I mainly write about piano music, but this album caught my attention! This is a classical guitar album by Phoenix based classical guitarist and composer John Oeth. In 2018, he was honored to perform for United States Senator John McCain’s memorial service. Successful concerts throughout the United States have built up his reputation for making sophisticated art music accessible to audiences of all musical backgrounds. This has led to unique performance opportunities such as sharing a concert with Billboard Top 100 artist Jordin Sparks.
Tell us something about Castles of Spain!
The bulk of the album is a 14-movement work called Castillos de España. Each track is based on a castle in Spain. The structure, the history, and the elements of past life are shown in the music. I have played this work for more than 10 years, so these pieces have matured with me. Torija is the first from the set that I learned when I was 16 years old. I loved the piece so much I even made a piano arrangement of it.
At once elegant and strong, the history and culture display the beauty of Spain. It is that culture and nostalgia that is reflected in my latest album, Castles of Spain, a collection of works by Spanish composer Federico Moreno Torroba (1891-1982). Torroba met the legendary guitarist Andres Segovia in 1918, and Segovia convinced him to write for the guitar. Torroba rejected 20th-century avant-garde ideas in favor of tonal concert music that combines folk elements from Spain with the structure of classical music. His skill is shown in his ability to craft beautiful, lyrical melodies in the slow movements in addition to writing faster, rhythmic music that is undeniably Spanish.
What’s your real name?
How did you come up with your artist name?
I learned how to sail, a small two seated boat, when I was 19 years old. Nothing was more exhilarating, yet unknown, as trying to ride the wind and waves. I’ve found that this imagery parallels my life. There is not much I can control, but I still enjoy being out and experiencing all that this world has to offer.
Where are you from? And where do you live?
I grew up in Minnesota and still live here.
How long have you been playing the piano?
I’ve been playing the piano since I was in third grade. I took lessons through my freshmen year of college.
Tell us about how you started playing music.
Music has always been a part of my family and was a huge part of my upbringing. Everyone in my family played two instruments and sang in a variety of choirs. It was natural for me to start playing because that’s what everyone in my family did too.
How long have you been making piano music?
I started writing piano music when I was 18 years old. The first piano song I wrote was titled “Barefoot”. It represented how vulnerable I felt being at college and not knowing how to express myself. Since then, I’ve found that writing piano music is one of the best ways to express who I am.
Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
I actually wasn’t super impressed! It took other people telling me, that it was good, for me to realize that I had something special. I thought everyone could write music!
What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
I really enjoy Ludovico Einaudi and Olafur Arnalds.
Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano? Your own or someone else’s?
I’ve always had a love for Christmas music! I’ll play it any time of year. In particular there is an arrangement of We Three Kings/Carol of The Bells – John H. Hopkins Jr. Ukranian Carol, arranged by M. Sherrill Kelsey that I play almost every time I sit down at the piano.
What song inspires you the most when you’re making music? Can you name just ONE song/composition?
I don’t think I can name one song or composition, but I do know that I’m greatly inspired by Imogen Heap, Regina Spektor, and Chris Thile. Though none write piano compositions, all three come from classical backgrounds. I love how they will test boundaries while also expressing themselves through their work.
What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
I think as long as you’re being true to your creative self, you don’t have to worry about rules. You can learn from the rules, but true breakout artists always are doing something different from everyone else.
Anything else you want to share?
I have a new piano EP being released on 1/11/19 titled “Four Movements”!! It’s truly my best work. Check it out wherever you listen to music!!
The last question is asked by my 5 year old son:
Where do all your songs come from?
My songs come from deep inside my heart and soul. They are often inspired by what I see and experience in my daily life.
Thank you for sharing Amara!
And of course check out the music on Spotify!
Have a listen to the spotted songs so far!
Today I will introduce you to Anna Sofia Nord, composer and pianist originally from Habo, now located in Örebro Örebro, Sweden. She started playing the piano when she was around 3-4 years old.
Music has always been a big part of my life since i grew up in a musical family. I have studied music at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm.
Tell us about your song Sensitive!
