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A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting Steinway Recording in Lincolnshire, to record some new music. I found the studio on a deep dive looking for a studio with a proper piano— most studios I’ve been in focus on instruments that the musicians bring in themselves, with possibly a sad/tired piano in a corner. As a pianist and composer of piano-driven music, I wanted to find a place where I could capture the full power and complexity of a really beautiful instrument.

The first few moments I spend with a piano are when it feels the most alive— it’s like meeting a new person, or perhaps since the piano can’t exactly speak back, like meeting a new dog. Is it friendly? Does it want to play with you? The piano’s individual character comes through and there’s a brief friends-making process when everything the piano does is new and full of little surprises.

Spencer’s piano did not disappoint here— those who don’t play piano might be surprised at how rare it is to play a truly great instrument, but the combination of their nonportability and expensiveness means that we, in general, have to play what we can get. It’s a really emotional experience playing a great piano for the first time; kind of like being on a first date that’s going really well.

Anyway I recorded four new pieces over two days, and they sounded so good I decided I need to go back and re-record a couple of pieces which were recorded at a not-to-be-named Other Studio.

Larkhall at the piano

 

I’ve always had a mixed relationship with theory: on the one hand, who cares what something’s called? What matters is what it sounds like, what it does to your ears, your head, your heart.

On the other hand, you don’t build a building without knowing what your tools are called. Having names for things lets you think more precisely about them, and identify what kind of tricks other musicians are using (so you can steal them, of course, in your own work).

There is a danger of over-intellectualising things, and I think that’s where the “pop” school of “just listen” has a point— it’s possible to do clever things with structure or pitch relationships or theory and still write incredibly dull music. And on the other hand, all musical innovations will have started as something that isn’t quite captured by existing theoretical tools.

Still.

I think especially for people who love music but are just starting out understanding how it works, a little explainer can be helpful.

One thing I notice beginner musicians wondering about is what it means to be “in” a key. That’s an interesting question because it’s tied up with the question of where music wants to “go”, and how music can “want” something in the first place! Of course the wanting isn’t in the music itself, that happens in our heads as we listen to it.

But why do we want music to go somewhere? It turns out that there are some fairly simple things happening in the relationships between notes that cause our ears to want the notes to resolve in a certain way.

So I made a little video about it:

 

What do you think? Should I make more explainer type videos? What topics would you like to hear about?

It feels like a year of pause. But now, finally, seemingly every artist is scrambling to get back out in front of people. I’m very excited to share the new music I’ve been writing over the last year, and the new visuals I’ve been creating for both new and old music.

There are lots of things in the works, but one thing I can share is that I’ll be performing at Puncture the Screen festival in July. (Direct ticket link)

Looking forward to sharing more with you as things continue to open up!