• 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

  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Richard Hellgren

    A while back, I presented to you the song Surfacing by Swedish composer and piano player Richard Hellgren, so now its time to go under the hood and get to know him a bit better!

    Where are you from, and where do you live?
    I am from sweden and I live on a relatively small island in the baltic sea called Gotland. 

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I have been playing piano for very long. For more than thirty years. I also play the violin.

    Tell us about how you started playing music.
    My mother played the piano and we had an acoustic piano where I grew up. I remember that I as a child was very fascinated by the piano and all the sounds you get out of it. Later my parents sent me to piano lessons. At about the age of 13 i got really hooked on playing the piano and started to practice a lot. I was at that time very much into playing and trying to master pieces of the classical repertoire. in my late teens my goal was to become a concert pianist. At that time I also studied piano at a pre conservatory level in England. However I was practicing too much and in the wrong way ( I later found out). My wrists were strained and I had to stop playing. I sort of gave up on that career. Instead I focused on a different career and became an Architect. I always wanted to do something creative and I thought that could be a good alternative. 

    How long have you been making piano music?
    I have always thought that making music is something magical that I always wanted to do. But I think it is the last three years that I really started to make music. I think it has been parallel with me finding my way back to the piano. Reevaluating my relation to the piano. Not trying to be a pianist with technical virtuosity. But finding my own authentic voice and expressing it on the piano. 

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    For very long I have had a feeling that i had something to express in music. But earlier I seldom got very much external validation. People didn’t seem to understand my music. I think that led my to doubt myself and my music making. A turning point for me was when i started to do some meditation tracks for a mediation app  called Insight timer.  I got so much good feedback from people and started to actually believe that there are actually people I can reach with my music and that my music actually can have meaning for other people. That in turn gave me more confidence and I started to do more music. Eventually I found the modern classical community and found a genre that suited me and my style very well.

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    I think Luke Howard and Ólafur Arnalds are two of my main infuences. I also like Johann Johannson. There is something with that music coming from Iceland.  Also living on an island perhaps there is something in the music I can relate to.

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
    When I am in a creative mood my head is so filled with my own new music that I rarely have place for much else music. But with that said I had a period when I listened a lot to Luke Howards album Open heart stories. It resonated very much with me. 

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    I think we are stuffing everything in our modern culture. I think of an old interior in the nineteenth century where there where things everywhere.  There is a term:  horror vacui  (horror of empty space) for that interior mind set. I think it is similar in our modern world. We seem to try be perpetually entertained, with social media internet. And there is rarely time for silence and stillness. I think there is a need for music that is not always engaging the mind. A music that perhaps is experienced as a bit boring for someone seeking to be stimulated by novelty and excitement. But a music that for someone else can be a vehicle for stillness and emotional healing. 

    How do you record your music?
    For me I was searching quite a lot for the perfect instrument and studio to record in. I had an idea of recording on an expensive grand piano and I evaluated different studio options. A friend of mine that is also an accomplished music producer one day showed me his studio. I asked him for advice and it turned out that he himself preferred cheaper upright pianos because he thought they had more character.  That made me rethink what an ideal recording instrument should be. I actually had an upright piano in my house. An old Malmsjö from 1911. It hadn’t occurred to me that it was the perfect instrument for me. It is funny sometimes that solutions sometimes can be right in front of your eyes but you just don’t see them.

    Whats your take on sampled instruments?
    My first recordings were made on a sampled instrument. Those recordings are definitely cleaner. But I prefer listening to a real instrument.  But with that said I am still moved by great music whether sampled och acoustic. 

    The last question is asked by my 5 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from? 
    I think everyone has a creative seed inside of them. Tendering it with soil, water, space and sunlight will make it grow to a tree. For some people the fruit of that tree will be songs to share to the world.

    Thank you for this Richard!

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

  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Music Within

    Today it’s time to get to know more about the person behind great compositions as A moment of symmetry and Julichka’s Theme. Let’s go!

    What’s your real name? 
    Rob McAllister

    How did you come up with your artist name?
    I look at it more as a project name rather than my artist name. With the name, I was trying to find something that communicated a sense of depth and passion and curiosity. I was pretty pumped when I discovered that Music Within was unclaimed by any musician or composer and I just went with it!

