• Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Piotr Wiese

    Today it’s time to get to know the polish composer Piotr Wiese a bit better!

    Where are you from and where do you live?
    I am from Poland. I used to live in the capital city – Warsaw, yet now I moved to a “field studio” in the middle of nowhere. Literally in the middle of the forest in northern Poland, I have locked myself down in an old house where I start working on a new music project.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    For 22 years now. I wish I could play other instruments. For now, I am satisfied with the knowledge of how other musicianscan play different instruments. I have orchestrated music for a great symphony orchestra when composingmaterial for my debut album “Questioning Infinity”, I recorded every single instrument line on a midi keyboard using VST’s etc.Recently, I have done the same working on a musical ‘Pinocchio’.

    Tell us about how you started playing music. 
    Thanks to my parents. They thought it would be good to get me private piano lessons in a local school when I was 8.

    How long have you been making piano music?
    For more than half of my life.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    It was around my 14th birthday. At that time I inherited an old piano that my grandmother used to play. I have never met her though, as she passed away a long time before my birth. Anyway, the great and noble sound of the instrument enabled me to compose piano miniatures in a style similar toold masters such as Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, and beloved Chopin.  Later on, I developed my own, subtle piano style deeply connected with the modern way of piano playing with the use of felt between the strings and hammers. 

    What are your favourite artists in this “piano genre”?
    Daigo Hanada, Chad Lawson, Otto Totland.

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
    When I sit at the piano, I usually improvise something. Very often it’s in a minor or c minor – my favourite keys. Also, I have my favourite harmonic progressions (I,III,V,IV) (I, VI, IV, V) in different combinations and modes. 

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    The rule that there must be something broken.

    How do you record your music?
    Myself in my home-studio.

    What’s your take on sampled instruments?
    I hate the digital world, yet I love sampled instruments. If there would be a cataclysm and I would have to decide whether to save one or another,I would always go for an acoustic instrument. But after a year or so I would regret. 🙂 

    Anything else you want to share? 
    I want to say Hi to everyone who is reading this interview. 

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

    Say ‘Hi’ to your boy! The best question. From the heart rather than from the mind, I guess.

    Thank you very much for this Piotr!

    For more information, please go to any of these following links:
    Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / Website / Spotify

  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Luca Mazzillo

    A while back I posted about the track Love Waves by the Italian composer an piano player Luca Mazzillo. Today, it’s his turn to step into the light of the Behind the piano series!

    Here we go!

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I live in Italy, in Rome, not downtown but near to the sea. Every day I drive along the seaside towards the company where I work as an electronic engineer.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    The past 8 years I have dedicating most of my spare time to the piano. Until that I played occasionally keyboards. I also play drums in the dance music revival 80-90’s band called conrispettoparlando. For a little while I also tried to play acoustic and electric guitar but at the end I gave up: too hard on my fingertips!

    Tell us about how you started playing music.
    I think I started when I was something like 10. My little brother received as a gift an old electric organ: it came with sheet music using numbers. Who can recognize this? 5653 5653 997 885 etc. I’ll tell you the answer later!

    How long have you been making piano music?
    I wrote my first composition at school, I was 13. The middle school music teacher, even having only one hour a week, managed to transmit me the basic notions to let me create music. Around 18 I wrote a lot of songs, mostly ballads, with lyrics and music arrangements. The piano was only one of the ingredients of those (unpublished) compositions.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    8 years ago, I was sitting in a cinema, near to my future wife, watching Intouchables, a beautiful French film with an incredible soundtrack. Einaudi’s piano tracks as Una mattina and Fly entered immediately in my head. In that exact moment, I realized I could make and publish piano music. 

    What are your favourite artists in this “piano genre”?
    No doubt at all: the artist in my genre that I prefer is Ludovico Einaudi. I’ve been influenced a lot also by George Winston, Yann Tiersen, Yiruma. And in these days, I listen to music from Roberto Cacciapaglia, Olafur Arnalds, Dardust, Alexandra Streliski.

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
    Can I reply with 3 songs? If not, consider only the first one 🙂 Tree of Life suite (Oceano & Wildside mashup) from Roberto Cacciapaglia, Porz Goret from Yann Tiersen and I giorni from Ludovico Einaudi.

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    Honestly speaking, I think the only rule to follow in music (like in all arts), is producing something that is a pleasure to play and a pleasure to listen to. 