Sensitive is the third, and latest release in a series of single. It is originally intended as a song för the baptism of a child. A parents love and worries about what the future might bring. But the lyrics has never been completed, so it ended up as an instrumental piece this time.
The other two released tracks Aspiration and Safe and Calm are themes that were created and partly improvised in the moment of the recording. Inspired by the current mood.
I first came across Rikard in a facebook group for “bedroom producers”. He needed help with mixing and mastering after he recorded his debut EP “Piano without my name”. And now he’s about to make several new releases! Right?
Well, I’ll let him tell you the details about that.
Where are you from? And where do you live?
I am from Hässleholm in Skåne county, Sweden, and now live outside Ronneby in Blekinge county, also in Sweden.How long have you been playing the piano?Since I was 4 years old.How long have you been making piano music?Since recently, I never finished any songs or made public releases but in 2016 that changed with my first EP, and today I’m more productive than ever. I probably always had it in me, but it just took me a few decades of playing the piano before I “came out” as a composer.Tell me something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!This was something that happened because it just had to happen. I had just become a parent and the music started to grow slowly on the inside, and when my boy was born, so was I – as a composer. The music on the inside eventually so loud that I had to express it real life, and then I figured out how realize it into music productions. The realization itself was overwhelming, and sudden, but also something that came natural. The process of learning music production required lot of effort and the learning process will ever go on… Still, it feels like “hey, what happened?”Have you made music in other genres before?I have performed music in many genres; jazz, country, folk, pop and classical. The last two years I’ve spent most of the studio time in producing pop music in style of Coldplay and Coeur de Pirate with my dear friend Alexander as “Aleco and Mathisson”. So in short: yes. I think one can work cross-genres in general, and that also promotes personal development when one goes beyond the comfort-zone.What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?“This piano genre” is what I would interpret as “romantic”, “neo classical” or “nordic folk” and then my answer is: Yann Tiersen, Béatrice Martin (a.k.a Coeur de Pirate), Benny Andersson and the late Jan Johansson (as seen in co-op with Georg Riedel or Monica Z). Also I’m influenced by some Swedish expressionst, do not recall the name right now…Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?Honestly and simply: Most played is my own “Erika’s Song” because it’s deeply connected to my work, my love and inspiration in everything. But also, on repeat, goes “Visa från Utanmyra” as played by Jan Johansson, Kanon by Pachelbel and a few Chess pieces by Benny Andersson.
What song inspires you the most when you’re making music? Can you name just ONE song/composition?
Visa från Utanmyra!Tell me something about you latest release.There’s been a lot of piano pop music the last two years, and latest release is actualy pop “Falling” with Aleco and Mathisson, our most recent piano production is “Someday” released during the summer and in this “piano context” I think that one is relevant. That song is built around a mostly left handed piano riff that actually frames the song rather nicely with the sensation that the lyrics are intended to bring even without the words. And I need to go back to early 2016 to point out my latest piano record. But in the studio lots and lots of songs lingers waiting for the right mood and context… which brings us to the next question.What’s happening next? New releases etc.Ah yes, this is an exciting question! I’m currently finishing a bigger composition of a moody piano solo suite and I’m planning to let it out during 2019. And as we go there will be a few other songs related and unrelated to the piano suite released as well. In parallell, I’m also working on an album with some ballads with swedish lyrics that will address the local audience. So there’s a lot of things going on right now.Anything else you want to share?Every song has it’s own soul! It is vital to take the time to explore each melody and track before letting it go. It is worth the effort, some even say that music is spiritual, but at the least it may lead you and the audience to places you never knew existed before. If I touched a heart once, that’s plenty. And so have the music touched my heart!Thank you Rikard!You can find more info about Rikard and his projects here:
Let me introduce to you Juan María Solare; born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, now located in Bremen, Germany. He is a pianist (with an academic degree and hundreds of concerts on his shoulders) and a composer; most of his compositions are for piano solo or at least includes include piano. However, he has written for nearly any existing line-up, including chamber music, electronic music, orchestra and choir.
Tell us something about your track Siesta Norteña!
Siesta Norteña (translated; Northern Nap) is a simple, minimalist dreamy piano piece, only three minutes long. “Simple” means here that it has a single central idea without contrasting, secondary idea, and that it isn’t multi-layered.
