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

Category: 21st century

The Broken Mirror of Memory, Part 2

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 Broken Mirror of Memory, Part 1

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!

This music comes right out of the gate at full speed, the piano and the bass clarinet in a…

Nomade à Clef

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 …


Manic Dance (rough)

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…

Todd Harper: Questions

Perhaps it would have been better if I’d just admitted to myself (and the world) that I’d be taking the summer off from In the Hands. But where’s the fun without the suspense?

Here’s what I currently have in the pipeline (not necessarily in this order):

  • Some newly composed pieces of my own.
  • A new recording of at least some part of The Broken Mirror of Memory, my bass clarinet / piano work.
  • A fine new recording from Don Betts.
  • The remaining remasterings of my older recordings.

…And that’s my autumn of music…


Northwoods Police Report

After a cold (which left my voice in bad shape for podcasting) and MinneBar (which was a great pleasure), it’s back to In the Hands! I’m continuing from last time the series of recordings I made recently with soprano Kim Sueoka of songs by Todd Harper.

For several years, Todd has been writing songs full of the sort of jazz changes that are his roots, but as much in the tradition of lieder as anything. He always makes them short…


First Autumn Night

Here, for the first time in a long time, is something I wrote — but it’s not the music!

A couple of weeks ago, I recorded some of my friend Todd Harper’s songs with Kim Sueoka, a marvelous local soprano who sings with (among others) the Rose Ensemble and a first-rate voice/guitar duo called Voce y Cuerdas. She’s great, Todd’s great, and by golly, we had a wonderful time making the recordings!

Todd mostly writes voice / piano duets — and that’s…


Carei Thomas: The Usual Topic

Here is a second selection from this year’s Keys Please to follow Todd’s little musical rattlesnake adventure. This is an improvisation by Carei Thomas, the rattlesnake’s narrator, now on piano. I thought — and he said afterward — that there was a little nod to my own funny little improvs in this one, especially in the way it starts with a very low note and a very high one … but it’s definitely a Carei thing!

Some improvs have a definite form (head…

Todd Harper: Rattlesnake Song #2

Things don’t look good for me to create more new piano recordings in my home studio in the immediate future, so I’m going to have to stall — but I figure I might at least stall with something good!

This is a piece from the most recent Keys Please! concert. It adds a nice little bit of variation to the blog: not only is it not Cantrell, Chopin, or Brahms, but … it doesn’t even have a piano in it! (Yes, I’m really going out on a limb.) It’s also stylistically different from what I’ve published so far, hopefully in a refreshing…


Song for Lost Things (rough)

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…

Lusk, Lingle and Torrington (as a set)

When I started In the Hands, I also started recording little unplanned improvisations. I’d done some of this same sort of work during college in the Macalester New Music Ensemble, and some things like it at Keys Please, but it wasn’t until last year that I started putting a regular, concerted effort into playing and recording these.

They’re perhaps not always as interestingly layered or as structurally satisfying as the compositions, but they have a raw energy and spirit of playfulness that I like. They’re also good calisthenics: doing them helps keep me loose and flexible for…


Niobrara (Interstellar Medium Remix)

My recent mastering experiments have been all about reproducing … well, not the literal sound, but the musical spirit of real-life piano — but of course there’s another side to this software I’m using, and it seemed a shame not to play with it! So I went and had some fun with Niobrara. (Some fragments of another improv are also tucked away in there; a free CD to the first person to correctly identify which one.) I hope you enjoy this little musical excursion!


Disembodied Dance (very rough)

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.)

This is probably the weirdest, most abstract thing I’ve ever written. I love it. But be warned: those of you who found the

Improvisation: Rozer

Today’s improv is a bit of fun with one of my favorite sounds from extended piano technique, made by damping a low string with a finger or two at about the point where the copper winding ends. This sound also makes a prominent appearance in the second movement of The Broken Mirror of Memory.


