Most of my compositions are for solo piano, but when it came to creating my improvised album, Calendar, I tried something new. Using a synthesizer.
My first semester at Manhattan School of Music I took a MIDI class, which taught me how to create recordings of ensemble pieces without needing an ensemble. I loved it, and for more than 10 years I wanted my own setup; a keyboard, a set of synthesizer sounds, and a computer. I never had the cash.
Then, almost two years ago, after my employer unplugged my PC and handed me a MacBook – at my own prodding – I made the leap. Apple’s Garageband software, which came with the computer, looked like the idiot-proof program I needed. And for less than $300 I bought a full-sized, USB-powered keyboard. Finally I had the rudimentary studio I always wanted. And I had just the project in mind to break it in.
I decided I would create Calendar, an album where each track represented a month of the year, in a completely improvised fashion.
I’d start by thinking about a certain month, putting myself in the very mood of the month, gathering mental images, thinking about what instruments capture all of that. Then I’d noodle through the bank of synth sounds, come up with a quick melodic motif I thought felt right, pick the instrument I wanted to use for the lead track and just hit ‘record’ and play. If I didn’t like the track, I’d sometimes come up with a new motif, and go again. But I never wrote anything down. I wanted the music to feel spontaneous and vulnerable, imperfect was fine. Mood mattered most.
Next I’d just start layering the song with new sounds and instruments, playing along with the lead track, until I felt the song had enough color. The process was wonderful.
I’d played scores of gigs as a saxophonist, and I guess 99 percent of all the notes I ever played in public were improvised. But I’d never just improvised a song. And though improvising with my saxophone has always been a far more intimate experience, as it’s much easier to express what I want to express when I’m playing the horn, these improvised songs are much closer to the sounds I hear in my head. Improvising with my saxophone is like putting a nozzle on a garden hose. The spray is focused and fast, organized and able to be aimed. But improvising these songs was like taking the nozzle off, and the music just glub-glubbed right out of me.
Listen to them here. And any input is welcomed.
I write more about each track later.