It was conceived after a siesta (nap) and therefore in a state of semi- somnambulism, which also means that your self-censorship is close to zero. I can strongly recommend you to compose (also) in such states: you play and write down anything that comes to your hands, uncensored. You can say to yourself: “if it is rubbish, I can always destroy it later”. However, later you might notice that with a few tweaks here or there the original idea wasn’t that bad. Your starting idea was usable – with or without modifications (and possibly with further development). So your faculty of intuition receives the message “they are listening to me”. And therefore your intuition, your imagination, develops and gets stronger. If you do NOT write down such apparently silly ideas, your intuition receives the message “what I deliver is unimportant, they don’t take me seriously”. In other words, if you wonder how to have a stronger intuition, you have to begin trusting in it through writing down whatever it dictates you.
Will this song be a part of a bigger release?
Siesta Norteña (Northern Nap) is the first of the six-piece cycle Himmelsrichtungen (Cardinal Points). Why six? The cardinal points are four, but I added two (Cenit and Nadir), which define a third dimension (Cenit: above, Nadir: below). The two added pieces also symbolize the generalization and the overcoming of the system (of any system).
Each of the six pieces is dedicated to Ulrike Dehning and her five sons and daughters: Maria, Christian, Johannes, Juliane, Friederike and Ulrike herself.
Today I want to introduce you to Elijah Bisbee, an American composer based in Cleveland, Ohio. I immediately fell for the track Dust (hushed), and the reason for that is the same reason as Elijah mentions below; you can hear the whole piano!
I’ve always been drawn to the idea that music can help create and shape spaces – for inspiration, relaxation, healing, etc. Being able to create a mood is just cool – and proves the transcendence and importance of music.
Tell us something about the recording of Wander (live)!
The EP was recorded at one of my concerts. This particular one was held at my house (I host monthly house shows for local Cleveland artists) and we had video and audio set up to record. I had borrowed some lighting, a smoke machine, and other random things from a friend. When it came time to start the show, we let the smoke machine go for awhile (mind you, we had tested it the previous day) and right when I was about to start the first song, all of the smoke alarms in the house started going off. Talk about ruining the mood!
Can you tell us something about the release?
Wander, Live is a collection of a few live tracks and one “hushed” track called Dust. I call it hushed because it will also be included on an upcoming release, but more produced. I really love the vibe of Dust (Hushed) because it invites the listener to feel the whole piano – creaks, dampers, hammers, and all. Such an intimate experience. I think that’s a theme through all of my music, actually. I don’t really obsess over the cleanest recordings and such – I actually obsess with bringing in the other noises that make the song feel like an immersive experience that can transport the listener into the room/story the song is telling
Thank you for this wonderful EP Elijah!
Today I want you to introduce you to the song Chimera by Khyaam Haque, and American composer based in Chicago!
I primarily compose classical, new age, and electronic music.
Tell us something about Chimera!
My most recent track ”Chimera” off my upcoming concept album “Minutiae of an Iridescent Mind” is about an illusory monster the main character of the album encounters while exploring an island. The character doesn’t know if the monster is real or not, but knows that it resembles herself in many ways. She finds the monster beautiful but has to defeat it in order to get to where she wants to go. Metaphorically speaking, the track is about overcoming and parting ways with the aspects of yourself that aren’t pushing you towards your life goals.
Will this song be part of a bigger release?
Yes! My upcoming album “Minutiae of an Iridescent Mind” is a surrealist tale about a woman experiencing a phenomenon in Tibetan Buddhism known as “Bardo” (a state of existence between death and rebirth). She doesn’t know what’s happening to her, but is under the impression her consciousness is split into two pieces. In this purgatorial existence, she hears of an island that possesses a magical lake. Anyone who drinks from the lake is given the gift of eternal happiness and wholeness. She sales across the sea to find the island, meets a talking cat, encounters an illusory monster, and eventually finds the lake. The lake is actually the gateway to her next life. Musically, a lot of the tracks are written in the same key and have a mixture of classical and electronic instruments.