    How do you record your music?
    Luckily, in my home I have enough space for a grand piano, a digital upright piano and a digital portable piano. Nevertheless, digital piano and notebook are my favourite tools to record my music. Last EP Evolution has been performed on digital piano, and the sound is a modelled piano, an algorithm, not a sampled instrument. In previous albums I used the native sound of my digital piano: probably this sound was too perfect and “clean”. Of course, the principle reason of this home studio electronic setup, is for economic and time reasons. 

    What’s your take on sampled instruments?
    I’m absolutely positive about sampled instruments! Recently I found out about a software instrument that excellently reproduces acoustic pianos. I can edit tons of parameters to personalize the sound as I prefer: tune, hammer, pedal, strings, keys noise, effects. For me the result is absolutely realistic. All the technology that can help leading to result in less time with good quality is for me always welcome!

    Anything else you want to share?
    One of the bigger problems for a pianist when playing around is finding a piano. For some years I mounted my keyboard on a stand and performed my compositions. Although the sound of digital piano is quite good and realistic, you can’t say this about the aesthetics of an electronic keyboard. So, I decided to build by myself a lite furniture that could replicate an upright piano!

    And, the question from my five-year-old son:
    Where do all your songs come from?
    For me is very simple: there is a precise moment when I’m inspired. Then I sit at the piano and notes flow by their selves through my fingers! The important thing is having possibility to record, in some way, this music, otherwise is lost forever: fortunately, nowadays, in our smartphone there is always a recorder handy.

    By the way, the song in numbers mentioned above is Silent Night!

    Thank you very much for this interview Luca!

    For more information, check out these following links:
    Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Website / Spotify

  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Manos Charalabopoulos

    A while back I posted about the tune Sonnet by André Luiz Machado and Manos Charalabopoulos. Now it’s time to get to know the second of the two composers a bit better!

    What’s your name? 
    On paper, I am Emmanuel Charalabopoulos.

    How did you come up with your artist name?
    Manos is not really an artist name, but just a short version of Emmanuel. In Greece, almost all people called Emmanuel shorten their name to either Manólis or Manos. I went with Manólis until I was around twelve, but when I started high school, I decided I liked Manos better.

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I am from Athens, Greece, and live in Bristol, UK. During the last five years, I have also lived in Paris, London and Manchester, but my wife, Adriana, and I are hoping to set roots in Bristol for a while.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    My dad started teaching me when I was four, so that adds up to twenty-four years now. I have also studied harpsichord and can deal with most things that involve a keyboard and no more than three pedals (think melodica, not church organ), but at different times I have wished I could play the cello, trumpet, clarinet and various percussion instruments. I have compensated by becoming a composer.

    Tell us about how you started playing music. 
    Since I was born there were at least two pianos in my house, so I imagine I probably started playing by accident and soon after I could stand up and reach the keyboard.

    How long have you been making piano music?
    As a pianist, I gave my first concert when I was around ten years old in one of my conservatoire’s student concerts, and my first professional recital when I was sixteen at the American College of Greece. As a composer, I started writing piano music at around eleven or twelve years old, lots of romantic preludes and little piano pieces usually copying whatever I was practising at the time. About a decade later, when I decided to study composition formally, I struggled more with writing for piano than any other instrument. I was a bound by the intuitive gestures and movements of my hands and it took about six years until I could write something that was truly a product of my creative will.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    I don’t remember this as a fixed moment, as it developed very naturally, from my theory and harmony exercises. I had a wonderful harmony teacher, Konstantinos Telakis, who constantly challenged me and prompted me to personalise my harmony exercises, of which I made two each week. From there, composing my own music was just a stone’s throw away. I must have enjoyed the feeling of completing a piece though, because I remember that if I started a piece, I would always try to finish it before going to bed, almost an improvisation on paper!

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    In terms of interpreters, I grew up listening to the ‘great’ classical pianists, Horowitz, Glenn Gould, Rubinstein, who were a great inspiration at this phase. Later, I also developed a passion for Latin American music and began to listen to various Cuban pianists like Aldo Gavilan, Jorge Luis Prats, Chucho Valdes and, more recently, Alfredo Rodriguez. In terms of composers, I share André’s admiration for the piano works of Chopin and Debussy, as well as Villa-Lobos, Scarlatti, Bach, Rameau, Messiaen, Ligeti, etc. Don’t ask me to pick one though!

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
    I always play Erroll Garner’s ‘Misty’ to try out a piano, Debussy’s ‘Pagodes’ or ‘Collines d’Anacapri’.

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    The practice of making music is based on the expectations that come from the sound experiences of those who make and those who listen. There are principles that guide us to achieve different effects using these expectations. No rules need to be broken or followed in art, but sometimes it can be interesting to make rules to achieve a specific purpose. 

