This particular album has an interesting backstory. Tunisian musician Haythem Mahbouli grew up playing in Rock and Metal bands but harbored a desire to make music in the ambient and modern classical styles. With this new direction he started composing for TV ads, short films, andenrolled in a sound editing program. After the 2011 Tunisian revolution, Haythem decided to move to Canada and settle in Montreal. He put his composing on hiatus and took a Sound Designer job in the video game industry. Five years later, Haythem decided it was time for the hiatus to be over and for him to record his first solo album. Because of this decision we are rewarded with such a spectacular debut.
“He seamlessly blends orchestral parts recorded by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra with sound textures and design elements with a desire to create minimalistic theatrical compositions.
“I don’t want to predefine my genre or have an instrument-centered composition (e.g. piano). I see music as a mix of sounds that create emotions. Emotions can emerge in any music form. I picture music as images; each of them is associated with an emotion. This album (Catching Moments in Time), is a journey throughout experiences I lived and tried to translate. My goal is for the listener to adapt it to their own, mix it with their emotions and create their own images.”
Listening to “Catching Moments In Time” you have to constantly pick your jaw off the floor, it is that good. There are times were you can’t work out were Mahbouli ends and The City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra begins. It is the type of album you listen to in a sitting and as such feels like it is one giant work. The music is as symphonic as it is graceful and has a flow that just feels effortlessly good. There is a great balance between piano, electronics and strings with each nicely complimenting each other. A track like “Moments That Remain” demonstrates just how well the elements work together in possibly the most relaxed a beautiful piece of music on the album.
The album’s opener and closers “Catching the First Moment” and “Catching the Last Moment” nicely bookend the album with the symphonic feeling I alluded to earlier. String driven with howling ghostly vocals, mixtures of piano and electronics , they elevate the album with their granduer and sweeping soundscapes. The fact that they open and close the album sets the tone and brings it full circle.
A piece like “Passage” contains similar vocal samples as the opener, but introduces a more experimental and collagic soundscape which is an interesting direction after such a strong opener. The track alludes to an undercurrent which continue throughout the album.
For a perfect example of the album’s feel look no further than “And Miles To Go Before I Sleep” as the characteristics of the album are on show. Ambience, melodic electronics, sweeping string drones, field recordings and piano coalesce to create a piece of understated beauty where the pace is not rushed and the depth of sound is most obvious. I would love to know how the construction of the piece (and indeed the others) came to be as the blending of soundings feels natural and if the music was written together in the same room, rather than what I suspect is a long distance collaboration.
The middle part of the album with the thematically linked titles of “Transition”, “Birth”, “Growth” and “Loss” exhibit the styles of the album from the strong heavy and highly emotional “Transition” to the nicely subdued and ambient “Birth” which mutates into a reprise of the opening track and then shares the qualities of “Transition”. “Growth” on the other hand is a slow burning monster which rumbles along with waves of strings that cut through and repeatedly threaten to open up the piece before tantalizingly pulling up short.
Finally in the last two minutes the tension is released and we reach the triumphant crescendo. The final of the middle quartet “Loss” sees the welcome return of Mahbouli’s piano with the strings taking a somewhat background position and the track balancing into a nice Modern Classical piece with Ambient touches. From this it slowly builds into an epic piece high on suspense and with an intensity that becomes somewhat of a hallmark of the album.
All that remains to be said is that this is a truly exceptional work, especially for a debut. Those years working in film, TV and games have given Mahbouli the perfect apprenticeship and this album is a result of years of refinement. Put simply this is a work that deserves to heard urgently. Totally recomended.