I have been practicing some new material to record, and I’m getting the piano tuned later this week in anticipation of actually recording it. So stick around — I hope to have a few treats for you in February!

Dance for Remembering and Forgetting (rough)

Here’s another piece from the suite of dances I’m working on, the same set which also includes the Entropic Waltz and Cradle Waltz.

The composition, which was tricky, has actually been done for a while … but learning to play it has proved quite a bit of work! Though it may not sound like it, the piece is quite difficult — it has different layers moving in different registers of the keyboard, and so playing it essentially involves using two hands to create the illusion of three or four.

Improvisation: Jelm

Crystalizing, particle by particle.


That’s the last of the January improvaganza. I’ve been composing day and night (and it’s a perfect night for it tonight: new snow and a near-full moon!), and that will yield some new recordings just as soon as I manage to get some of these new pieces learned. But next time, I have a quirky little treat in the works for you. No, no, it’s a secret. Only Joel knows.

Improvisation: Natrona

A sudden outpouring with no resolution!


I sat down and played this once, then for some reason started it again a couple of times — perhaps trying to find a resolution that wasn’t there to be found. But I ended up using that first take after all.

It somehow reminds me of GMH:

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
  Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
  Selves—goes its self; myself it speaks and spells,

Improvisation: Wyarno

I can’t decide: is this one emotionally charged, walking in an unfamiliar place, breath held? Or is it something moving without human intention, like water flowing beneath the ice, seen through human eyes?


Hmm. I think this one went on too long, but I do like the ending.

Improvisation: Alcova

Shelter. A safe place.


I’m returning from Colorado tomorrow, but it will likely be a while before my piano is back in tune and I’m recording again. Will the blog go silent, you ask? Fear not! I recorded a little round of improvs a few weeks ago, so that’s likely what you’ll be hearing here for the next couple of weeks.

When I post a bunch of improvs in a row like this, part of me cringes at them starting to feel like filler material — but I set out to post recordings twice a week, and by golly, I’m sticking to that! So I hope you can enjoy…

The Broken Mirror of Memory (cello version), 4th mvmt

Here is the fourth movement of The Broken Mirror of Memory, with Diana Frazier on cello. The second movement, the one from Saturday’s post, comes straight out of the cello, and all the extraordinary sounds it can make. (It also serves as a break for the pianist, who has rather an exhausting job in the first movement.) This movement doesn’t have all those wild sounds; it is pure and unabashed melodic counterpoint, a melody that’s been there playing all along throughout the piece. But listen closely — that second movement…

The Broken Mirror of Memory (cello version), 2nd mvmt

This is one movement of my cello piece, The Broken Mirror of Memory. Unlike most of the recordings in this blog, this isn’t a recording from my home studio, but rather from a concert at Macalester. And yes, I admit, it’s actually an old recording (2003), which is sort of cheating on this whole “two new recordings every week” scheme — but it is at least previously unreleased, so I hope you’ll enjoy it anyway.

The cellist is Diana Frazier, a family friend who was just wonderful in taking…

Noah’s Song

I wrote this piece for a former piano student of mine. He was (and presumably still is) exceptionally thoughtful, patient, and sensitive for an eight-year-old; in fact, he had the better of most adults I’ve known in those respects. I wanted a piece that would give him a chance to be really musical — he had the right stuff for it — but was within his technical reach and within the physical limitations of the birth defect in his right hand. So this is what I came up with.


He did learn it, and played it quite nicely. This, of course,…

The Walking Concert

Here’s a little composition from my tender youth. I remember that I was a little befuddled at the time about how to write down the rhythms! This piece thus lived only in my head for a long time, yet I still remember it quite clearly. It will be obvious why when you hear it — it’s kind of catchy.

Hearing this again makes me smile. Perhaps it’s just pleasant memories of sixth grade (which was a happy year for me), but I hope that the tune is enjoyable for you even without the personal associations!