    How do you record your music?
    I record my live performances using a Zoom H4N, but most of my recording sessions were made using a standard stereo pair (Neumann mics or AKG 414’s usually do a great job), whether recording in a concert hall, theatre or studio. My latest album, Espelho Duplo—Double Mirror featuring music by André Luiz Machado, was recorded in the theatre of the UFG Cultural Centre in Goiânia. Our sound engineer, Ney Couteiro, used a Neumann stereo pair in the piano, plus a third mic to pick up some ambient sound.

    What’s your take on sampled instruments?
    Samples have revolutionised media composition and music production; the results that are possible—if you are willing to put in the hours—can be astonishing. In my own work, I don’t use sample libraries extensively, as I don’t usually compose in a DAW (except when working with recorded sound). When transferring my music onto Sibelius, however, the playback is often helpful to judge the timing and larger-scale proportions in a piece.

    Anything else you want to share? 
    Thank you, Johan and Sleepy Songs! If you are in the UK, join me and André in London, Manchester or Oxford to hear works from Espelho Duplo – Double Mirror and more (March 2020 Launch Tour details on Spotify).

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

    Different songs come from different places. Some have to be teased out note by note, while others creep up on me almost without realising. I sometimes catch myself whistling a tune over and over before realising that I made it, other times I can sit with a keyboard or piece of paper or computer screen for hours before an idea comes along. Ultimately, all music comes from life, so it is important to experience different situations and emotions, either first-hand or through observation, to make music.

    Thank you for sharing all of this with us Manos!

    For more information, please check out these following links:
    Facebook / Instagram / Spotify


  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Natalia Johansson

    I have recently written about the first two tracks (ever) by Swedish composer Natalia Johansson, and I thinks it’s about time we got to know the person behind the name a bit better.

    Where are you from? And where do you live? 
    I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. When I was four me and my family moved to Sweden. I’m now living in a small town named Bollebygd, a few miles outside of Gothenburg.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well? 
    I began when I was three years old, and when I was nine I lost interest, unfortunately. At the age of 23 I picked it up again. I don’t play any other instruments, I wish I did though. Cello is another favorite instrument that I wish I had learned. I would like to buy one someday but I don’t think my neighbours would be so thrilled about that. Maybe an electric cello? 

    Tell us about how you started playing music.
    It all began with a piano that my family had at our house, I just started picking out melodies by ear and so it went on. At an early age I was highly interested in music, especially film music so I think it just came natural to play the piano.

    How long have you been playing piano music? 
    I’ve played regularly since i was 23, so it’s been approximately 11 years now. 

    Tell us something about that moment when you realized when you could make songs yourself! 
    11 years ago I was learning new songs (covers) on the piano and there was this song that was really hard to learn, and I have a bit (or maybe a lot) of bad patience so I just found myself improvising something completely else instead. I used to say that I accidentally composed my first song because of that, because it was never intentional. This may sound like a cliché but when i realized I had composed a song I immediately felt that “this is what I’m supposed to do, I’m a composer!”

    What are your favorite artists in the piano genre? 
    The first artist that inspired me to start playing piano again was Yann Tiersen, and a short while later I also discovered the beautiful works by Olafur Arnalds. Other favorites that I’ve discovered along the way are Fabrizio Paterlini, Nils Frahm, Max Richter, Dustin O’Halloran and my latest discover is Joep Beving. 

    Is there any song that you can play over and over again? Your own or someone else’s?
    I’t would be one of my upcoming releases called “La Morte”. It’s a tune that is really special to me because it is the first piece that was composed as a direct result of a particular tragic event. 

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    First I would need to declare that I don’t know much about rules in the piano genre because I haven’t been trained in music theory or piano techniques. But I think that you should not be discouraged by that, just go and do your thing since music is a very personal experience.  I guess I have broken a number of ”rules” but it’s not something that I think of, I think more in terms of expressing a certain feeling and making other people feel that too.

    How do you record your music? 
    At the time I have a little studio in my home, and a digital piano that I record with through Logic Pro X and a piano plugin. I would love to have a real piano though and that’s what I’m aiming for to have in the future.

    What’s your take on sampled instruments? 
    There are really good samples out there, and since I don’t have a real piano I use them a lot. I have also composed a number of pieces for piano and strings and used samples for them as well. However I still don’t think it’s the same as using the real thing so I will try to make live recordings instead for my future releases. I think it’s really hard to get the same warmth and presence with a sampled piano as you get on a live recording with a real piano. 

