Behind the piano: Philip G Anderson

Behind the piano: Philip G Anderson

A while back I introduced you to Philips song Along the forest floor, and now it’s time to take a deeper look into the artist Philip G Anderson.

Where are you from? And where do you live?
I was born and raised in Virginia, just outside of Washington DC. I’ve moved around a bit over the past decade after I graduated from college. I spent some time in Los Angeles and then moved to Chicago for a number of years but now live just outside of Atlanta, GA.

How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
This is a bit of an interesting question for me as there was never really a time where I “started” playing piano. When I was very young I used to play around on my family’s piano, but that was mainly just banging on keys with my index fingers so I’m not sure that really counts. When I was in college I played a little more piano in the practice rooms or on my MIDI keyboard mainly when writing music. After I graduated though I got a little more serious with piano and began practicing basic exercises and learning a few simple pop songs. However within the past 2-3 years is where I think I’ve developed most of my piano playing ability. I typically practice for about 1-2 hours a day during the week now. I’ve never taken a single piano lesson (I wish I had when I was younger) so I’m completely self taught. I actually grew up playing and training on drums. I played in the school band and took private lessons. However I haven’t played drums in years so who knows if I’m any good anymore! Lastly, I also play a bit of guitar. I compose music for commercial clients in addition to the numerous other things I do in music so that’s a skill I kind of needed to know for the kind of music I typically write for that.

Tell us about how you started playing music.
I think I started playing music because I’ve always been fascinated by it. I say “I think” because I’ve been playing music in some way or another for as long as I remember. I can’t remember a time before I was so captivated by music and playing it. My earliest memories of music are of film and video game scores growing up. I often listened to that kind of music more than I listened to pop music. Because that music is so unique, I think I wanted to create my my own music like it. I was inspired by those soundtracks.

How long have you been making piano music?
I’d say I’ve been making piano music for about 3 years now. I’d been writing parts for piano in my music for years prior to that, but I didn’t really start focusing on piano driven pieces and modern classical music until about 2015/2016 when I first discovered the genre and style.

Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
Another tough question because that moment was so far back I’m not sure if I can remember it! As I mentioned before, I’d been fascinated by music and playing it for as long as I remember. Part of that fascination was actually writing and composing pieces. Now at that age, all of the music I wrote was just awful, but it’s where I first developed my passion for composing music. An easier related question to answer would be what was the moment I realised I could pursue a career in writing music. That came in college when I took a course where I had to write a piece of music to go with a video. I’d never been so excited for classwork before than in that class! I loved doing that and after that class I realised I could and wanted to pursue this as a career.

What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
In terms of purely piano music, I’d say Nils Frahm, Chad Lawson, Olafur Arnalds, Philip Daniel, Jacob Pavek, John Hayes, and Jameson Nathan Jones. But my favorite 2 artists who are also pianists and have written piano music are Max Richter and Johann Johannsson. All of the music by all of those artists is incredible.

Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
Yes! It’s a piece I wrote recently and every time I sit down at the piano I can’t help but play it. I don’t know what makes it so fun to play! I also don’t have a name for it yet, but It’ll be on a future release of mine for everyone to hear.

How long is your shortest song?
2:02. My piece “Lakes”, a solo piano piece off my new album, is the shortest piece I’ve written so far. When I was writing it I kept thinking I have to make it longer but everything I tried to add on to it just didn’t feel right so I left it at 2:02.

What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
All of them. Creating music requires creativity and experimentation. If you’re trying to adhere to a set of rules that’ll only limit the possibilities of what you can create. There’s nothing quite like hearing a completely new piece of music with new ideas, or instruments, or recording techniques. Don’t write something in a certain way because “that’s the way you do it”. Create something new!

How do you record your music?
I don’t have a set way (going back to breaking the rules!). I’ve recorded in professional recording studios, a church, in my own studio, in my own bedroom and each yields different results. It just depends on the project and what I’m trying to capture with the recording. I’ve also worked with recording engineers and also acted as the recording engineer for my own music. In terms of that though, I do prefer to have someone else focus on the actual recording and gear so that I can focus on the music and other musicians if there are any.

For Portraits, a previous release of mine, we recorded a string quintet in a large church because I wanted to capture the natural reverb and space of the church itself. I couldn’t have done that in a recording studio. I also hired a recording engineer for that session so that I could conduct the musicians and focus on getting the best performance from them instead of worrying about the engineering side of the session.

Then for another piece of mine entitled Close, I recorded upright piano in a small recording studio because I felt that would get the best result. In just over a week, I’ll be recording a cellist in my own studio with my own gear. So again, I don’t have a set way, I just go by what I feel will be best for the specific project or piece I’m working on. That also goes for recording techniques. I may not place microphones on a piano or a cello the same way every time I record. I go by what sounds best for the specific instance I’m in.

Whats your take on sampled instruments?
I have a love/hate relationship with sample libraries. They’re incredible and powerful tools that give everyone the ability and means to compose and produce incredible music! But they also can become stale and old really fast and they can’t replicate the feeling and emotion of a live player being recorded. I use them in my music only when I need to. For example, I don’t have the budget to record a full orchestra, but I really want to have a bigger sound than just a solo string player. So I’ll record a solo violin player live and then layer a string sample underneath that performance so that it makes the overall part sound bigger, but it still has the feeling and uniqueness captured by that live performance. This is something I had to do on my latest album. The string parts were recorded with live players, but then I layered sample strings underneath them to get a bigger sound.

The other problem I have with sample libraries is that they’re only 1 specific sound. So if I have a specific sound in mind for a piece, but I’m using a sample library that doesn’t sound like that, I’m stuck. And that’s where they can become old and stale because you’re hearing the same sounds and same performances over and over. Now, they are also wonderful because I do a lot of custom scoring work where I need to produce music from just about every genre and style there is but I don’t have the ability and the client doesn’t have the budget to hire players for all those parts and instruments to be recorded live. For example, I may be scoring a trailer that the client wants to have epic orchestral music in but 1, they can’t afford to hire a 60 piece orchestra, and 2, they don’t have the time to organize that kind of recording session because of tight deadlines. That’s where sample libraries are wonderful. It gives me, the composer, the ability to produce the music that the client wants. However when producing my own music, I try to avoid sample libraries and prefer to create and define my own unique sound.

Anything else you want to share?
In case it wasn’t already clear, I just released a new album entitled “Wilderness” which is inspired by the desire to escape and explore the outside world. I hope it inspires listeners in the same way that I was inspired when writing it! (you can read more about the album here)

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

The song genie of course! Haha, I wish I knew the answer to that question.

Writing music is one of the strangest things for me. Before my fingers touch the keyboard I have no idea what I’m about to write or play. I’ll start off playing 1 note, or 1 chord and then react to that. It’s very free flowing, very improvisational, almost magical. I rarely even stay in 1 key when playing now. I don’t do much thinking when composing or playing, I just play. It’s liberating and an incredible feeling to have so many creative possibilities at my fingertips.

Thank you very much for this Philip! I esepessaly enjoyed your thought on sampled instruments as well as your thought on recoding music.

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