For Nick Martin, writing a song is an act of catharsis. It’s a way of untangling the uncertainty of a new beginning, while honouring the shadow of the past. It’s a means of piecing together the patchwork of experience to understand the present, and it’s a route into the next phase: the rise of the moon, and the glow of dawn. As Blue Luminaire, Martin interrogates transitions, cycles and fresh starts with a tender and empathetic lens. On their debut album Terroir, the Oxford-born, Copenhagen-based composer utilises their classical music training to create a unique and otherworldly sonic experience where past selves collide, and the universality of heartbreak, familial patterns and grief permeate.
Growing up in Bedford, Martin was surrounded by classical music. Their father was a classical pianist, and Martin found themselves shunning the mainstream pop that filled the airwaves, and instead gravitated towards obscure 19th century Russian composers and Brian Eno LPs. This early obsession formed much of Martin’s musical language, and soon they started crafting their own original compositions and experimenting with their vocal range. With interrogation came revelation, and Martin began drifting from the confines of traditional classical music to create something entirely their own. Hovering between worlds, and embracing their love of alternative rock, funk, fusion and jazz, Blue Luminaire is the sound of the in-between.
Terroir marks a transition for Martin. Previously releasing a range of instrumental-only EPs, composing and directing a group of classical musicians, this debut full-length album sees the songwriter step into the spotlight as a performer. “I’ve moved away from the norm of classical music where there’s very rarely emphasis on first person,” they say. “I never feel like it’s direct, or like a singer is singing about themselves. It’s always performed like an actor. Here, I can be myself and address a listener as me.”
The album title stems from the word terre, meaning soil, and is used to describe the natural environment in which a specific wine is produced. Connecting to this idea that we carry the weight of our original, formative environments and relationships, Martin wanted to interrogate how they shape our sense of self, and impact our ability to connect with one another. While navigating a new path in the wake of a difficult break-up, and confronting their complicated relationship with their family, Terroir is the result of leaning into vulnerability in search of self-compassion and growth.
Martin wrote Terroir while working as a cleaner and assistant at a music venue in Copenhagen. Inspired by the performances they witnessed, and privy to the nights in which no one was scheduled to appear, Martin took to one of the hall’s pianos and started sketching out the melodies and lyrics that would soon become the album. “It was never the intention to make something,” Martin says. “All the material for this record came within a three month period; it was such a fruitful time.” Beginning in 2018, Martin then made a demo with a group of seven players in 2019. In 2020, right before the pandemic, Martin, along with 14 instrumentalists and sound engineer Pape Arce, recorded Terroir in just two days in the music venue where it all began.
The sonic universe of Terroir stretches across time to create an ever-moving, cyclical experience. Each song is intended to take place at a specific time of day, moving from the pale pinks and lavenders of dawn and into the deep rusty oranges and indigo blues of dusk. Opener ‘Our’ laments “tangled worlds dance in each other’s shadows,” pointing to the nonverbal, emotional mother-and-child relationship, while closer ‘Falling’ speaks of the “violet hour.” ‘Let Go’ introduces Martin’s ethereal and delicate vocal, as harpsichord and piano tentatively unfurl alongside gentle strings. “In choir, I sing bass: this deep, bellowing voice, whereas on this record, I’m singing in my head voice, which is much higher,” Martin says. “I naturally sing like that when I’m alone, so to do it on a record for the first time feels surreal. I’m still a little shy about it, but I want to do it a lot more.”
Later on ‘Held’, Martin welcomes Lo Ersare, a.k.a. ‘Lucky Lo,’ to produce a hauntingly arresting composition, where several repeating phrases morph into mantras. “Let go”, the pair urge, later reminding us that “…we are held, by ourselves.” “This is really a song about finding those resources from within to hold and carry oneself,” Martin says. “The reason I choose people to sing with me, is that it somehow bridges the gap between my own private experience and then a listener going through other people’s experiences as well.” On the climactic closer ‘Falling’, Martin also shunned the spotlight and welcomed singers Hanne Marie le Fevre and Jakob Skjoldborg, after originally performing it themself. “When you make something from a very personal place, and then you give it to someone else to voice, there’s a powerful, universal connection between the artist and the listener that allows it to steer away from being too self-absorbed,” they say.
Terroir’s expansively meditative, mantra-like exploration of the self opens a soothing portal that urges connection in a world that aims to distract and deter. While working on the album, Martin was focused on the beneficial effect of music for mental well-being, and found a certain solace through Terrior’s benevolent and exploratory nature. “Many of us are drawn to music, art and writing because of the need to get something out,” they explain. “That thing you might carry around and feel like is this huge, dark, horrible thing you don’t want anyone to see or hear. And yet when you do it, it feels good.” Terroir is proof that healing can flourish, even in our darkest moments.