    The last question is asked by my 5 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from? 
    That was a really tough but great question! I think it comes from a deep and hidden space within me, that only gets in the light when I sit in front of the piano. It’s an intimate space full of thoughts, questions and answers regarding everything about life, but at the same time the calmest place in the world to be in. That’s what I think at least!

    Thank you for sharing all of this with us!

    For more information, please check out any of these following links:
    Facebook / Instagram / Spotify

  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: André Luiz Machado

    A while back I posted about the tune Sonnet by André Luiz Machado and Manos Charalabopoulos. Now it’s time to get to know the first of the two composers a bit better!

    What’s your name? 
    André Luiz Gomes Machado

    How did you come up with your artist name?
    My artist name is almost the same as the real one. I’ve just removed the middle section, nonetheless it was too late when I realised there were so many André Luiz Machado’s in other professions while searching on google, but at least, not a second composer or musician.

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I’m from Brazil and currently live in my hometown called Goiânia, centrally located in the heart of the country, in the State of Goiás. I have lived for two years in the UK where I met Manos during our master’s degree at the University of Bristol, and in 2020 I’m heading further to the West, moving my home studio to Vancouver, Canada.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I’ve been playing the piano since the age of 14, but I don’t consider myself a pianist, but a very passionate composer who use these magical keys to write music for film and games, and concert music for great performers such as Manos. So, it’s been 23 years since I started studying piano. I also studied classical guitar and my main performance instrument is the voice; I’m a Classical singer, too.

    Tell us about how you started playing music. 
    I started playing music when I was 10, studying Classical guitar and dreaming about becoming a famous rock star on a great heavy metal band and afterwards, on a top progressive rock group. Prog rock music brought me to the world of Classical music, and believe it or not, my first contact with Debussy’s works was through a 70’s prog group called Renaissance. Debussy’s prelude La cathédrale engloutie opened one of its songs and absolutely amazed me, and there I started to be influenced by an impressionist aesthetic. 

    How long have you been making piano music?
    Since the beginning of my piano studies I loved to improvise on the instrument, but my first written and complete work for piano solo dates from 2003 I guess.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    It is funny to mention that. When I was 13, I was already playing in rock bands, but my taste was being driven towards a Classical music approach present on some melodic heavy metal bands and progressive rock groups. I started feeling rejected on the band I was playing for some of these individual differences in taste, and so I started foreseeing me in the long future sitting alone in a room, playing the keyboard and completely writing music on my own. So I got a keyboard, and music has started to flow. However, only some years later that I decided to become a Classical and Film music composer, and joined the university to the study composition and singing.

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    Debussy and Villa-Lobos are my favorite composers for the genre, followed by Eric Satie, Ravel, Chopin, Liszt. Currently, I am very impressed with the works for piano by Tigran Hamasyan as well. 

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
    The songs I have not put down on paper yet… : ) Actually, the piano score to the film Atonement by Dario Marianelli, one of my favourite film scores from all time, is set on the piano for a month already, and I love to play some of its music these days before my studio work time. 

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    Many people is eager to fit their own music and from others on a particular genre or style, and many times they even get lost when they are not able to classify them. Sometimes this needs to be broken, in my opinion. Studying and understanding the rules are also of extreme importance not to be strictly followed but to guide oneself to find and polish his/her own voice.

    How do you record your music?
    It depends on the work and budget for each project. We had a great recording and production team for the album Espelho Duplo – Double Mirror (Works for Piano Solo), which was recorded in a theater in my hometown in Brazil using a great German Steinway, too. Next year I will also be releasing the soundtrack for a lovely game called Josh Journey: Darkness Totems that was recorded on a great studio with a Medieval and Baroque musical group playing post-modern music with some Celtic and Brazilian folk influences. But there are many low budget short-films and documentaries I worked on that I needed to rely on samples, mostly, such as the music present on the album Dialogues Between the Sound and Moving Picture (2015), which most of the tracks I recorded and produced myself. Actually, this album is a compilation of music I had composed for film, media and games by that period. I have also written music for the label The Library of the Human Soul in the UK, in which a beautiful result is achieved while mixing a live strings quartet recorded in Vienna with other sampled orchestral library. There I only compose the music and perform the sampled instruments, not making the final mix myself. 

    What’s your take on sampled instruments?
    It is a very important tool that can convince a live performance really well when it is greatly produced, but it lacks the organic feeling, spirit and fine touches by a real and great performer. If the project budget allows, I always opt for live recordings but since this isn’t always the case, I truly love my sampled friends and treat them well.

