• Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Laura Christie Wall

    A while back I wrote about the track In the half light by the amazing piano player and composer Laura Christie Wall. Since today is a Thursday, let’s do a Behind the piano post about her!

    Lets go!

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I’m from Wales, UK and have lived here all my life. It’s a very inspiring landscape for music!

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I’ve been playing for about 17 years, though I took a break in my early twenties. I don’t play any other instruments at the moment, but it is a goal of mine to learn the cello one day.

    Tell us about how you started playing music. 
    I wouldn’t say that I come from a particularly musical family, I only began playing experimentally on a small keyboard I was gifted one Christmas as a child. I would play around with different melodies and try to recreate my favourite pieces by ear, such as Einaudi’s ‘I Giorni’. I decided then to pursue music properly in my teenage years, taking piano lessons and later, beginning to compose my own pieces.

    How long have you been making piano music?
    I wrote my first composition for solo piano at around 15 years of age, which featured on my debut EP ‘Things I Couldn’t Say’ back in June 2019. After this it wasn’t until early last year, when I was approached by Blue Spiral Records that I decided to write and release my own music properly.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    It is a great feeling to be able to convey an emotion, a thought or a memory through music, without the need even for words. I suppose at first it was a form of self-expression for me, a personal way of giving life to my innermost thoughts and feelings; and then over time allowing myself to become comfortable enough with myself and the music to share these most vulnerable parts of myself with others. Composing gives me a sense of belonging, when I write a song I really connect with it’s almost like coming home, arriving at a place I was always meant to be.

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    My first and main influences are Olafur Arnalds and Ludovico Einaudi, but recently I have had the opportunity to connect with many great independent musicians of the modern classical genre and have discovered great music from the likes of Jesse Brown, Sophie Hutchings and many more. 

    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? 
    The first piece on my fingertips without fail is always Olafur Arnalds’ Saman. There is something so calming about this song, I find its simplicity incredibly relaxing, and the melody timeless.

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    I think the great thing about modern music is that there are no rules. Music takes on so many different forms now and can be expressed in infinite ways, and so the boundaries are constantly being redefined by the many great independent musicians of today who continue to reinvent themselves and create their own unique and signature sounds.

    How do you record your music? Yourself? In a big studio? etc.
    For me the composition part of the process takes place at home, on my acoustic upright piano, generally at night when the rest of the world is quiet. I find the nuances of a real piano; the pedal sound, mechanical noises and feeling the weight of the keys under my fingers are very inspiring during the creative stages of writing music. Depending on the sound I wish to achieve, I will then either record in a studio or at home using a library of sampled instruments.

    Whats your take on sampled instruments?
    There is of course, no comparison to the experience of playing an acoustic grand piano in a beautiful concert hall, but I do believe that the great quality of sampled instruments today provides independent musicians like myself a good opportunity to be able to compose and share our music with others without the constraints of being both time and financially limited. And especially during the recent Covid pandemic, being able to work with sampled instruments from the comfort of your own home, it’s truly never been easier to be a musician!

    The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from? 
    Sometimes, I hear a melody in my mind and use it as the main theme for a song, embellishing and recreating it in different ways to create a full piece. More often than not though it begins as nothing more than a feeling, an intrinsic urge I get to sit at the piano and see what flows naturally in that moment.

    Thank you very much for this!

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

  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Tiffany Hobson

    The week continues, and today I introduce you to the composer and piano player Tiffany Hobson!

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I grew up in Utah and I now live in Great Falls, Montana.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I started taking piano lessons at 7 years of age. I can also play the organ and a few chords on the guitar.

    Tell us about how you started playing music.
    My Dad decided to put me in piano lessons when I was seven years old because he loved piano music so much. I remember my older sister taking lessons and being excited for the time when the teacher thought my hands were big enough to start taking lessons as well.

    How long have you been making piano music?
    My first piano teacher taught me how to compose which I am forever grateful to her for! I don’t think many teachers do that. She even taught me how to write out my music with pencil and paper. I wrote my first song with her when I was 7 years old and when I was 8 years old I wrote a song by myself for my Grandpa who had just passed away. I continued to write a few songs here and there throughout my school years, but it wasn’t until I had my first child ten years ago and became a stay at home mom that I started to be more disciplined with composing. I wanted something to keep me busy while my son napped so I got back in to arranging music and composing original songs and it has grown into a huge passion of mine.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    When I first started taking lessons I was never good at sight reading and I didn’t enjoy the formal learning of reading music. But I loved letting my emotions flow through my hands onto the piano. I started just letting my left hand play chords while my right hand improvised a melody. I’d have fun creating a story in my head or making up words for the melody while my hands played back and forth. I didn’t realize I was doing anything that neat until my mom and my older sister took notice and enjoyed my improvisations.

