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Recording Piano

I was asked to prepare video recordings. Here’s some of them:

“Dieu fluvial riant de l’eau qui le chatouille…”

For many years now a staple in my repertoire, Jeux d’eau is a favorite. I’m also just generally in love with Ravel.

Though I’ve always been able to imbue Jeux d’eau with a singing, frisson-triggering quality, only with a more deliberate, methodical practice could I render closer to the classicism Ravel intended. With greater clarity comes greater capacity to evoke the “river god laughing as the water tickles him…”

Chopin’s very first etude is also widely considered one of the most difficult.

Part of a set dedicated to Liszt, this was one of the first pieces which consistently employed intervals greater than an octave, and forever changed the future of piano technique. This particular etude demands 100% crystal-clear virtuosity, where every note counts. There’s nowhere to hide.

Some of the fun of pianism is the connection between physiology and the music, which sometimes behaves counterintuitively. As piano music grows more technically difficult and vast, it becomes ever more important to keep the hands as soft and free as possible – to never force anything – no matter how loud or tense a passage may sound. Then everything becomes easy. In my experience, this appears to be relevant beyond the piano, too.

And here’s some Bach:

This was my first time recording, which turned out to be an extremely worthwhile exercise.

Other than a bit of coding, I spent about 10 hours per day essentially glued to the Steinway to achieve the recording timeline. Though I skipped many adventures and missed many people during the winter holidays, this adventure was very fulfilling.

Turns out the process of continuously, obsessively striving for perfection, results in being closer to perfection – at least asymptotically, at which point the resolution of objective improvement becomes insignificant compared to how subjectively compelling one can make it.

All told, I tried 223 takes of the same few pieces, all of which I deemed not good enough.

Each mistake carried ever more weight, spoiling anywhere from a few seconds to 26 minutes of intense heart-pouring. Each day I pushed my capacity to focus emotional energy and lyrical intention to the limit, as the music expends so much in order to be music.

During those two weeks I consumed an even greater quantity of food than usual, and in the evenings, I was essentially subhuman. Luckily, I passed out quite early and instantly. Did you know running out of mana is great fun?

Interestingly, each morning after a full night’s sleep I returned much stronger.

octagon studio

It was lovely to discover a new route of pianistic growth through this recording process, though I also noted many ways to improve the setup. The San Francisco winter seeped into the not-insulated warehome such that I had to layer up with heat-tech and poof vests, which looked quite silly on video. If I didn’t layer up, my fingers would not move. The solution was to point a propane heater at me off camera, which worked decently. However, this didn’t overcome periodic firetruck sirens or people hollering in the street, juicy plumbing noises, miscellaneous rattling…

The next step is to build a more reasonable music studio. We already tore down walls and began constructing a more sound-insulated room. It’s going to be amazing, with likely much higher production quality the next time I upload recordings.

Many thanks to Nicole and my amazing wonderful housemates who so completely supported me in this process (and endured my particular take on the same couple Etudes and Sonatas on repeat, intimately, forever.)

More recordings in the future!

San Francisco, Feb 2016

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Last Update: 2017-05-22 00:00 UTC