    Anything else you want to share? 
    Thank you, Johan and all the team at Behind the Piano, for this interview. I hope everyone enjoys our new album Espelho Duplo – Double Mirror (Works for Piano Solo) and please, follow us on social media and on Spotify to keep updated with future releases. Also, Manos and I will be presenting the album on a launch tour in the UK in March 2020. So, come and join us in London, Manchester or Oxford. Dates available on Manos’ Spotify profile.

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

    Tricky one. Each song has a particular story, but sometimes it emerges from the sound of the ocean, from an abstract concept, from a book, a film, or even from a mathematical idea. Some nights, there are musical voices that wake me up and whisper on my ear strange musical suggestions. It’s all there on Espelho Duplo – Double Mirror to check out.

    Thank you very much for this interview! And by the way; the team behind this blog is just me 😉

    For more information about André and his music; check out these links:
    Facebook / Instagram / Website / Spotify

  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Klinger

    I have previously posted about the German composer Klinger, and now it’s time to get to know the person behind the name a bit better!

    What’s your real name? 
    My full name is Christoph Klinger.

    How did you come up with your artist name?
    It´s obviously my last name. In German language ‘klingen’ means ‘to sound’. So if you are a musician and you´ve been born with a name that means something like ‘the one who sounds’ it´s a pretty obvious choice, isn´t it? 🙂

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I´m from Bavaria in the south of Germany, near Austria. Now I live in Hamburg, in the very north. 

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I play everything I get my hands on, but not very well. In my work as a pop music producer and arranger it´s very helpful to have a basic understanding of many instruments. But the piano has always been my main instrument.

    Tell us about how you started playing music. 
    When I was about six my parents got a piano. I think we borrowed it from relatives. I was hooked from the first moment, so I took lessons. But soon I realized that playing sheet music was nothing for me. Luckily my teacher was very open and supported me with playing by ear, improvising and making up my own stuff.

    How long have you been making piano music?
    I play the piano for a very long time but I began only recently to release my own piano compositions. In 2018 I started to post little microcompositions on Instagram. They are just one minute long (because that´s the limit for videos on instagram) and recorded with nothing but my mobile phone. The idea is to make something quick and easy without going through a complex recording process. Just focus on the plain composition and keep it very short and basic. Also it´s a good practice to create something on a regular basis. Then in the beginning of 2019 I released my first full length song on Spotify and everywhere else.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    That was very early. From the moment I discovered the piano I made my own little pieces. As a child I recorded them on tape. I would love to find those old casettes again someday. That could be a hell of a flashback. 🙂

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    I really like ‘Lambert’. His pieces sound very easy, just like pop music. But beneath the surface you find extremely well crafted compositions. Not just the purely diatonic monotony you often find these days. 

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
    Actually yes. It´s ‘Death With Dignity’ by Sufjan Stevens. The original doesn’t even feature a piano. But somehow I weirdly love to play this song on the piano. Once I even recorded my own version.

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    As far as I´m concerned there are no hard rules in music. Every rule can be broken if it makes sense for your composition.

    How do you record your music?
    In my own studio.

    Whats your take on sampled instruments?
    Depends on the instrument. There are some incredibly well sampled pianos on the market. I use them a lot when I make layouts and later I decide if I exchange them with a real piano. In many cases the sampled pianos are already perfectly doing the job and I don´t need to change anything. But still nothing inspires me like sitting on a real piano. Especially very old old ones that already have a story to tell. And when it comes to pure piano music I will of course use a real piano.

    Anything else you want to share? 
    No more words. But two years ago I made music for a little film about the refugees stuck in Idomeni at that time. I´d like to share that because its message is still relevent today. Idomeni is closed but there are many other camps like this at the European border. We should think carefully if this is something we want to be responsible for as European citizens.

    The last question is asked by my 5 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from? 
    That´s an excellent question. The true answer is that i have no clue. They just pop up somewhere in my head. In a way it´s a complete mystery. But my best attempt to explain it would be this: A composer is in fact something like a ‘mixer’. You throw a lot of stuff in – all the music you listen to, but also other things, everything you see or hear. Then you push the button, everything gets ripped apart in tiny pieces and then somehow all those little fragments get mixed up and combined to something new and eventually beautiful. So we don´t create something from nothing. We just rearrange things we´ve experienced before . Of course that does not mean that the composer doesn´t have an influence on his work. Each ‘mixer’ has his very own algorithm by which he tends to combine the bits and pieces in his mind. And very specific ingredients for his mixture. There is a good reason that Beethoven sounds like Beethoven and Steve Reich like Steve Reich. And that Klinger sounds like Klinger.