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    Brian Crain was one of my first loves in the piano genre when I started listening to it more frequently 10 years ago. His music is so soothing and beautiful and definitely inspired me to become a piano artist myself. My other favorites include Jef Martens, Alexis Ffrench, Isabella Turso, Martin Herzberg, and Emile Pandolfi.

    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?
    My favorite song to sit down and play over and over again is “Jessica’s Theme” by Bruce Rowland from the movie, The Man from Snowy River. I’ve had it memorized for years now so it’s a song where I can just totally forget about the notes and let my fingers play the music. It’s such a freeing, beautiful and passionate song.

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    I think any rule can be broken. I really try not to follow ‘rules’ when I’m composing. The key can change in the middle of the music, the tempo and the time can change, chord progressions can differ from the norm or from what may be expected and a song can still be wonderful. The important thing is to write from the heart and to write what brings you joy. When you write from the heart and share your own pain, joy or sadness, everyone can relate because we’ve all experienced pain, joy and sadness. That’s what makes music a universal language. A true creator is able to let go of rules and let their music and feelings flow how they are meant to flow. It is so important to be original and to be you. Don’t try and be like another artist, don’t try to make sure you follow all the rules. Just follow your heart and let your music flow. When I see or hear someone enjoying their passion without fear of following rules or impressing other people that is when I feel I am witnessing real genius. Nothing is more entertaining or inspiring than witnessing real genius.

    How do you record your music?
    I have been recording music myself in my home. I’ve been learning a lot about editing,mixing and DAWs. I still have so much to learn, but it’s been a great experience so far and I’ve been able to make some great friends along the way who have been generous enough to share tips andadvice with me.

    Whats your take on sampled instruments?
    I feel like I have a love/hate relationship with sampled instruments. They really have come a long way and some sampled pianos sound incredible. Sampled instruments make it much easier to record at home. But at the same time I feel like it’s harder to get the dynamics and the passion of the music across with a sampled instrument. Sometimes there is nothing that compares to an acoustic sound.

    Anything else you want to share?
    Piano music means a lot to me because it has brought me a lot of peace in my life not only from composing myself, but also from listening to the beautiful pieces from others. Life gets busy and we constantly have other things seeking our attention. I think it is important to take time every day to ponder and meditate. Piano music helps me do that. I hope you can find time to ponder and be still as you listen to my music.

    The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from?
    This is such a great question and sometimes I feel like the songs are true inspiration. I often have melodies come to me in the quiet of the morning or when I am still at night and I know it couldn’t have possibly come from my own mind.

    Thank you for your participation Tiffany!

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

  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Elisabeth Tsung

    Today some parts of the world celebrates Christmas (not me though, since out big celebration in Sweden was yesterday). And during this Christmas I will honor the women Behind the piano! I get a lot of submissions for this blog, and the vast majority of the artists I listen to are male. So, this is the first post in a series where I honor the women Behind the piano!

    To start of I introduce you to the fantastic piano player and composer Elisabeth Tsung who earlier this year released her first song Sebastian’s waltz. Let’s get to know the person Behind the piano!

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I was born and raised in New York City, and I’m still living here. 

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I took piano lessons as a kid, and stopped in my teenage years. But I’ve been seriously playing for the last two years. I also play violin. 

    Tell us about how you started playing music. 
    I’m primarily a violinist. I’ve been playing for more than 20 years and studied violin performance in university. I was struggling with carpal tunnel syndrome and severe muscle strain in college, and during my last year, I got into a car accident that severely hindered my playing. As time went on, the pain got worse and eventually, I thought I had to give up playing music completely. 

    After a few years of not playing anything at all, I found an old keyboard in my childhood home and started experimenting with it. Somehow, playing the piano lessened the pain I had experienced with violin and I was able to build up a new routine. If I were to guess, I’d say it’s because with violin I had to hold up an instrument for hours. With piano, even though there’s still strain playing the keys, working with gravity gave me the advantage of playing more comfortably. Being able to play piano was such an amazing solace for me because the accident gave me so much turmoil, both emotionally and physically. Over the years, I tried substituting violin with different art forms, like photography and poetry, but it was never the same. Practicing piano became my source of comfort and helped me through some dark nights of the soul. It was the closest thing to playing violin, yet it was also more wondrous because it was new and I was so driven to play music again. 

