As I have written before, I don’t really consider myself a pianist. I get the job done, but that’s about it. Still, every once in a while I will publicly put myself in an extemporaneous pianistic situation, in order to blur my own sense of the distinctions between “composition” and “performace.” (Actually, this is something I’m doing more and more in my current side gig as a church organist, which often requires incidental music at the drop of a hat, forcing me to improvise my best approximation of a medieval sacred style.)
Most composers will agree that just sitting down and playing (and recording the performance) is an incredibly useful practice, because it inevitably reminds one of the unprocessed core of musical expression. And in my own case, that initial musical gesture is really where all of my music ultimately comes from. So I like to do this sort of thing a lot (though rarely in public).
One of the few times I’ve freely improvised within earshot of a “real studio” was back in 2003, during the session that ultimately produced The Star Chamber. One of the tunes on that record was a thing called “Schwarzkopf Takes the High ‘C’ for Flagstad,” which featured a prelude duet improvised by myself and master multi-woodwind-ist Cory Wright. (We’re pictured above during a 2002 rehearsal in Culver City.) At the session we recorded numerous versions of this prelude, because I wanted to have a bunch from which to choose. In the end, several takes of three different configurations — piano and flute, piano and clarinet, and piano and tenor — were preserved for posterity.
I recently came across (raw and unmixed copies of) these out-takes in my archive, and thought, what the hell? May as well offer them up to the internets. (I should also admit that I was at least partly inspired by the example of musician/writer/blogger Henry Powderly, who recently began posting some of his own (really quite beautiful) piano meditations.)
Overall, the set is sort of melancholy and charming, and maybe a little restless. Interestingly, most of the tunes on The Star Chamber are of the long-form persuasion, but these preludes are true miniatures. So maybe they are actually morphologically (and I guess philosophically) closer to the “less-is-more” aesthetic I’ve been exploring lately. In other ways, these “Schwarzkopf Duets” provide a pretty radical counterpoint to the edition of the IJG that is out and about these days.
Anyway, thanks to the marvel that is SoundCloud, you can listen to (or download) any of these duets (which all clock in at under two minutes) by clicking any of the play buttons below. Or, just go to my SoundCloud page, and listen to the whole set: click the top track, and they will all play automatically, albeit in reverse order. (Note that “Duet no. 9” is the one I ended up using in the album version of “Schwarzkopf.”)