Piano Formations came about really simply and quite by accident. I was just sitting in my studio with a piano sound loaded into Logic and I played a very simple three note phrase and looped it and then played a harmony and then another part building the piece up until it was finished. It was a very similar process to making my Moog songs but with just a piano…
I decided to do another and then I had three. I really liked the simple harmonies and accidental counter melodies. I left it there and didnt know what more to do with it until one afternoon when I was in the garden watching the clouds come across the valley. The thought of how clouds form and change and the way the piano pieces happened and the quiet change and development they went through became one. Cloud formations / Piano exercises – Piano Formations. I had the idea to pair each piano exercise with a video of clouds, different cloud formations and different piano exercises.
The problem with any abstract concept is that when it becomes tangible by this very process it needs to be defined and this definition then inflicts its own force on the following creative process. Instead of just writing another piano piece I think of a particular cloud video I have taken. When shooting some video of clouds I think how it will apply and work with a particular piano piece but you have to accept these guides as part of the process.
So eight piano exercises for one or two pianos and eight cloud videos. As the piano pieces happen inside my computer and not in the real world, as I use a piano sample not a real piano, I wanted to put them into real world ambience. So I have recorded eight ambient spaces and put the piano in those spaces and now I have the video and the music it will define the kind of ambience I have yet to record, so another changed in the process.
The whole project Piano Formations is an audio cd of the piano exercises and ambience, a DVD of the cloud videos with the audio and a book of the piano exercise scores with some drawings, possibly by an artist friend of mine but I haven’t asked her yet. Possibly just some pencil drawings by me…
The most important part of all this is of course the music and the emotion that it releases from me and invokes in you the listener. Each note carries its own weight and its for you to decide where the weight lies.
Piano Formations / The ambience
There are three parts to the Piano Formations project, obviously the music, the piano pieces that started the whole thing, the videos of clouds and the ambient recordings that I put the piano pieces into.
The way the piano is recorded will be surprising to some people perhaps in that it’s not a real piano. Actually that’s a little confusing as it is of course originally a real piano but it has been sampled and what I play are the digital samples. Each note of the “real’ piano has been sampled or recorded up to 40 times at different velocities and depending on how hard I hit my mother keyboard it triggers one of those samples. Anyway I don’t want to get too much into the technology of sampling but it means that the piano isn’t played in a real room with the sounds and feelings of that room around it. Necessarily so as one person may want “their” piano in a totally different space to some one else. So I decided to put my piano in different spaces….
That’s where the ambient or field recordings come into the picture. I first had the idea when I was recording my friend Paul in Toronto, we recorded in my loft which is a big open space and the cello parts we recorded had the sound of the room around them.. I had some sound of the room with nothing going on and I put my piano into that room and really liked where it took it. So I decided to do a series of field recordings with this end in mind.
I wanted the spaces to be some how emotional or have some kind of attachment to me and I am going to describe each of them here. I have a website dedicated to field recordings called mylifesoundslikethis.com if you are interested in this concept.
Track 1, “What’s It Like There?”
I grew up in East London in a place called Forest Gate and although its very much inner city its only one block away from woodlands and open fields and common land with lakes and trees. I recorded this ambience outside the house where I was born and grew up and of course learnt to play piano in. Strangely I think the sound is about the only thing that hasn’t changed since I was a child. The sounds of the street take me straight back to my child hood, they bring back smells and sights and emotions.
Track 2, “Will You Stay?”
I’m not sure if this is ironic or not but this ambience is from the dining room in my house where my real piano is. I set up the recorder on top of the piano, no wait, I put it on the oak dining room table and sat at the piano motionless. The slight squeaking you can here is a Wisteria branch scraping on the window. Of course this is mostly silence which is difficult to discern but its there.
Track 3, “I’ll Never Visit”
This is a very special place for me, at the back of my garden I have an apple orchard which is pretty over run but in the middle of it I have a camp site. I have a Crow tipi (obviously) and a circle of stones that you can sit on and in the middle of that a camp fire. By the way the apples are amazing even though I never do anything to them…
So I do spend a lot of time down there in the Summer and I put the recorder on the biggest sitting stone and let it record the afternoon. It was October so it was windy but there are still leaves on the trees, you can also hear the train in the valley and my neighbours banging on something. I mixed this ambience particularly high as I thought it really added to the song.
Track 4, “Are You Sure?”
This is in the Tate Gallery, the old one, Tate Britain. It was a wooden floored room and there’s was some installation going on either side of it. I have been going to art galleries since I was a child and the sound really brings back the smells and feelings.
Track 5, “Is It Raining There?”
I was actually thinking about another project, or rather had another project in mind when I recorded this ambience. Its from the middle of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, just to one side under the main dome. Im working on a version of Scheherazade and we want to put the songs into ambiences for that as well. I wanted a big haunting space for the piece of music that describes the King but I thought it was more suited to this piece.
I’m not particularly fond of any cathedral or religious building, all I can see when I look at them is the near slavery of the working men who built them and the money that was either given or taken through fear but hahah that’s another story…
Track 6, “Life Is The Same Here”
This one again is from my garden, its actually on the picnic table next to the herb garden which looks out over the valley and where I feed Charlie Crow. A very special place for me and you can hear Charlie, he is always there. If you don’t feed him he complains, he will even come looking into the windows to find you..
Track 7, “We’ll Stay”
Another quite obvious yet weird one, this is the sound or lack of it in my studio. I have moved everything that makes a sound downstairs, all the hard drives and transformers so it is pretty quiet in there. I think you can just make out my chair, I was going to leave in the sound of the play button but thought that was a little contrived.
Track 8, “It’s Where We Are Supposed To Be”
After the day of recording in East London I simply pointed the recorder out of the window of my apartment in East London which over looks the Thames and Canary Wharf. Its just the sound of the city, actually surprisingly quiet but it was in between flights on their final approach to London City airport…
So there we have it, pretty much the sounds of my life to accompany these simple songs of emotion.