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I’m from a city called Welland in Ontario, Canada. I now live in Toronto, Canada.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    Wow, well after being asked to count it out it looks like I’ve been playing the piano on and off for about 20 years now! I also play guitar and trombone regularly, and a few other instruments in a studio / production capacity.

    Tell us about how you started playing music. 
    When I was about six years old my parents started me in piano lessons. (Big thank you to them!) My sister was already a few years ahead of me, so I was eager to catch up.

    How long have you been making piano music?
    Approximately 7 years.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    My first experience writing music rather than just playing someone else’s music was actually in a band setting. When I was about 14 I played trombone in a ska/punk band. It was a lot of fun writing the horn parts and definitely opened my mind up to the reality that I could create my own music.

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    It’s difficult to say ‘favorite’ artists but here are a few that I like a lot: Angus MacRae, Joep Beving, Jasha Klebe, Bruno Sanfilippo, and Rob Simonsen. I also recently discovered an album called Waves by AVA which I’m really enjoying!

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
    Waltz in D-flat major by Frederic Chopin (popularly known in English as the “Minute Waltz”)

    What rules (in making music) need to be broken?
    Hmm, tough question. How about the rule of music needing to fit into a “genre bin?” I’d say it’s a good one to try to consciously break. “Weird and strange” can become “unique and ground-breaking” if given the chance. 

    How do you record your music?
    I record most of my music myself at my “project studio.” When I have parts for live strings I send it to a few musician friends who can record the parts from their own studios. For a few of the tracks on my upcoming album, the piano was tracked in a Toronto studio called Soleil Sound.

    What’s your take on sampled instruments?
    Without a doubt, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without sampled instruments. When I was first starting to compose music and discovered that I could play all of these amazing, realistic sounds with my keyboard it was like opening Pandora’s box! And I still use them regularly today. So to speak down on them would be total hypocrisy. All of that said, now that I’m a bit more experienced and I’ve trained my ‘production ears’, without a doubt live instruments with live players always sound better, enhance the composition and evoke a more emotional response. How’s that for tiptoeing the line?

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

    Great question! I think they come from all around us. You can get inspired by a cloud in the sky, a ray of light, something you read, a film you watch, a sad experience, and of course other people’s music. You sit down and have fun experimenting. You chip away at the nothingness with your own personal experiences and your unique strengths.

    Thank you very much Rob!

    For more information, please go to the following place to find more!
    Facebook / Instagram / Website / Spotify

  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: The Aquaerials

    I have up until now had the chance to feature two tunes by The Aquaerials, and now it’s about time to get to know the man behind the mask a bit better.

    What’s your real name?
    My name is Mark Swanson.

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I’m from a town called Muskegon, Michigan. I currently live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

    How did you come up with your artist name?
    An Aquaerial is sort of a made up hybrid creature. Like a bird and a fish combined. I came up with it years ago. It was never really meant to be a band name, and looking back now, it’s a pretty terrible name.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I’ve been playing piano very casually for about 15 years. I’ve only been more seriously playing music for the last 5 years. I also play guitar, but I definitely spend most of my time at the piano.

    Tell us about how you started playing music!
    I took a few guitar lessons when I was 7 or 8 years old, but it never really stuck for me. I also played trumpet for a few years in school. But aside from that, I started pretty late in life. When I was 24, I moved into an apartment by myself. I had wanted to learn an instrument again for years, and once I had a place to myself where I could be as noisy as I wanted, I bought a guitar. I became obsessed with learning how to play music and writing my own songs. The songs I wrote were horrible, but I ended up recording some of them on piano 10 years later. They’re slightly less horrible now.

    How long have you been making piano music?
    I began releasing music on Soundcloud about 5 years ago. I had actually sold off all my instruments while my wife and I were saving our money to buy a house. I sold several guitars, a drum kit, bass guitar, etc. The only thing I wasn’t able to sell off was my keyboard. I had bought it for $300, but the most anyone offered me was $100, so I decided to hold onto it. Once I got the itch to start playing music again, the only instrument I had left was that keyboard. So I dusted it off and that’s basically how this entire project started.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    I started writing songs within a few months of buying a guitar back in 2004, but it wasn’t until about 10 years later that felt like I was able to write music worth sharing with other people.