    How long have you been making piano music?
    The last two years I solely played piano, and this year, with the help of an amazing physical therapist I was able to pick up the violin again. Then the pandemic and quarantine happened in the US, and I started experimenting with composing my own music. That’s where “To Return Is but a Dream” began. 

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    I’d be playing random things either on the violin or piano (and I’ve been doing this ever since I was a kid). I realized I could make songs myself when my friends would ask me what I was humming around them.

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    Lately I’ve been really into Joep Beving’s work, and I’m amazed that after 1 year of playing piano seriously he was able to write and record a whole album. Growing up, I idolized Martha Argerich and Helene Grimuad, and Olafur Arnalds (which I’ve noticed is a favorite on this blog!) and Dustin O’Halloran are my top contemporary pianists/composers. Rachmaninov and Shostakovich will always hold a special place in my heart as well.  

    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? 
    Yes! Literally each time I sit down at a piano (either my own or someone else’s), I break into Arabesque No. 1 by Debussy. It’s my favorite piano piece in the world.

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    I think when it comes to musicians, there tends to be a sense of pettiness and competitiveness towards one another, even if it’s felt on an internal level. Everyone is human and makes mistakes from time to time. Pointing those out is just unnecessary and cruel. We’re all on our own journey, and there are audiences for everyone out there.   

    How do you record your music?
    I slowly started creating a space for myself in my tiny apartment to record my music. I was inspired after I read all the other Behind the Piano studio setups. 

    Whats your take on sampled instruments?
    I didn’t know much about sampled instruments until I read your blog, but then I did some research and started playing with them! As a violinist, I was so surprised at the quality that’s out there. It’s incredible how music has fused with technology. 

    The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from?
    Melodies tend to come into my head the minute I wake up, and I’d jump out of bed and write them down before I forget, even before I sit down and play. 

    Thank you so much for this Elisabeth!

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

  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Pablo J. Garmón

    Today, we dig deep and ask a few questions to the Spanish composer Pablo J. Garmón!

    What’s your real name? 
    Pablo Javier Garmón Fidalgo

    How did you come up with your artist name?
    Pablo J. Garmon, it is just shorter (Spanish problems!)

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    Northern Spain, now living next to the French-Swiss border.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    Since I was around 8 years old probably. I could say that I play a bit of winds and percussion but, honestly, I am the typical pianist who is utterly ignorant about other instruments. Working on fixing that, though.

    Tell us about how you started playing music. 
    I was just a little kid, always interested in music, listening, reading, trying to find tunes in an old small toy keyboard, and my family decided that they needed to stop this madness or encourage it. And here I am.

    How long have you been making piano music?
    Last few years, I specialize mostly in orchestral pieces but only recently I decided to “organize” my piano ideas and improvisations, and give them shape.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    Practically from the first moment I realized that I was more interested in making crappy songs than in playing other people’s masterpieces. It helped that I was not that good at playing anyway.

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    George Gershwin, Philip Glass… Of course Chopin is an easy target, and actually I saw his tomb, so I guess that makes us kind of close.

    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? 
    A little idea I like to improvise around based on a very special person in my life.

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    All of them as long as you do not break wrists or lungs. If it sounds interesting, evocative, even not that good but at least ahead of its time… just go with it. And if it sucks, try again.

    How do you record your music? Yourself? In a big studio? etc.
    In a tiny studio slightly bigger than myself, sometimes with the help of some talented musicians.

    Whats your take on sampled instruments?
    It is a great tool, and like any tool, it has its advantages and its limitations. Of course, humans should always go first but sometimes, aesthetically or budget-wise, sampled instruments are the best possible option. Just keep in mind that, in the same way that you do not ask a violin to play in the lower register of a cello, sample instruments can only do so much. In good hands, it can sound beautiful.

    Anything else you want to share? 
    I think it is important to make music, and that goes for anyone who maybe is reading this and thinking of giving it a try. Just go and do it. It does not need to be always good or groundbreaking, just express yourself and the rest will take care of itself. The world will be (slightly) a better place because of it.

