

Related:

Charley Ruddell Twitter Music Writer
Charley Ruddell is a freelance music critic and contributor for WBUR.

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