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 to me: the shape is simple, but interesting little puzzles keep emerging from within.
People often ask if these 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.
In all that time since I wrote this in 1998, only live audiences have had a chance to really experience the music — but with this recording, 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. (If you’re curious, compare this recording to a very similar performance recorded at the first Keys Please, in the Macalester concert hall.)
I’m sure it would make a traditionalist classical audio engineer turn apoplectic, but I just love the crazy huge sound I get with my unorthodox mic setup. Suddenly, all those long ringing sounds make sense in the recording, just as they do live. I can’t praise recent advances in audio technology enough … or my beautiful piano, for that matter. I also must thank Matthew Smith and also Mike Olson, my audio engineer friends who helped me choose mics and do the EQ.
Do the recording justice, and listen on some good headphones — or, if you’re lucky, a great pair of speakers.