    The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from? 

    Stories, feelings, journeys, sometimes where my fingers want to take me. Thanks to the piano, traveling does not always mean going anywhere too far. Kind of useful in these pandemic times.

    Thank you Pablo!

    For more information, please check out the following links:
    Twitter / Instagram / Website / Spotify

  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Johan Famaey

    Today we get under the skin of the Belgian composer and piano player Johan Famaey!

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I am from Belgium and since 2012 I live in Hamme. 

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I have been playing the piano since age 10. I play many instruments, but those are the instruments that I can play at a very decent level: keyboards, accordeon, clarinet, pipe organ, trombone, trumpet, drums, double bass, salterio and electric and acoustic guitar and bass guitar. Nowadays I play mainly piano, drums, salterio (an Italian baroque hammered dulcimer) and double bass

    Tell us about how you started playing music. 
    I started playing music at around age 4 when my started teaching me the accordeon. My father played the accordeon I was very interested. I started playing on a small Horner accordeon which he used to play when he was a child.

    How long have you been making piano music?
    I have been making piano music since I started playing piano: I have been constantly creating my own tunes, next to playing repertoire.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    I took it really serious to create my own music when I had to make music for my own band when I was 16 and when I was 17 to compose for the school orchestra.

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    My favourite artists in my style of piano music are Michael Nyman, Wim Mertens, Yann Tiersen and Ludocivo Einaudi. But I also have the cinematic style which has resemblance in the music of Ennio Morricone and James Newton Howard.

    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? 
    Usually I play my own music and I often get ideas which result in new compositions. Besides that I often play music by Chopin with a very special personal feeling for his Ballade Nr 3. My other favorites are definitely Debussy and Rachmaninov.

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    Rules can be broken and should be broken if it serves the music. If the music demands unorthodox techniques it should be possible. I have used those in my more classical compositions. But again, only to serve the music, not because one knows how to use them for the sake of using them. 

    How do you record your music? Yourself? In a big studio? etc.
    My recordings are a mix of being recorded and mixed by myself, others were recorded at Motormusic in Mechelen.  In the near future, very likely January if the situation is under control, I will have recordings done at the Galaxy Studios in Mol, which is the best studio in Belgium. 

    Whats your take on sampled instruments?
    I make use of sampled instruments depending on the context and situation: when I have to play at a gig in a band or to accompany for more popular and musical music, I may play on a digital piano.For classical repertoire this is not done: I will always play on a acoustic grand piano. 

    Anything else you want to share? 
    What I’d like to share is that I (moon) wish that my music could (moon) touch people’s feelings because music should be felt. 🙂

    The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from? 
    My son is 5 years old now. 5 years ago, when he was I think about 2 – 3 months old, I started playing piano music for him. The first one that came out was Dream Flight. I didn’t have a title at that time but the music really originated to let him fall  asleep. Not long after that I came up with the idea of Moon Touch and the title is Moon Touch because I created this when the moon was really shining and I was imagining that my boy would fly to the moon and touch the moon, imagine that ;-)All of the other piano works have been composed by night. I sleep very late, like about 2 am, and somehow, those nighty hours are my most creative hours. I love the peaceful nights and when all is quiet, some melodies start lingering in my head and that’s what you hear 🙂 

    Thank you for this Johan!

    More information can be found on these links:
    Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / Website / Spotify

  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Matt Tondut

    Today we’ll dig deeper into the mind of Australian composer Matthew Tondut. Enjoy!

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I was born in Western Australia and though I have moved around the state a little over my life I have now settled about 15 minutes from the hospital i was born in.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I think I started “Playing” the piano when i was but 8 but was certanly attempting to play from as young as i can remember. I grew up in a musical household and was taught to read music by my Nan and my dad at home. As soon as I learned the basics i was hooked.

    Tell us about how you started playing music.
    Growing up watching my parents play the piano and guitar and also my Nan playing the piano it was just a ntural occurence for me to want to copy them and do the same.

    How long have you been making piano music?
    The majority of my time spent at the piano has been playing classical music or instrumental covers though i havent released anything of the sort. Composing and releasing my own piano pieces is something new for me and only something i have really started doing the last couple of years. I have used the skill set in other areas of music creation and am very thankful of the music foundation that piano has afforded me. 