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    I honestly don’t listen to a lot of piano music. I’ve always been more into punk, indie and folk music. I’ve only started to discover more piano music in the last few years. I like a lot of the modern players like Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm, Max Richter and Eluvium. I’ve also discovered a ton of lesser known, yet equally talented players through your site and the playlists my music has been featured on. Some of my favorites at the moment are Andrea Carri, Andy Feldman, Anna Yarbrough and yourself.

    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? 
    Not really. After I record a song, I basically stop playing it altogether. I don’t perform my music live, so I like to work on new songs rather than play old ones. When I sit down at the piano, I’m usually playing whatever song I’m trying to work out at that moment or just improvising until I stumble upon the next one.

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    It’s not necessarily a rule, but the “genres” thing needs to be broken. It seems like most people decide the genre they want to be in and then try to write music that fits into it. I really have no idea what genre my music is, because it isn’t just one. It’s kind of been lumped in with the modern piano music, but my music only loosely fits that description. It contains elements of pop, rock, classical, folk and electronic music, but it isn’t any one of those things.

    How do you record your music?
    I do it all from my house. I’ve put out 13 albums and EPs over the past 5 years. The first 9 were all recorded using that old Casio keyboard I mentioned earlier and GarageBand on my Mac. Since then, I’ve upgraded to a nicer digital piano and Logic Pro X.

    Whats your take on sampled instruments?
    I think they’re amazing. I run my piano through a sampled Steinway Grand Piano in Logic, so my music sounds the same whether I record it on a $3,000 digital piano or a $300 keyboard. I also use a of strings, brass and synths in my music. These samples allow my piano to become a violin, trumpet, drum kit, bass guitar… probably even a kazoo if I wanted it to. I haven’t tried that yet, though.

    Anything else you want to share? 
    I just released 3 new EPs between September and October. Empty Orchestra is a collection of atmospheric piano pieces. Dead Sea Symphony is a genre-bender of dark country, rock and poetry. Learning to Fly is a collaborative Post-rock record with my friend Mike Harrison from The Anthropophobia Project.

    And, as always, the questions one of my sons once asked me:
    Where do all your songs come from? 

    Your son’s question is the only one I can’t answer. I honestly don’t know where they come from and it makes me afraid that every piece of music I create will be my last.

    Thank you so much for you participation Mark! I’m happy you find new music through the site!

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  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Cormac Parle

    A while back I had a chat with Cormac Parle about his track A magic spell and today it’s time to learn more about Cormac and hit music!

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I’m from Ireland, and I live on a crossroads in the Irish countryside surrounded by farmland

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I’ve been playing piano since I was 6, so 41 years now. I also did clarinet and double bass lessons when I was school – my clarinet has been in the attic for 15 years, but I play bass in bands. Can also knock a tune out of a guitar or ukulele, but that’s hardly remarkable.

    Tell us about how you started playing music.
    My family is fairly musical – my Dad is very into traditional Irish music, he plays fiddle and when I was a kid he played accordion and banjo for a while. He’d be the first to admit that he’s not a very accomplished musician, but he sure enjoys himself when playing. His dad in turn was fairly well-known locally as a singer, and used to appear on the national radio occasionally. 

    So I was surrounded by music as a child, though I suspect I probably started lessons simply because I had a school friend whose mother taught piano. In secondary school music became more and more an integral part of my life – lessons in 3 instruments, playing in a youth orchestra in my home town, playing bass in a rock band

    How long have you been making piano music?
    For most of my adult life I’ve had a piano piece or two in-progress inside my head, though most of them never got finished. Hard to say when I really started – when I was maybe 8 or 9 I remember my piano teacher being irritated that I was wasting my time playing variations on tunes from the TV rather than practising my scales. I also have memories from my teens of composing wistful pieces for girls I liked. It didn’t, alas, turn out to be a successful way of getting their attention

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    I think I always made songs for myself without thinking about it. I remember singing a song about holidays inspired by a line from The Famous Five (an English series of kids books) to all my friends when I couldn’t have been more than 8. 

    I do remember the moment I decided to get a bit more serious about composition though – sitting on my parents’ couch listening to the Dire Straits album Brothers in Arms which I had gotten for my 13th birthday. The music was making my hair stand on end, and I thought “this is what I want to do” 

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    I’ve a real soft spot for Yann Tiersen, and I love some of Keith Jarrett’s improv stuff (particularly the Köln concert). Over the last while I’ve been listening a lot to Michele Nobler and Juan María Solare, and I’ve had Merrill Crissey’s track  “Summerfield” on repeat since the beginning of summer.