    Thank you for participating Klinger!

    For more information about Klinger and his music; check out these links:
    Facebook / Instagram / Spotify

  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Karen Biehl

    Today it’s time to get to know the American artist and composer Karen Biehl a bit better!

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I’m originally from Dallas, Texas but have lived in New York City (on Broadway in fact) for the last 30 years. 

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?  
    I’ve been playing the piano for 46 years.  I also was an opera singer and play the violin as well.  

    Tell us about how you started playing music. 
    In addition to being a brilliant Chemistry professor, my father was also an accomplished pianist.  He was always playing the piano filling the house with the sounds of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Schubert, etc.  When I was 8, I started taking piano lessons.  At that same time, I started playing the violin in our school orchestra and continued playing in orchestras throughout college.  At age 17, I began singing and my musical focus shifted to pursuing opera performance for the next 17 years.   

    How long have you been making piano music?  
    I started composing in 1999 but my first compositions were actually written for voice, piano and other instruments.  I later set many of these compositions to solo piano, because I find it easier to record just one instrument, in particular piano.  

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!  
    It happened suddenly in 1999 after a trip to Australia.  When I got home, I sat at my piano and just started playing all kinds of pieces.  I ended up purchasing a synthesizer so I could simulate other instruments and make recordings of what was in my head.  These early recordings were for my ears only (and a few others).  

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?  
    Chopin, Debussy, Schubert and Brahms, to name a few. There are too many current neoclassical composers for me to mention just a few.   

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
    The only thing I play currently is my own music as I am composing and recording it.  There was a time though when I would play Debussy’s First Arabesque over and over.  

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    When I studied opera, I found it to be more about what you couldn’t do rather than what you could.  It was so focused on criticism and generally not a very nourishing environment, at least not for me. Making music should instead be about creating something that is inspiring and not discouraging to others.  In my vocal compositions, over the high notes I have at times written “if this not is not a power note for you, feel free to replace with one that shows off your voice at its best.”  Some of my piano pieces have been performed by students at my fiance’s school.  I have always wanted them to feel free to make the piece easier for them to play and not worry about playing every single note.  I don’t want music to be a source of stress and anxiety, but rather a healing experience.  

    How do you record your music?  
    I record all my music myself in my studio apartment in Manhattan, using Pro Tools and a Neumann mic.  

    What’s your take on sampled instruments?  
    Some of them are actually pretty good and they can be a great way to compose music easily and quickly on your own.  I’m not crazy about the sound of many string samples though, so I recently recorded myself on violin for one of my pieces.  It was a lot of work and may not have been perfect, but it was real.  

    Anything else you want to share? 
    Yes.  Never let anything stop you from going for your dreams. The great thing about composing is that since you are the creator nobody else can tell you it is wrong.  Don’t listen to the naysayers and just keep doing what you love.    

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

    I feel like my songs already exist in another reality and I’m just a translator.  It’s like I have a radio antenna that tunes into melodies that already exist.  In fact, there have been times I have been convinced my piece had already been composed by somebody else and I had to have others listen to it to confirm that it had not yet been written. 

    Thank you for this Karen!

    For more information and updates about Karen, please check out these following links:
    Facebook / Twitter / Website / Spotify

  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Zir Bijou

    A while back I introduced you to a track by the composer Zir Bijou. I was totally blown away about the storytelling behind the answers I got about the song and of course wanted to know (and hear) more!

    What’s your name?
    My name is Zir Bijou. My mother loved raw mineral specimens. She felt they harnessed some sort of power or energy. Her favorite was Zircon, which is diverse in color, but she favored the pale blue. She said it was the color of purity and that Zircon brings prosperity and self-confidence. I’m still waiting for both. 

    Where do you live?
    I live in Brooklyn. It’s crammed and loud. When the door closes behind me, the sounds and people of Brooklyn outside my window set my days tempo. 

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    The only instrument I’m proficient in is the piano. I have an upright in my apartment, that is in desperate need of tuning.I’ve dabbled in guitar, but it didn’t come as naturally as playing the piano. 

    Tell us how you started playing music!
    My grandmother, God rest her soul, taught me to play around 5 or 6. She didn’t like me to play with the other children in the neighborhood and the only T.V. she had was one from the 70’s with an antenna. It never got signal and the dial was broken so you only got a few stations of static. Needless to say, my only option to relieve the boredom was learning to play the piano.

    How long have you been making piano music?
    I’ve been making music since 10- 11. Some pieces I remember from the early years, but we didn’t have anything to record them. I compose pieces all the time and record them on my phone. 