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    I actually found song writing and composition far easier on the guitar than the piano. I started writing folky ballads  when i was about 14 and entered an all ages songwriting competition where i placed 3rd. The process of performing the tracks publically and have the small amount of recognition was all it took to encourage me to keep going and keep creating.  

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    I am so lucky to be part of an amazing community of very talented artists and freinds. There are so many composers around me that are a million times better than me that I look up to and am constantly inspired by. Jesse Brown, Peter Cavallo, Holly Jones, Angel Ruediger & Juan Maria Solare are but a few of the incredibly talented artists that inspire me. I am also a huge fan of Ambient music and often like to blend the two genres together when creating my own pieces, Jonathan Warman created an EP called Lull which really stuck with me and was also a direct inspiration for this piece.

    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?
    Gymnopedie No. 1 by Erik Satie gets quite a few repititions in my house hold. Mainly because it is a really lovely piece but also because it is my wifes favourite so is often on the requests.

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    All of them! I really don’t stick to any rules in my music creation process. I create what ever I feel like at the time and what sounds good to me. For me, if i think too hard on what I can and cant do with music then i will get stuck and create nothing or rubbish. Obviously there needs to be an understanding of composition which will make it easier to make a more harmonious piece at the end but on the same sense, treat it for what it is, a creative expression and do what makes you happy.

    How do you record your music? Yourself? In a big studio? etc.
    I have my own studio at home and do all my recording mixing and the majority of the mastering as well.

    Whats your take on sampled instruments? –
    I have a huge library of VST’s and am a massive fan of Native Instruments. I like and use both options. My piano isnt in my studio but is in my main living room which is quite open with high ceilings so recording on the main piano is nice but can also have its challenges. The main challenge of moving my recording equipment into the main living room and having it quiet enough to record.

    The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from?
    Great question! I guess the answer is My head, My Heart, My History and My Desires of the future. Or if that desont satisfy the mind of your son then the more literal answer would be From the speakers 🙂

    Thank you very much for this Matt!

    For more information about Matt, check out these links
    Facebook / Twitter / Website / Spotify

  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: John Bickerton

    Today, I’m having a talk with the composer behind the song Quiet Journey, John Bickerton!

    Where are you from? Where do you live?
    I’m originally from Windsor, Ontario, Canada, but I now live in Brooklyn, New York, USA.  

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I’ve been playing the piano since I was 6 or 7 years old. My first teachers were nuns – the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. The sisters ran a school with a very sophisticated music program – the St. Mary’s Academy in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. I didn’t attend school there, but I went there on weekends for piano lessons. I also took music theory classes. Those nuns, some of whom were quite tough, gave me my initial music education. It seemed natural at the time, but I realize now it was extraordinary and unique.

    Tell us about how you started playing music?
    I played piano and went through the beginner’s program, learning scales and technique, eventually leading up to the more manageable classical pieces. I remember I got more serious about music through piano competitions, which the city put on in those days. I performed as a soloist, and these were, you know, just local competitions for the city’s budding musical talent, but I took it all quite seriously. I performed duets with my sister, and I think we did quite well in the piano 4-hands competition for our age group.  

    How long have you been making piano music?
    I started writing music in high school. I wrote songs, Melodies, verse-chorus-verse types of things, but there were no words. They were just piano songs but with nice chord changes. I remember the early songs were all about 7th chords—minor sevenths in progression. And then major seventh chords in a progression. I wrote a lot of songs when I discovered those chords. The pieces started to get attention from the kids I hung out with. The attention I received from some girls who heard the songs added fuel to the musical fire for me.  

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself?
    I remember feeling essentially the same feelings I get now. Writing music presents a series of problems that have to be solved for the piece to feel finished or successful. The initial melody or progression or whatever sparks that first idea to turn the material into a song – that’s the god-given part. Turning that initial idea into a finished work is the hard part, and I remember dealing with that even from the first pieces. You get so far, and then it becomes hard because you have to reach beyond your experience and find the answer that this particular piece of music is asking for.  

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”
    I’d say my favorite pianist of all-time is Glenn Gould. I find his playing other-worldly and just wonderful. I am primarily a jazz pianist however, and my jazz piano influences are Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Mary Lou Williams, Andrew Hill, Geri Allen, Keith Jarrett, Mulgrew Miller. There are so many.  

    In the new genre of “neoclassical” or “contemporary classical,” I am a big fan of Joep Beving, Olafur Arnalds, Ola Gjeilo. I like the music coming from the nordic countries – the Scandinavian/Icelandic wave, the classical music coming from composers in those nations, a lot of it incredible choral music. I find their music inspiring right now.

