Paul Cantrell’s music blog & podcast
Piano music old and new from a devoted amateur,
all free to listen to, download, and share.

Posts tagged “Cantrell”

The Broken Mirror of Memory is now released! (Fanfare!) And the best place to get it is straight from the artist. (That’s me!)

In this episode is one track from the new album. This is part 2; you heard part 1 in the last episode.

The bass clarinet has a kind of talking quality throughout part 2 that involves some unusual sounds you might not have heard before. You’ll hear a few bends and microtonal adjustments, and in many spots, Pat actually sings through the body of the instrument while playing. This does not produce two distinct notes as you might expect; instead, the voice and reed combine in a strange and beautiful way. You’ll also hear some damped notes in the piano, where I touch the end of the string while the hammer strikes. In the mixing process, I used a whole bunch of techniques to accentuate all these strange sounds, and make them even a bit more strange and emotionally immediate.

The point of all of these effects — beside just that they’re cool — is not to stand strikingly apart from the rest of the music, but to integrate with it. I always list Jimi Hendrix as one of my big influences, which sometimes gets strange looks, but I mean it. One of things he did so well was to take what we might call “extended technique” and make it feel not extended at all, but perfectly integrated into the musical expression, utterly a part of the syntax.

I was after some of that in part 2. I was also thinking of some traditional Bulgarian singing where vocal ornaments and strange uses of the voice meld perfectly into captivating sinewy melodies.

Coming out of the tense entanglement of part 1 into a vast, abstract, empty space, here is:

The Broken Mirror of Memory, Part 2
Pat O’Keefe, bass clarinet
Paul Cantrell, piano

The equilibrium the music finds at the end of part 2, after all that wrestling, opens the door for the big emotional pivot that begins part 3.

If you’d like to hear the whole piece, you can stream a preview, and hopefully get yourself a copy, from my humble online store. Download, CD, and scores all available. What’s posted on this site is the mid-quality MP3 I use for the podcast, but I assure you, hearing the full-quality version on good speakers is a whole different experience.

My heartfelt thanks to everybody on Kickstarter who made this possible. I can’t tell you what it means to be able to release this recording.

The Kickstarter project for The Broken Mirror of Memory has passed its first major milestone! I’m now able to pay for printing the CD, and distributing in online music stores. Huzzah!! In celebration, and as a huge thank you to all the awesome backers who have pitched in so far, I’m posting part 1 (out of 4) of the piece.

Here it is!

The Broken Mirror of Memory, Part 1
Pat O’Keefe, bass clarinet
Paul Cantrell, piano

This music comes right out of the gate at full speed, the piano and the bass clarinet in a state of swirling mutual entanglement. On the first note, Pat actually growls into the instrument while playing, producing a rough sound that punches right through the mix — but then the bass clarinet is immediately submerged under the piano, resurfacing, submerging again….

The movement leaves us hanging with a big thorny knot, energy spent but unresolved. It was only two minutes, but the music covered a lot of ground — and never once gave us a chance to truly rest. We’re desperate to catch our breath, and that is just what Part 2 does, answering density with spareness, crowded turbulence with isolated wandering in an abstract vastness. When we get a bit farther down the road of Kickstarter goals, I'll post it.

We’re now stretching for the next goal on Kickstarter: raising enough to get the word out about the recording. If you haven’t backed the project yet, please consider it! You can get a CD and/or the full-quality digital version, which have a clarity and fullness of sound that these low-bitrate MP3 lack. (Plus, of course, the CD will have the complete piece!)

Update: The Kickstarter campaign was a smashing success! The recording is now released!

I don’t usually write jazz tunes, but my friend Todd asked me to write one for him. It sounded like fun, and he had written several great pieces for me, so I took up the challenge. Nomade à Clef is the result.