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    It was a work associate who motivated the newest season in my life. They told me I should record them and put them out for the world to hear. Now that artists truly have the tool records labels use, outside of radio, with hard work and networking we can make a living doing what we love.The studio I recorded at, Watersound Entertainment, has a Baby Grand Baldwin, high ceilings and unbelievable mic set up for it. Also, the wife of the producer makes an incredible orange peel tea with honey from scratch. I’m craving it now that I’ve mentioned it.

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    My favorite Pianist!?! I could no sooner choose my favorite star in the heavens.

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
    I play all types of piano pieces. I keep up my playing with the Greats. Mozart, Beethoven… Their pieces are my mental and physical exercises. My grandmother’s mind was as sharp as a tac in her older years. I attribute it to her playing the piano. Her mind never got lazy. She always said there is no such thing as retirement.  I believe she’s correct. 

    What rules, in making music, should be broken?
    Rules.. break them all when it comes to music. Music is about feeling. It’s a window to our soul. You can’t contain her fury. She breaks through every wall and chained gate. She stops at nothing to be heard and attempt her revenge.As an artist you must unleash her, unbridle her so she can be free to work out her angst, pain and suffering. The soul must free to find  joy and happiness. To work with the confines of rules is only to bridle what can’t be contained. Your pain will always show up somewhere else and destroy something else. Just make the music. You would never tell a painter you can’t mix those colors together or put that shape next to this stroke. 

    Whats tour opinion on sampled instruments?
    There are some really great samples out there for piano sounds. I can always hear the difference between a live piano and samples ones. The average listener won’t especially because you can add the pedal sounds in etc. Also, it encourages me to put my music out there because I see the amount of people streaming instrumentals. 

    Anything you would like to add?
    Thank you so much for having me, Johan. I’m a fan of your work too! Shameless plug, I’m recording new music now and should have something released by the end of this year. 

    Thank you for taking the time Zir! I’d love to talk some more! Get in touch!

    For more information, please check out these following links:
    Instagram / Spotify

  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Jacob Trautner

    It’s Thursday and of course time for another Behind the piano post. This week we’ll get to know the Danish composer Jacob Trautner a bit better!

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I was born at Hvidovere Hospital near Copenhagen in 1970. A couple of years later we moved to Kolding and then Horsens where I grew up. Right now, I live with my wife and two kids, in a small town in Jutland called Skanderborg. 

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well? 
    We had a grand piano at home, and so I started playing when I was around six years old. Later, I also played drums and the trumpet, but it was never that serious.

    Tell us about how you started playing music.
    The first memory I have with music is an image of me standing at the piano, listening to my father play. He liked Beethoven, and later it also became one of my favourite composers. With no distractions like smartphones and computers, the piano quickly became my ideal place to hang out.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    I started making music early. Still, back then, I didn’t think of it as anything special. It was just me having fun jamming on the piano, experimenting with different sounds and moods. I was a shy kid, and the piano was a calm place to try out emotions that were too complicated in “real” life. I can’t remember making my first song, but I remember having fun recording long jams on tape to my friends. 

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    My first “piano” artist idol was the french keyboardguru Jean Michel Jarre. Later I came to like great pianists like Keith Jarret, Chick Corea and Michel Camilio.

    In the last ten years, I’ve been increasingly more and more fascinated with a more minimalistic expression like Jan Johansson’s “Jazz på Svenska”. I haven’t listened to that many pianists in the last couple of years. As I’m easily affected by other people, I needed a break to strengthen the connection to my own musical expression.

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
    I haven’t played it for a while, but if I have to choose one song, it would be “Memories of tomorrow” by Keith Jarret. It’s a beautiful song, and I really love its melancholy nature.

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    When I was younger, I thought that I had to break my boundaries to get to somewhere new. Now, I think a lot more about accepting and trying to be more who I am instead of who I want to be. So I don’t think of it as breaking the rules, but more as resistance against a limiting self-image. 

    How do you record your music?
    During the process of composing the music for the album, I often used virtual instruments for smoother workflow and editing. I used a lot of time tweaking a mix of virtual piano sounds, and I ended up with a really lovely sound, both intimate and warm. So despite the fact, that I love playing acoustic instruments, I realised that the sounds I was using in my private recording sessions, had actually also shaped the compositions. The sound became an essential part of the expression, so I decided to keep it. Also, using virtual instruments gave me much more time to record, reflect, and edit the overall appearance of the album.