This is not my photo – it’s a character I have chosen to represent my music.Mike Lazarev
I’ve been making music for about 18 years or so. My uncle has always been very supportive, but it wasn’t until I started making piano music that I really felt that he appreciates the music I make. So this Christmas when he told me to check out Mike Lazarev on Spotify, I gladly did.
I’ve been listening to Mike Lazarev’s album Dislodged pretty much every day since then; and when he out of nowhere appeared in my Facebook feed I thought to myself; well, I’m just gonna write to him and see if I could interview him.
He said yes.
For those who don’t know who you are, please give us an introduction!
Where are you from, and where are you working from at the moment?
Well, I was born in Ukraine, spent my teenage years in the United States, and recently moved to the United Kingdom where I feel a little more at home.
Tell us about how you started playing music.
I am a classically trained pianist (since I was 7 years old), but I never finished the music school as I had to immigrate to the US at the age of 12. There was a long period of time when I didn’t have the piano, until I could afford one myself. But it’s safe to say that I don’t know a life without music.
Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make music yourself!
I started composing around the age of 12 when I realized that music could be a unique gift that I can create (for someone). First, there was a lot of copying of the chords with my own melodies (like The Beatles, Billy Joel and even Chopin), then I kind of always tinkled around the piano, until maybe six years ago, when I started exploring the outer reaches of spatial and reductionism pianism (the terms I’ve invented myself!) to create some intimate compositions of what I felt inside.
Can you elaborate those terms a bit more?
I’m a big fan of ambient music which is mostly concerned with textures, atmospheres, and minimalism. Piano is actually a percussive instrument, and so it is a bit of a challenge to extract “ambient” sounds from it – which is why I play so soft and slow; I want each note to ring out and have its reverberations captured by the microphone. I often have the sustain pedal pressed down all the time, so that each tone blends into another in a continuous sonic din. This is how I attempt to reduce the sound to its bare elements, where silence is an element as well.
As I’ve told you before; I found you through my Uncle who sent me a link to your album Dislodged. I know its not your latest release, but I want to ask a bit about it!
Is there a theme throughout the album?
Dislodged is actually a second half of my album Unhinged (both are supposed to be played one after another in any order). On Unhinged I removed the wooden casing of the piano to get closer to the instrument with the microphones (these parts were held by a hinge, hence the title). And on Dislodged, I locked in a pedal into a certain position in order to keep the felt between the hammers and the strings to muffle the sound (hence the title, once again – and you can see this on the cover of the album).
Of course, “unhinged” and “dislodged” could also describe some emotions that I experienced when communicating through music, so there is a play on words too, but generally it’s all about a melancholy state of mind that I was experiencing while composing.
When I heard the song Dislodged I instantly recognized it as much as I loved it (especially that part that comes one more time in “TV interlude”).
What can you tell me about that track?
The TV Interlude is actually an interesting piece, because it was recorded by accident as I was still composing the melody. As you can hear, the TV was on in the background, and I was just exploring the piece, which I didn’t intend to share. But when the album was complete, I felt it was important to bring back this vignette as an interlude for the listener. For the final Dislodged piece, there is a moment where the entire instrument makes a cracking sound (somewhere deep inside the soundboard), which was also not intended. But I don’t believe in accidents, or perfectionism when it comes to making music; so I decided to keep everything as is: tiny mistakes, noises, and imperfections.
Yeah, the first time I heard TV interlude I wasn’t sure where the TV noise came from; my room or the recording.
You have already given some hints on this; but can you tell me more about how the album was recorded?
Well, that’s all me playing in my living room, in my condo in New York. This was usually pretty late at night, when it’s dark and the apartment building was quiet. I played very quietly with closely placed microphones (which is why you can hear my breathing and sometimes even the refrigerator hum). So, I’m afraid, it wasn’t a dedicated studio with a professional pianist, which is why I think it’s a lot more intimate, because you’re literally with me in my home.
Knowing this makes me feel even closer when I’m listening to the album. Awesome! I am however a little bit curious on your take on sampled pianos. For me, it’s quite impossible to record a piano live in my apartment; if the kids are awake, they will ruin the recording, or if they would be asleep, I would probably wake them up; no matter how soft I played.