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by apiano? Your own or someone else’s?
    Someone else’s! My default piano tunes are Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca and Maple Leaf Rag

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    It’s kind of an unspoken rule, but most composers/acts are pretty consistent stylistically, and typically I’m not. I just follow my nose and see where it leads, with no real plan at all. Sometimes I try to be more consistent, and come up with a few things in a row that make sense together, but then I get excited about some new idea I’ve had and that goes straight out the window

    How do you record your music?
    I had access to a big studio with a Baldwin grand for a while, so I’ve done some stuff there. Mostly I record at home though, just because it’s easier

    Whats your take on sampled instruments?
    I love them! I’ve done tonnes of home recording and sampled instruments sound better than my home recordings three out of four times. I don’t care how a sound is made, I care about the impact the music has on me

    The last question is asked by my 5 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from?
    My songs are adventures inside my own head

    Thank you very much for sharing this with us Cormac!

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  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Gianluca Piacenza

    A while back, I introduced you to the song Sometimes by Gianluca Piacenza. Today it’s time to learn more about Gianluca!

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I’m from Italy, and I live in Piacenza, a small city just 70km away from Milano.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I started playing the piano when I was 4 or 5 years old, I also played a little bit of electric guitar in my teenage years but I have always been captured by electronic music and synthesizers, samplers and drum machines!

    Tell us about how you started playing music. 
    I think I’ve always been playing something! When I was maybe 3 years old I received as a gift a little toy snare drum with two sticks and began hitting it! Then I had a little “Bontempi” keyboard and a Casio mini-synth. Then my family rented an upright piano, a beautiful Petrof which I have now in my studio and then I started taking formal piano lessons.

    How long have you been making piano music?
    Being academically trained in both piano and composition, I only started writing piano music when I was a student at the local conservatory, but at that time I was more of an contemporary-experimental composer. Than I understood that my emotions need a minimal and simple language to transfer to the listeners, and my modern-classical piano journey began.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    When I was a student I had the fortune to have one of the first prosumer Tascam 4 track tape recorders: I could layer piano and synths, drum machines, vocals together and then I started experimenting and adding more gear. Then listening to the results I said to myself: good, you must improve but maybe you could become a composer and a producer! I have so much raw material, piano tracks, songs, orchestral compositions in my hard drives, but I try only to release what in my opinion add something unique and special or has a really deep connection with my soul.

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    I have so many, but probably I must say Nils Frahm, Olafur Arnalds, Max Richter.

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
    I don’t have a specific song I play when I sit at the piano, but I always start improvising something and get in touch with the instrument (especially if its a piano I never played before): I explore the timbre, melodic capability, dynamic and then try to make it sing….

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    In my opinion there are simply no rules: as we speak of art, everything become subjective and everyone could potentially have something to say. The problem is that only a minimal fraction of what an artist produce today is really a masterpiece (this is the reason why classical composers like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin etc. will always stay in another league).

    How do you record your music?
    I’ve always been interested in recording gear and now I’m very proud of my “Red Couch Studio”, a perfect space for my music in which I have an treated piano room for clean recordings (and a beautiful Yamaha grand) but also a control room with my upright Petrof and a bunch of analog synths and effects. So I learned to record myself properly but at the same time I always like exploring new techniques.

    Whats your take on sampled instruments?
    I use them and I like them very much, it’s fantastic to see what awesome tools we have now as modern composers… But I firmly believe that a real instrument and a real performance are on another level of depth and emotion.

    Anything else you want to share? 
    Being an indie artist could be very demanding and demotivating at times: I’m trying to develop a real audience for my music, and I really think indie artists are the most interesting these days and I’m always discovering new unexpected talents… Sad thing is that almost nobody else know them… So if you like an artist, please support him and above all spread the word with all your friends!

    And as always, the question my 5-year old son once asked me:
    Where do all your songs come from?

    The inspiration for my music come from everywhere: it could be an emotion, a travel, a book or a picture, a natural sound… But at the end of the day I hope all my songs come from my heart and my soul and are a path to know me as a real person also.

    Thank you very much Gianluca!

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