Twelve years ago I started a kind of piano blog called Piano Diaries. It was a website with blog entries in the form of improvised solo piano music, and a few lines of text to go along with each improvisation. I kept it going, off and on, for several years, but then stopped. Mostly because not enough people we’re listening and/or it was too much work to keep it going. Maybe both.
But for reasons I don’t entirely understand, I spontaneously decided at the beginning of 2020 to start it up again in a somewhat modified format. This time I’ll only do the improvisations. I’ll release them in monthly albums, both here on Bandcamp and most likely on the streaming platforms. And the order of the tracks will not be by date, but by how they musically fit together. (I put the dates in parentheses just for reference.)
Why Piano Diaries
One might fairly ask, why do this? The answer to that question is complex, but at least a part of it is simply because I can. Nobody would release such a series of albums monthly in say the 1970s. The production and manufacturing costs would be prohibitive. This is not the 1970s. And, of course, nobody would release an album of solo piano improvisations at all in the 1870s because nobody could release a recorded album—period.
It is always useful to remember that the technology of the time always influences the kinds of art that will be made. And vice versa. Technology drives art; art drives technology.
Another reason is the dynamic of the medium itself, e.g., how it’s made. These are unedited, lightly processed piano solos. They are not perfect. No improvisation is. But what they are is totally of the moment. That’s the only rule. Not planned, no idea when I’m even going to do them.
Process, Setup, Execution
The process works this way:
I come out to my studio most mornings, start up my iMac, open my recording software with the template for Piano Diaries. It’s set up ready to go with record inputs on, main output muted so that whenever I feel like improvising something, I just hit record and go. My piano mics always stay right where they are. Hopefully, the piano is tuned. Hopefully, somebody doesn’t open/shut the garage door right below me in my studio above the garage as I’m recording. (That does happen…listen to the second track.) My iPhone is always muted.
That’s the setup. Here’s the execution. I might be practicing; I might be working on my television show; I might be paying bills. Whatever it is I’m doing, if I need a break from it, to change my brainwaves or whatever, I hit record and go. If it comes out well enough, I might just use it.
Obviously, I don’t use everything, but I probably use more than I should. For the criteria for “publishing” any given track is simple: if it’s not exactly like something else I’ve done (at least that month) and is reasonably well-executed, it’s got a good chance of being on the album.
You might say that that’s a pretty low bar. It depends on how you look at it. I look at it from the point-of-view of what I’m trying to achieve, what I’m getting out of it. What I get out of it is this:
- It allows me to understand what I’m thinking in purely musical terms at any given moment;
- Related to that, there’s a decent chance that I’ll think of at least some small musical thing I’ve never considered before.
- Source material: Improvisation is frequently a great source for developing compositions down the line. I often am writing something, an idea comes, and I go find it fairly well developed in an improvisation from years ago.
And what do you get out of it? That’s up to you. What do you want to get out of it? It will depend on how you listen: random tracks here and there, a whole album while you’re making dinner. Regardless, maybe something creeps into your consciousness while you doing something else.
Come to think of it, that’s how it is for me.