Updated: Aug 2, 2022
Learning when enough is enough
The OP-1, and lower piano strings
Logic Pro X DAW
Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro headphones
Impulse and Inspiration:
For the last five-ish years especially, i've been deeply inspired by the work of Nils Frahm and Olafur Arnalds If you don't know, they are two of the more prominent neo-classical musicians working today. They both have a rich and deep history of classical music training, as well as a more recent journey into the land of synthesizers and beat making.
Nils Frahm's album Felt was a huge mind expander for me, in the cinematic and emotional potential of piano music. I had taken some lessons in my childhood on keyboard and dabbled here and there, but listening to this album in all its textural richness showed me that there were worlds available within the instrument that I had never considered. I think this was the case for a lot of musicians. The piano itself was treated with strips of felt or other fabric to create a dampened sound, adding layers of texture and soft tapping to the already rich melodies and harmonies. I'm still trying to uncover the secrets of how he was able to both record and mix songs that are so precise (of course due to his excellent musicianship), well balanced in the sonic spectrum, full of rich bass without being too overbearing, while also having such high-end clarity and satisfying airiness. Some secrets to his success seem to be in the use of reel-to-reel tape machines to achieve unique white noise textures, close micing to create intimacy with the instrument, and using analogue synthesizers sparingly to add depth, layers, and subtle fullness. His use of layers of sound is so understated and yet (and because of being understated) carries a high level of power and potency.
The album that Nils and Olafur did together called Trance Friendz is by far and away my favorite and most impactful "improvised studio album." The coming together of these two passionate creators creates a really incredible and down to earth synthesis of idea and inspiration, not to mention highly cultivated talent. Again, we see texture and subtlety come together to create pieces that are experimental, rich with sonic pleasure and textural tingles, as well as simple sweet melodies that carry the listener like lullabies.
the piano, treated with felt to dampen the strings and create a softer sound with more texture
The process of learning music more deeply and working to find my voice as a musician has at times been a frustrating and confusing path, yet as I learn to let go and allow things to flow, I can be surprised with simple melodies that emerge from another place entirely, outside of my will, or personality desire to create something "good." When I look at the desire to make something good, to be better, it's to live up to the feeling that I have potently received from musicians like Olafur and Nils. In the desire to be better is also the belief that I am not good enough as I am, that I need to get somewhere, that I need to improve, or acquire skill, to be adept, to be a master.
On the lighter side, the desire to be good or better is also the wish or longing to be in deep communion with the music and the mechanics of creating beautiful and true things. By training and practicing, I can more easily move through the notes. So, music is always a process of both learning more skill, and also letting whatever skill I have acquired be "enough" in the act of creation. In order to create something good or beautiful, I seem to need to enter into the music recording with the feeling that whatever I have is enough, for now. I can acquire more skill later, yes, and maybe indefinitely. But for now, this song, this moment: I will use what I have and let it be enough.
Petunia, who likes to be around when i'm creating music. She helps.
I seem to be interested in these composition ideas that involve the spine of a single note. In this case the note is E flat. The chord progression is a continuous loop: I - III - iv - IV (E flat - G - C minor - A flat)
The repetitive chord progression is a soothing loop and one that I notice Nils and Olafur using in their works. There's a belief that I (and probably others) have that says that the music needs to be really complex and go through all kinds of key changes and such. Songs like this remind me that simple music is beautiful, exactly in it's simplicity. I think it's challenging to make simple music because of that motion toward doing More all the time. More, more, more. It gets quite tiring, because there can always be more notes and chords and changes. This kind of music, when I really pay attention to how it makes me feel, isn't the kind of music I want to be listening to very often. It's interested intellectually and occasionally will make me feel something nice, but in terms of what music do i want around often, or what music wants to be the frequent tapestry of my day, it's usually more simple and mellow music that sort of supports me, like floating down a nice river in nature.
At the end, one piano track does a riff on a mixolydian scale. I think it creates a nice, open and spacious feeling.
I'm enjoying the process of writing all these things down because it gives me the clarity and knowing back, of how much there is hidden within each piece of music. Every time I go to create, I'm bringing all kinds of pieces and feelings from the day, whether they be challenges or joys - the practice for me is to keep returning and keep cultivating a feeling of being at home in the music, and pieces like this help remind me that the vibrations and the act of creation can be relaxing, soothing, contemplative,
I hope this gives you a little window into my word, and maybe helps you face your own creative joys and demons with a little more grace, ease, and enjoyment.