For piano sounds, I am lucky enough to be able to produce my own. With each note always sounding completely different than the other, I am essentially constructing my very own sound library. That being said, on a few pieces I have used a sophisticated sample library of a cello. That’s right, the cello, although 100% real, is played by me using a keyboard, because I am simply unable to create the sounds on my own. Therefore I am pretty open to the idea of a sample library, as long as each note doesn’t sound too repetitive.
Do you somehow modify your piano to get that ”damped” sound which can be heard throughout the album? What kind of piano do you use?
It’s an upright W. Hoffman which I particularly purchased for that sound (it took me more than six months to find just the right one). I used to have a Yamaha baby grand, but I sold it before moving to London, and it began sounding a bit too bright for my liking. The piano is not modified at all beyond the removal of the wooden casing, with all original felt. But I did think about making the felt a bit more thicker for even damper sound.
Last but not least;
Do you have more music coming out soon?
I have not accumulated enough tracks for an entire album, but I am playing around with a piece or two, most recently in collaboration with some of my favorite artists, because I think they really compliment my ideas beyond where I could take them alone.
This question is asked by my 5 year old son:
Where do all your songs come from?
It’s a great question, but the answer may be a bit tough to explain to a 5-year old, but you can try. All of my music comes from within, when it’s impossible to explain what I feel with words. That something, however, needs to come out, and it is expressed through my music.
Thank you Mike! It has been a real pleasure talking to you about this.
I usually don’t embed Spotify playlist in my Behind the piano posts, but I think you all need to check out these albums if you haven’t heard them.
If the playlists doesn’t work, just click here to go to Spotify and listen there instead!
The Minimal Piano Series is a musical project divided into several volumes that we decided to launch in 2017 motivated by a strong desire of discovery.
A couple of months ago, just when I released my EP Spring, I saw this post floating around on facebook promoting what was called The Minimal Piano Series 2. I got curious and checked it out. Apparently it was a completion for being featured on the album with the same name. I sent in one of my songs, but I didn’t “win”.
Just recently the album was released and I listened to a couple of songs. I liked what I heard, and contacted Roberto Grimaldi at Blue Spiral Records (which is the record company in charge of the competition and release) and asked if I could do a quick interview about the release. So here it it! However the interview is not with Roberto. Find out below!
Who are you?
I’m Italia Buccino, actually art director and label manager of Blue Spiral Records.
What is the minimal piano series?
Each volume contains pieces selected thanks to an international contest reserved to original and unreleased compositions that includes the piano as the main instrument of the piece. The compositions are chosen by a high-level international jury. Then our label release the result on Cd and on all digital platforms.
How did you come up with the idea in the first place to host these competitions and make these releases?
The idea was born because we wanted to give the opportunity to emerge to pianists and composers with skilled talent but that did not receive the right attention from an increasingly fast and distracting world.
We basically produce piano music, especially of the minimal and modern-classical genre,
Minimal understood as essentiality in compositional elements, or taking inspiration in a way more or less faithful from historical minimalism. This genre gives rise to curiosity because it joins the classic tradition to modern matrices.
So we decided to create a project that is unique in the world.
We also received a lot of criticism from people who did not understand the spirit of our initiative, but with our stubbornness we have shown the great quality of the project.
Wow. What kind of criticism?
I prefer not to delve into the subject. Blue Spiral Records prefers to respond to criticism with the quality of its work.
How many submission did you get for the competition?
In the inaugural edition we received 95 submissions, the second year 112.
Anything you want to tell about the release?
The goal is to carry on the talent of younger generations, aware of the difficulties but also able to imagine a future where music returns to be the main pivot of present and future society.
Will you host more competitions like this is the future?
We currently think that the only possible competition for our label, according to our artistic needs, is The Minimal Piano Series. In 2019 we will organize the third and probably last edition of the contest.
Thank you for the chat Italia!
Please have a listen to the compilation below. I’m pretty sure you’ll find a couple of new favorites. I certainly did!
And keep a look out for the Minimal piano series part 3!