The Monster's Theme

In college, I won an award from the Math/CS department for being the most outstanding procrastinator of my senior class. I don’t think it’s exactly fair to say that I procrastinate, though; I’m just perpetually late. My life is like a finely tuned Swiss watch that’s set to the wrong time.

So I finally got around to putting The Monster from Keys Please! up on the site. To celebrate the occasion, here’s the opening number in its original, bare, single-piano form:

Compare that with the full-on decked…

Thoughts at 4 AM

Here’s a little gem of a piece that my dear friend Todd Harper (of Keys Please fame) gave me as a present for my 25th birthday. Naturally this charmed my socks off. So tonight, with my socks back on (no shoes, though, as usual at the piano), I recorded it to share with you. He has it marked “really quiet,” with “really” underlined twice, so in addition to playing it that way, I kept this recording mastered a bit low.


What? Oh, yes, of course I recorded it at 4 AM! Well, actually it was more like ten…

Improvisation: Niobrara

The Niobrara River starts in Wyoming and flows through Nebraska. Wikipedia tells me that the original native name in the Omaha-Ponca language, Ní Ubthátha khe, means something akin to “water spread out horizontally” or “wide-spreading waters.”

I did not know that when I chose the title; the word’s music simply seemed to me to fit my piano’s music. Though it’s accidental, it seems to me that the visual fits.


I later produced a remix of this piece, with an…

Improvisation: Goshen

Just some good clean fun with with notes.


I just liked the word, but it turns out that “Goshen” is actually a place mentioned in Genesis. I am sure half of you already knew this, but for me, it is an exciting new fact. Seems I ought to search this here “inter-net” more often!

Entropic Waltz

Today, another one from the set of dances I’m working on that also includes the Cradle Waltz. This one is a bit different in character!


This performance is rough — I’m still learning it, and it’s not easy! — but I thought I’d share it with you anyway. (You can look at the score and see what I’m supposed to be playing.) I think the basic spirit of the piece comes off: somewhere in the grey area between humorous and disturbing…

Cradle Waltz

Here, for the first time in this blog, is a brand new composition — one of a set of dances I’m working on right now. This is probably the most innocent piece of music I’ve ever written (thus the title).


Here’s the score. It’s only two lines long on paper, but those two lines sure took a lot of careful thought!

The set as a whole is still very much in progress, but I’ve finished writing a few of the individual pieces, and they’ll show up here as I learn to play them. Not…

Improvisation: Lusk

A mysterious improv: snaking, atmospheric, perpetually unresolved … sort of … lusky. What can I say? The word seems right.


My family has always loved Wyoming names, particularly three neighboring towns we’d sometimes see driving between Colorado and Minnesota: Lusk, Lingle and Torrington. Such fine words! They’ve long been part of our family lexicon, and I’ve dedicated my first three improvs to them to help…

Improvisation: Torrington Lope

Today’s improv is a quirky, silly little thing — a lopsided dance for good (if uneven) measure. I encourage you to invent some dance steps to go with it, and post any here that didn’t result in physical injury.


In a Perfectly Wounded Sky

Today’s recording is a composition of my own, which I see I play a bit faster than I did three years ago. I like the new version — I think the faster tempo in the middle sustains the structural momentum a bit better — but of course I may have changed my mind about that three years from now. That’s the fun of interpretation: it’s never done!

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…

Improvisation: Lingle

Recordings of compositions are many months, sometimes years, in preparation. It takes me a long time to learn pieces, and even longer to write them! But I’m sticking with this plan of posting a recording every Saturday and Tuesday regardless, which means that many of the recordings will be entirely spontaneous improvisations — like this one.

I’d originally meant to give all the improvs pleasing nonsense names, in the manner of Autechre, but for now, at least…


…I’ll be…

Three Places

I had a lovely productive day in the recording studio (i.e. in my living room with the mics on) today, and you, O lucky readers of this blog, will see the results of that work over the next couple of weeks as I get the recordings edited and mastered.

Here’s the first from today’s session. 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…