Behind the piano

Behind the piano: Luke Duffy

A while back, we listened to Luke Duffys tune Telltale signs together. Now it’s time to have a deeper conversation with Luke to learn more about the artist behind the song!

Where are you from? And where do you live?
I’m originally from Dublin, Ireland, but have been living in Iceland for the last three years. Met a lovely Icelandic girl when I was in Dublin and I followed her to the icey North.

Oh, Iceland! Have you learned the language yet?
Yes, well, I’ve learned it enough to get by. I teach music in a school here and I use it everyday!

Did your move to Iceland have an effect on your music making? I mean; many of the great ones comes from there.
It did have an effect I suppose. I was already listening to a lot of Icelandic composers: Johann Johannson, Soley, Olafur Arnalds; so it was a soundworld I enjoyed. Although I don’t go out of my way to write programme music based on landscape or places, on some level everything is an influence and the natural beauty here is like nothing I’ve ever seen.

How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
I’ve been playing piano, or at least learning to play piano since I was around 5 years old. I can get away with a few chords on guitar and I was always an avid singer, but piano is my passion. 

Tell us about how you started playing music. 
Well, I, like many children, was put into piano classes from a young age. It’s a bit of a gamble I suppose because I’ve seen young students who end up resenting their instrument because their parents forced them into it, but thankfully I was one of the fortunate ones who grew to love it. 

How long have you been making piano music?
My interest in writing for piano didn’t come until I was half-way through my undergrad degree in Music Education. There was an option to try out composition and thanks to some encouraging teachers I ended up realising I had quite a liking for it. 

Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
It’s hard to pinpoint a particular moment, but the first year or so when I began exploring my own voice on the piano was a really interesting one. When you have spent a long time learning to play pieces from other composers, you’re really sponging up all of that influence. Although it sounds like the ultimate freedom, it can be a daunting task to sit at the piano and think about coming up with something ‘worthy’ of being written down or played. Getting past those insecurities is something I think every composer has to come to terms with. 

What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
Hmmm, that’s a tough one. The issue of putting music into these little genre boxes is a conversation in itself, but in terms of composers that use a lot of piano, there’s a long list. I’m a fan of Dustin O’Halloran; his own early piano releases are really beautiful and melodic. Craig Armstrong in a similar way has some very chorale-like pieces which I listen to now and again. They both walk that line between melodically-driven and more ambient soundscapes. My list of classical influences would be an essay in itself but to be honest. Iceland has a whole bunch of inspiring composers, both for piano and otherwise, so it’s a good creative atmosphere to be in. 

Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
Whatever I’m working on at the moment takes precedence, I can find it hard to juggle multiple things so often I’ll keep ironing out the same piece until I’m satisfied. But besides that, I’ll play through a lot of standard repertoire that I have picked up over the years if I need a relaxing evening: Schumann, Grieg, Mendelssohn, the Romantics. 

What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
I’d have to get back to you on this one. I would like to think it’s less about breaking rules necessarily, but at the same time when you take things to the extreme end of the bell curve you can learn a lot about your own music making. 

How do you record your music?
If it’s piano music, then I am happy recording myself. Otherwise you kind of have figure out your own way. Recording music for larger ensembles is not a cheap endeavour if you’re undertaking it alone, so I’d rather write music knowing it can be heard rather than writing for a massive orchestra without it having been commissioned.

Whats your take on sampled instruments?
I think they are a great tool to composers. I use sampled piano software called Pianoteq quite a bit, and although not perfect, I think it’s fun to have something that you can manipulate a lot easier than if you’re recording acoustically. That said, there’s no replacing the real thing. 

Anything else you want to share? 
Well just a definite thank you to you and other small independent bloggers for doing what you guys do. It’s a lot of work and often a lot of thankless work. 

The last question is asked by my 5 year old son:
Where do all your songs come from? 

I’ll have to ask them one by one, they must be floating in through one of these open windows. 

Thank you very much for this Luke!

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