Todd premiered it at this year’s Keys Please, with David Edminster on tenor sax, and I think they did just a marvelous job with it. They really made it fly. I only wrote a lead sheet (just melody and chords) with a bare-bones piano part underneath to suggest voicings in the piano — the rest of the work is theirs, including Todd’s solo intro and all of David’s development of the melody. I feel like this recording is their piece more than mine … and that feeling is a good one, the pleasure of a successful handoff. I suppose this is the nature of jazz? No, it is the nature of all music written by one person and performed by another, no matter how explicitly notated or how little improvised: in playing music, if we play it well, we necessarily make it our own.

Recorded live in concert, here is…

Nomade à Clef
David Edminster, tenor sax
Todd Harper, piano

The title means “Nomad in a Key,” a wanderer with a home.

Things may have been quiet on the blog, but I’ve been doing tons of music work lately. The recent round of Zo went well: I took a bit of a risk playing mostly pieces that were fresh out of the practice oven (or, in a couple of cases, still baking), but people seemed to enjoy it, and I was certainly satisfied.

(If you want to know about future concerts, you should get on the mailing list.)

Concerts done, I’m now composing day and night, quite productively. I now have a complete first draft of my set of dances! The last big obstacle was a sort of “keystone moment” in the piece, where everything has to come together just so — but with some dogged persistence and late nights, I pushed through and filled in the final hole in the cycle. It’s very exciting; I’ve been working on them since forever.

Even though I have a complete draft, however, a huge amount of work remains: there’s a lot of refining and revising, practicing, and polishing the interpretation necessary in order to get a really good recording together. It will be a good long while before you can hear the full cycle.

In the meantime, I’m recording rough versions of the pieces as I learn to play them. I always hesitate a bit to do that, because the rough versions are, in fact, rough, and don’t completely convey the ideas of the music. There’s always a danger that the ideas will be so muddled that the music will just sound like a jumble of notes. Performance really matters!

However, I don’t like the alternative of not sharing anything until it’s perfect; I’d rather keep people at least somewhat in the loop on what I’ve been doing — partly because folks seem to enjoy it, and partly because I’m eager to share! Enough of the music comes through in these rough versions, I think, to let you in on the fun of watching the whole cycle emerge.

In that spirit, then, here’s one I finished writing a couple of months ago and am now playing somewhat successfully. It was a hit with the audience at Zo. As per the warning above: the performance is not yet completely assured: you’ll hear me struggling for notes in some spots. Use your imagination a bit, and pretend it’s rock-solid steady. Or just pretend it rocks.

Manic Dance (rough version)
Paul Cantrell, piano

The sound at the beginning is a whack from the music desk being pushed back. After that, throughout the piece, you’ll hear fingertips damping the strings — sometimes after the hammer strikes and sometimes as it strikes. I love that sound, and this isn’t the first time I’ve used it.

I’m doing something today that I haven’t done in far too long: sharing a recording of a new composition in progress.

I’ve been working for some time on a set of piano pieces, all of them dances in one way or another — and all of them, in one way or another, full of the feeling of entropy, full of things falling apart and things slipping away.

This particular one has much sweetness in it, but its main ingredient is ambiguity. Its different layers are centered in different keys, different places. They mesh so that a note which sounds unresolved in its own layer often harmonizes with what is going on in a layer above or below — and then when that note resolves within its own layer, it must move away from resolution with respect to that other layer it seemed to agree with a moment ago. This means that the layers are always pulling against each other, entwined but tugging in different directions, and the music is always simultaneously both resolving and unresolving.

Of course, this all happens quickly, and it’s hard to hear all these little individual motions. Instead, it all blends together to give the music a restless, floating, perpetually suspended quality. The music does eventually find a place to rest, but it’s fleeting — remember: falling apart, slipping away — ah, but I’m giving away too much! I’ll let the music tell its own story:

Song For Lost Things (slightly rough version)
Paul Cantrell, piano

I still haven’t fully worked out the interpretation, so I’m calling this performance “slightly rough:” as I live with the music for a while, I’m sure I’ll find that I want to play some things differently. It may come as a surprise, but even with the things I write, I still have to go through the same careful process of interpretation, figuring out how the music works, and how to play it just so.