    Whats your take on sampled instruments?
    I use sampled instruments on the album. Still, if it’s a replacement of real instruments, they can certainly have their limitations. In my experience, it takes a lot of work to make sample libraries function musically. Each library is different, and you have to play or program them just as differently. Often an overuse of samples causes the music to be too clean, dull and “dead”. It’s like people using too much botox, you lack the expression. On the other hand, if you modify or create your own samples, it can deeply personalize your sound in a significant way.

    And, the question from my five year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from?
    Now that’s a difficult one. I think that if I manage to be honest, the songs ideally is a reflection of who I am at the deepest level. So in that way, the songs appear from my childhood experiences.

    Thank you very much for sharing Jacob!

    For more information, check out these following links:
    Facebook / Instagram / Website / Spotify

  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Borrtex

    A while back I introduced you to Borrtex and his song (and album) thōughts. I knew from reading Borrtex story about the song that this Behind the piano post had to happen! So today, it’s time to get to know the person behind Borrtex better!

    What’s your real name? 
    My real name is Daniel Bordovsky.

    How did you come up with your artist name?
    When I was 10 years old, I used to play computer games with my friends. And I was the only one who didn’t have a nickname. So, one of my friends took my last name and did some changes, in order to ‘make it sound cool!’ haha! And somehow that’s how Borrtex happened. I liked it, and started using it everywhere even later on. I would say it’s quite original and has an actual connection to my real name…

    Where are you from? And where do you live? 
    I’m from Havirov, Czech republic – a small town in central Europe. I grew up here, attended music classes and studies high school. Now, I spend most of my time in our capital city of Prague, and make travel trips to Los Angeles and New York on a regular basis.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I’ve been playing the piano since the age of six, but I didn’t really enjoy it back then. I had a lot of friends all around my house, so pretty much all I wanted, was to go outside and play with them all the time, haha! But even the idea of playing from sheet music seemed kind of boring to me. I couldn’t get much creative and had to do what I was told to do. However my teacher was amazing, and she was always super patient with me. I believe, she is actually one of the reasons, why I eventually found a way to fall in love with the instrument. She wasn’t angry when I didn’t do the homework. She was always positive, with a smile on her face. I visited her last year to express my gratitude.

    Tell us about how you started playing music.
    When I finished my music classes after seven years of studies on Music School of Leos Janacek, in my hometown, I wouldn’t touch the piano for around five years. I started being more interested in movies and TV. When I was 18, I got a job as a cinematographer for a documentary project about Warner Bros. Studios, taking place in Hollywood. That was a crucial point in my life. We were doing interviews with world-wide known film composers such are James Newton Howard, Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer and others… This experience inspired me to maybe start thinking about music again. And when I came back home from LA, I just thought I would give it a chance. And since then, I remember not doing anything, than music!

    How long have you been making piano music? 
    I started producing instrumental / piano music in April, 2017, when I came back from LA. It’s been little over two years now.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    The first song I tried to make. I remember this quite vividly. I started working on it in the evening, and I was so caught in the process, that I continued working on it the next morning, and I literally forgot to go to school, as it was Monday. That was the moment, I knew I want to keep doing it, and keep expressing my thoughts and ideas through music.

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”? 
    Currently Nils Frahm. I stumbled upon his work earlier this month, and he is a genius. I fell in love with his work immediately. The way he manages to combine piano with electronic elements and it still sounds so well-arranged! Also, I’m a big fan of a film score composer Rob Simonsen, who really inspires me with his minimalistic approach and beautiful melodies.

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano? 
    Not really. I usually play my most recent songs, or I just play whatever, and that’s usually how my new tracks get born. Improvisation is probably my favorite thing to do. Just kind of ‘transcribing’ my present feelings and emotions into music.

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken? 
    I would say it depends on your personality. For me, I find it difficult to break the rules. I’m not good at it. I’m not a music inventor. I like working with known instruments and my best work comes usually when I don’t experminet at all. But we live in a time, when anybody can make music. And there is a lot of talented people who try to combine all different kinds of genres, and I think that is pretty amazing and that’s actually how our musical culture develops constantly on a daily basis.

    How do you record your music?
    All my work is recorded in my own studio. I tried getting in touch with some major record labels, but I found it ineffective, and the deals aren’t really that friendly. I prefer doing everything on my own, whether it’s album recording, marketing or public relations…

    Whats your take on sampled instruments? 
    They are a great tool to use, when writing new ideas. I would say I use sampled instruments quite often, when I want to layer the tracks, in order to make the sound more intense and spacious. It’s usually sampled strings that I use for this purpose.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us Daniel!

    For more information about Borrtex, check out these links:
    Facebook / Instagram / Spotify