ECM Records: Between Sound and Space

By Sarah Lapidus May 4, 2019

Take a deep dive into contemporary music with American music journalist Tyran Grillo.

One of the many international faces at FILBo this year is US music journalist Tyran Grillo, whose book, Between Sound and Space explores the contemporary music of ECM Records.

The label is known for its high-quality sound and jazz, classical, world, fusion and experimental music productions. Grillo’s book reviews 100 records produced by the label that has been at the forefront of contemporary music for decades and has an almost cult-like following.

The Japanese translator-turned music journalist explains, “The book provides a doorway into the label.” It also “gives me an opportunity to teach people who are not familiar with the label why [the music] matters and — for those curious to explore the label — where they might start.”

The book includes reviews of a a diverse range of records including those of musicians such as jazz and classical pianist Keith Jarrett, jazz musician Bennie Maupin who played with famous artists such as Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis, Norwegian folk singer Agnes Buen Garnås and classical singer Arianna Savall.

So, why does ECM’s music matter?

“Listening to music is a physical experience rather than something something just ephemeral,” Grillo said. “The music of ECM is like a physical substance and it creates spaces that we can inhabit. [It isn’t just] fleeting entertainment, but a space to live a true experience,” he added.

ECM’s founder Manfred Eicher is known for bringing together musicians from all over the world to record together, often for the first time. This creates interesting and sometimes experimental sounds and Grillo – perhaps using his translation background – tries to communicate them using words in both his book and blog of a similar name.

“I think ultimately I am just trying to express how the music feels rather than what it is,” Grillo said. “My reactions are very visceral. I am really just reacting to what I am hearing on a cerebral level and am trying to translate that into language.”

Grillo never planned to write a book. In fact, the book was born out of his blog, which has between 15,000 and 20,000 monthly visits. Grillo decided to review all of ECM’s records at the time, taking six years, 1,400 albums and almost 1 million words to complete. The day Grillo posted about his feat on his blog, his now publisher, contacted him.

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“They messaged me and said, ‘we have been following your blog from the beginning and we would love to do a book.’”  

So how did a Japanese translator with a PhD in Japanese literature become a well-known music blogger and journalist?

Although he grew up listening to Michael Jackson, when he was 13 years old he discovered classical music and followed a chronological path from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to contemporary classical music, which is how he found ECM’s records. He has been following them ever since.

ECM’s “music has followed me through many life experiences good and bad. It has just become incorporated into my very being over the years.”

Grillo’s book is published by Rey Naranjo and currently available for sale in South America on