    Is there one song that you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano? Your own or someone else’s?
    There is not one song that I play over and over. When I sit at the piano, I am working. I will be working through a jazz standard, trying to find a new way to play it, or frankly, to play it better. So it is practice, it’s work. There are always a series of things I’m trying to improve on. I will segue to my own compositions and work on those. For all the time I spend at the piano, I never know what to play for people when they say, casually, in a social setting, please play something for us. I hate that moment because first of all, to really play hard, like in performance, it’s not a casual thing for me. As a performer, you go full out. Sometimes, that level in an informal social setting is beyond what people are asking for.  

    What rules (in making music) need to be broken?
    I don’t know. I think most rules have been broken already. I studied music formally. I went to university for music composition. I got a masters degree. I don’t evaluate music in terms of what rules were broken. I listen more for craftsmanship. I think you can hear laziness in composition where the composer maybe just let a problem go – so I get excited by skill, whatever the genre or instrumentation, etc.  

    How do you record your music? Yourself? In a big studio? etc.
    I have done both studio and my own home recording. For my latest piano record, Heartland – that was recorded in a large studio. For a solo piano record, I would tend to find a studio. I have a nice piano at home, but playing on a full concert grand piano is a beautiful experience. I would choose to record that way. Pianists are unique because outside of their home piano, they are always playing an instrument that they have little experience with or control over. I have played truly unplayable pianos on some jazz gigs where keys were broken and the thing is just so beat up that it’s hard to make any type of musical sound. There are great sampled keyboards now and I think taking one of those to a gig is fine and certainly better than playing some broken beast of an upright but I cannot warm up to piano samples. Yes, they sound like a piano but it’s nowhere near the same thing for me. Contrast that to a bass player of saxophone player that plays the same instrument all the time. They know how to get their sound from their instrument and can take it to any job. Pianists have to adjust very quickly and make a piano speak for them.

    What’s your take on sample instruments?
    I like them very much and use them in my composition. I like them more as a way of testing ideas. Hearing what this combination of instruments sounds like with this melodic line or this specific harmony. Samples today are a great way to test orchestration. I know there are a lot of musicians that make their music with samples and I think that’s great, there’s a lot of great music made that way. For me though, at least right now, samples are kind of a tool that guide my more acoustic music.

    I do like a lot of electronic music. It’s funny how that term has changed over the years. When I was a graduate student, I taught a class on electronic music, but it was about the music of electronic pioneers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Milton Babbit. Today electronic music has a huge range. I was especially attracted to drum’n bass music in the late 90s. I thought that the breakbeat rhythms of drum’n bass and the way the beats were manipulated had a lot of implications for jazz music. It didn’t realize materialize, but I thought there was something new there.

    Anything else you want to share?
    I love the sound of choirs. I have begun writing choral music and have a few pieces now. I find there is something so beautiful about the sound of voices singing together in ensemble. It’s very spiritual and human. I think choral music is the most beautiful sound among all the ways to make music.

    And the question from my six year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from?

    I believe musicians, when they are successful, open themselves up or bring down into themselves a higher spirit. They learn to access that spirit within themselves and then transmit that as sound to listeners. I believe that is the job – that is the function of a musician in society. They are there to give voice to a something that is as old as man, that can only be expressed this way – as vibrations or as art or poetry and that something is a feeling of God or whatever word you would choose to use.

    Thank you very much for this John!

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  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Mjorn

    A while back I introduced you to the track Golden milk by the composer Mjorn, and today it’s time for Mjorn to take over Behind the piano! Let’s get to know it all!

    What’s your real name?
    Miron Nabokov (no relation to the famous writer)

    How did you come up with your artist name?
    It was a game of rearranging sound to create something close enough to my own name and nature, but also with enough room to claim it’s not exactly myself for creative freedom.

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I am originally from a small village in Chelyabinsk, central Russia, but currently live in the Hague, the Netherlands. Drawing inspiration from both locations, naturally.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I started learning the piano when I was 6, but never became a decent player, so I see myself more as a composer and a producer rather than a performer. I also know my way around a guitar but can’t do anything spectacular with it.