There are nine pieces in the whole set, of which I’ve posted this one and four others in rough form: Entropic Waltz, Dance for Remembering and Forgetting, Cradle Waltz, and Disembodied Dance. Wish me luck learning the rest!

Update: Here’s the score.

Here’s an older piece of mine, newly remastered. I’ve gone back and forth in the past on whether I like this one, but I like it very much today, so I’m publishing it!

The title is based on my mishearing of a Tori Amos lyric (from Cruel). I generally go for titles that are evocative and somehow seem to fit, without actually having any clear meaning that listeners will try to impose on the piece — I want the title to be an opening into the music, not a box to stuff it in.

Another one of those “openings into the music” is the little epigraphs I often put at the end of the piece. I almost always choose both the quote and the title after writing the music, so they’re more a reflection on where I ended up than an explanation of what I was doing. The epigraph for this piece is a hokku by Masahide:

Now that my storehouse
has burned down, nothing
conceals the moon.

In a Perfectly Wounded Sky
Paul Cantrell, piano

For those following along with the audio engineering side of things, I used a touch of a look-ahead limiter on this one (which I usually don’t do), because of the huge variance between the attacks on the harsher chords and the very quiet intervening sections. I also cranked the scaling on the Gain Shaper a hair higher than usual.

For those interested in music notation, here is the score. Fun with parallel fifths!

This piece is my old, trusted standby. I wrote it back in college, in the winter and spring of 1998, and since then it’s been the one piece of my own that I’ve continually kept in my hands and head, always at the ready when somebody says, “Play something you wrote, Paul!” It still remains satisfying to me: the shape is simple, but interesting little puzzles keep emerging from within.

In all that time, however, only live audiences have had a chance to really experience the music — but just now, listening to the remastered version, I finally had the sense of “Yes, that’s it, that’s Three Places.” It’s not just that it finally sounds realistic; it’s the first time the music of the piece has really come through in the recording, from the three-dimensional layers of the opening, to the warmth of the whispered final low note against the cold of the final high one.

People often ask if they are three specific places. They aren’t. At the time, my mom was writing a lot about the “idea of place,” and I thought I’d call these three little pieces musical places. So I have no explanation of what the piece “means,” but I will offer this: I often like to include a little quote at the end of my pieces, not an explanation, but an evocative image or idea to open the piece to exploration. This piece’s epigraph is from the Mahabharata (William Buck’s translation):

As Lord Brahma sleeps, he hears something lost mentioned in his dream of life, and he remembers and it appears again among us as it was long ago.

Three Places
Paul Cantrell, piano

Compare this to the old mastering process, or to a different recording made in a concert hall. Whoa! Here’s the score.

I have been busy applying for a fellowship, and also writing writing writing more music. Here is a new one in the set of dances I’ve been working on — as with the others I’ve recorded, a rough performance (there’s a section in the middle that is horrendously hobbled together), but enough to give you the idea. (The score.)

Disembodied Dance (rough version)
Paul Cantrell, piano

This is probably the weirdest, most abstract thing I’ve ever written. I love it. But be warned: those of you who found the Dance for Remembering and Forgetting a bit puzzling will be completely freaked out by this one. That is OK. It is your prerogative to be freaked out.

And yes, this is the same set of dances that includes the Cradle Waltz. I promise it will all make sense in the end.

Fascinating fun fact: I thought as I was writing this that it would turn out about three or four minutes long. As I got to the end, I though, “Well, it’s run up to five.” It wasn’t until I made this recording that I realized how long it actually is, and it took me completely by surprise. It doesn’t feel over seven minutes long to me — just as the third ballade doesn’t feel under ten. Strange how music alters our sense of the passage of time. Update: I made some substantial practices and made a re-recording, now it’s five. Was the finished length always in my mind? Moral: composition is as much a mystery to the composer as to everyone else.