    Tell us about how you started playing music.
    I used to have a love-hate relationship with the piano. I started playing it in primary music school, when I was 6. I hated the formal education and would have left the school if my parents hadn’t insisted. Only closer to the end of that education did I start to truly appreciate music and the range of expression piano allowed. Since then, I was taking small steps towards making music, but it took me quite a while, almost 10 years since graduation.

    How long have you been making piano music?
    For a year now, I’d say. With all the electronic possibilities, it’s the piano that I start composing with, and often end up with the piano in the centre of any new piece.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    That was quite a struggle altogether. For years I thought that I can’t go further because of the lack of proper equipment, software, playing skills or theory, but slowly continued to work towards creating my own music. Eventually I accumulated enough knowledge to produce something I was happy with, and since then I couldn’t find joy in doing anything else.

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    Not strictly piano genre, but I can’t get enough of Brambles, Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds. They are the main parts of my artistic compass.

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano? Your own or someone else’s?
    I always have a certain earworm my hands would automatically play whenever I touch the keys. Normally it’s a piece I would be working on that time, and it has been a while since I played somebody else’s music.

    What rules (in making music) need to be broken?
    It’s more of a production unspoken rule of being in the studio 24/7 and dedicating all your time to your own material. Get outside, record in the field, talk to people, go to parties, listen to other people’s music. Never limit your sources of inspiration.

    How do you record your music?
    I still have no funds to afford recording in a studio, and for now all of my chips are on music-making, so everything I do I do myself.

    What’s your take on sampled instruments?
    They are the great equalizers in the sense that you can do everything by yourself in your room now. Making music has never been so democratic, and I personally would rather use a high-quality sample library than go through pains and trials of recording an acoustic instrument.

    The last question is asked by my 6 -year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from?
    They are coming from all the love and excitement I feel for the world and the people dear to me. The sounds are produced by tiny people hitting strings with tiny hammers, of course.

    Thank you very much for this Miron!

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  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Olexandr Ignatov

    A while back I wrote about the track Empathy by the composer Olexandr Ignatov, and today it’s time to get to know the man Behind the piano!

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I am from Lviv, Ukraine. 

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I’ve been playing on the piano since around 6-7 years old, when my parents got the little electronic keyboard. It was red color, had some fun pre recorded songs on it and a wrong pattern of black keys too.

    Tell us about how you started playing music. 
    I started playing that little red piano at first. At the same time I was also playing the acoustic guitar, which my father had hanging on a wall. Later I decided that keyboards are closer to me, and I continued learning it by myself on some cheap Casio keyboard. It had auto chord functionality, some pretty cool songs in it with the interactive learning system so it was a lot of fun. I learned a lot on it.

    How long have you been making piano music?
    Since I got to study piano in a music school in Lviv, I think a year or two after that I started playing some of my own stuff when I was capable to produce some cool sounds. Improvising, you know. Except for the piano, I was really into keyboards – playing them everywhere, at home, at school, at music school – wherever I could find a keyboard – I’ll play it. So it was going hand in hand – piano and keyboards.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself?
    I think that moment was gradually emerging from the time I got comfortable with other songs I learned on my keyboards, on piano, and so on. You know, the music vocabulary slowly but steadily grows when you do that. And slowly you can create something that you may call ‘yours’, which is basically a weird melting pot of everything you’ve learned + some of your own ideas that come into your head why you play. But to do it I really had to learn a bit of theory to position myself on the keys better – for example, if I conquered the C minor scale – that’s what I was playing on and improvising until something cool started to sound. If I didn’t know the scale – it was a hit and miss. So gradually while I was learning them, my ideas started to sound better and better.

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    I’d say Chopin and Liszt are pretty awesome if we talk about classical composers. From the more modern ones – Jordan Rudess, Rick Wakeman, Lubomyr Melnyk… and even some today’s popular pianists like Yiruma, Hiromi, Olafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm.

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano? Your own or someone else’s? 
    I don’t have any particular song here… but I like to warm up with some Dream Theater or just play some favorite tunes from my favorite bands and artists. Whatever comes to mind at that moment.

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    I won’t go too far to tell which exact rules should be broken – but I’d say you can break the rules if it serves the bigger purpose, helps you create something cool sounding or something unique that wasn’t heard before. Or some that just don’t make sense for you or limit your creativity. If there’s some ‘don’t do it!’ thing about playing  – investigate why exactly it is a rule, and if it’s just someone’s fixated idea for no reason – go ahead and break it if that helps to come up with something better. But you better don’t ignore some valid rules like “don’t play with the tension in your arms’ and such, you can’t be ignorant of such things and try to outsmart that. You’ll end up in a hospital and that’s it.

    How do you record your music? Yourself? In a big studio? etc.
    I do all my music by myself in a compact home studio. I don’t need a big one at the moment. More than that – I found that the more things in the studio you have – the less creative can you become. I try to do maximum with the instruments and tools that I have and really put them to work. So I record with my KAWAI VPC1 or just my Komplete Kontrol keyboard controller straight into my computer – and then process everything inside in the Studio One 5.

    Whats your take on sampled instruments?
    I love them when they are recorded properly and provide you with options to either create a great sound by tweaking things or they sound amazing out of the box. Sampled instruments now have become pretty huge but they quality is also so much better than it was even 10 years ago. I use sampled instruments in my productions every time, not only for piano but for all my work (writing royalty free music, custom projects, and such). It’s just awesome and so easy to work with and helps you get the job done in a fast and efficient way.

    The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from? 

    It’s a good one! I don’t know. Tell your son that I am catching them in the air, when I can. They are usually hanging around me somewhere close and when I sit at the instrument sometimes I can catch one of these bad boys. Then I tell everybody that I wrote it! Not all songs are created like that, though.  But I’d say – the best ones happened pretty much like that! But, usually it’s a more boring approach – I sit down and try to joggle my music vocabulary accumulated though years until some cool combination appears. Sometimes I just whistle my melodies into my iPhone and then record them. So yes, I really don’t know one answer for this! It’s a bit of a mysterious thing, really. 

    Thank you very much for this Olexandr!

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  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Jan Ove Fjeld

    A couple of months back I wrote about the track Sky Divine by the Norwegian composer Jan Ove Fjeld, and since it’s Thursday today we’ll get to know him a bit better!

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    Been playing most of my life since I was about 5-6 year old, grow up with a upright piano in my parents house, I used to play a bit guitar as well, but last 20 years ive been focusing on the piano, and be good at one instrument, always loved the sound of a piano too.

    Tell us about how you started playing music. 
    Always played on the piano at home, started with flute lesson for a while too, but it wasn’t really my thing, started early with piano lession through most of my childhood, but I never really got into notes, so my piano teacher tried a new approach, building on what’s already there, musicality and a good hearing, she played, I watched, and that worked fine even on more advanced stuff like Chopin etc, so I actually dont read notes, in return ive developed an incredible good hearing..

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    That was early, I remember playing the piano at the school in front of my class, playing those boring pieces ive learned from my teacher, when no one responded I started improvise, and messing around playing random things right there and then, and it sounded a whole lot better and I could se people responded and was moved. My piano teacher also used to write down some of my compositions, I was maybe around 8-10years old…

    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? 
    No not really, I dont like playing same pieces to much. Sometimes I just close my eyes, hit the record button and play for an hour with no intention, no ideas, just random stuff from what I feel that day. Sometimes it can come some fantastic stuff out of that, witch I can then build on, and hopfully end up as a finished song. I rarely play my own songs, after its finished I need a long break from that song listening to it over and over. I belive many independent artist must have it same way…

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    There is no rules, if it sound good it is good.

    How do you record your music? Yourself? In a big studio? etc.
    I record in my home studio, but have plans of moving and expand my studio.

    Whats your take on sampled instruments?
    Many sampled instrument sounds great, but not always easy finding the right one.

    Anything else you want to share? 
    If you’re making music, try not to force creativity, dont dwell on things to long, if it doesnt work put it aside start on something else and then pick it up later. Ive used countless hours on pieces that doesnt work. Dont try to make thing to perfect, that one note coming in slightly later, can lift a song, make it more human, and some really great stuff can come from a wrong played note, at least give it a chance, take regular breaks, listening with rested ears gives you perspective, is it to slow, to fast, parts not working, ive learned to trust my instinkt from that first listening with fresh ears. It usually is right.

    The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from? 
    From a lived life. In many people eyes I dont live that normal life that is expected from me, Ive always done my own things, and always felt like a bit of an outsider, I dont have my own family, so I can develop al my time on my art, also find a lot of inspiration in nature, forest mountain, sea. I love nature, and has a huge respect for it, and it makes me sad to se people destroying it. And for all those who listen to me, Thank you very much.

    Well, thank you!

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