Eridanus/ River Music – creating the Piano album
Eridanus / River Music
I’m lucky to have a most enjoyable regular email exchange with a fellow ‘ creative’ – a writer. I thoroughly recommend it, if you’re lucky enough to find someone you can trust and click with. We consider each other’s creative work, ‘gee’ each other along, offer comments, insights, etc.
Here’s an excerpt of what I just wrote in response this writer’s last email:
‘Most enjoyable read. I’m a fan of writing from stream of consciousness. The most honest voice seems to appear and invariably the unexpected …tangents… Seem to be able to be hooked into the plot like they always belonged there, reading back, don’t you think?’
That pretty much sums up how it feels when I improvise: I just let my hands (and thoughts) ‘go’ on the piano. Sometimes, not always, I end up with a phrase or a chord sequence which I’ll create a song around. Very occasionally I come up with a whole complete piece in this manner.
This is how the album Eridanus / River Music came about. Friends of mine said “You should record the stuff you play between the songs you sing on the gig” ….I thought: really? That’s me just playing stuff.
We were sharing a house, a doctor, an architect and myself, the artist/musician. We were reading Tolkein by candle light, listening to Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills,Nash and Young.. I showed them both fly fishing , we were very much into the hippie vibe. And two out of three of us were gainfully employed on a weekly basis. My gigs were a bit start/stop during these months. I was in between residencies….both of these women provided a very nurturing supportive place to be.
So one night , I gave it a go. I closed my eyes and just played whatever came to mind. What came to mind were pictures of my favourite river, where I’d just spent the afternoon fly fishing. I love it, ‘ river walking’ …the endless changing hues of the shadows and light on the water and the trees, the changing sound of the river water, bubbling over the stones, roaring through a rapid or drifting down a pool. The bird calls come and go. There’s nothing quite like the sound of an NZ bellbird’s delicious throaty tones on the gentle breath of a breeze, particularly if a trout has just sucked the fly of the top of the surface on the end of the line…..
There, I’m gone, just like that. It’s a pastime I’ve loved. I’ve been known to fish all day, walking up the river, then lie down and fall asleep on the hard river stones beside the river for a while , then get up and carry on (this was the inspiration for track 3, Pohangina). As you can imagine, it’s a very meditative state of mind, especially when you throw in art of the fly line flying back and forth through the he air in a graceful arc. (When it’s not caught in the blackberry behind you). My fly casting technique is functional, mostly self taught, like my piano style.
Anyway, back to the piano. That’s where my thoughts went. And my fingers went where they will. The result was 90% of the album. In three lots of 15 or so minutes.
I was ‘ in the zone’ as they say.
A strange thing happens when you have enough technique and musical theory under your belt that you can let your mind drift…. It all seems to come together somehow in some mysterious creative mystical manner. I can’t tell you if I was taking ‘dictation’ from my subconscious, or whether the chord sequences were educated guesses of what might work. There are some very unrelated chord sequences in these pieces. I can tell you I had a feeling that it would flow, that my fingers would find the notes I could hear in my head, just after I payed the last phrase, the instant before I needed each one. I found if I didn’t doubt what came to mind, (eg the next chord) it flowed, and the oddest choices seemed to work.
At the end of each 15 min session, I came back to earth, shook my head, felt like it had gone pretty well… And listening back, I was really happy with the music.
Others are enjoying it too. It’s one of 3 piano albums that I’ve sold 5,000 CDs of. (There’s also another now).
What amazed me when I played it back was: how the phrases just sounded so natural and relaxed. I can honestly say I won’t ever be able to play half of it as well again.
I did get some notation printed off, via midi years ago. I waded in and learned how to play the long pieces. I haven’t got around to editing the sheet music yet. I do have a selection of piano pieces, which i’ve arranged and produced, available here. I hope to have much more a available soon.
Creating The Cover
The image I used for the cover is a painting I did years ago.
I had a feeling I could do it, so I had a go. I’d been teaching myself painting for years, took art at high school, watched my brother paint. But I’d never painted plein air. (On the spot, in nature). I borrowed my grandfather’s old car and drove down to the river with my dog. The Manawatu river, NZ (see Trk 2) . I fished first. No fish. My little daschhound/corgi cross waded with me for a while, then gave up to go chase rabbits.
I went to the car, got the paints out. I discovered I’d forgotten to bring something to paint on! That turned out to be a very fortunate thing indeed. I ripped off the side of a corrugated cardboard box (light brown ) and painted on that. I worked quickly, with thin washes of acrylic paint . The light brown cardboard showed through the paint and brought it all together. I still paint on a pre-primed light brown illustration board today. I was as surprised and happy with the painting as I was with the music on the album. I get lost with the brush in my hands.
It was about another 15 years before I tried it again with any success. Beginners luck? I think so. It seems if you take the leap of faith, you’re supported and helped, often in a big way. After that initial burst, it seems there’s often a long trek to finding out the techniques required that you stumble upon , if you’re lucky, the first time.
This album also includes my first efforts at ‘ classical style’ piano composition. ‘Minuet’ I wrote when I was about 19, I think.
‘Lifetimes’, I was about 22 . I clearly remember the winter’s evening I composed this. Again, the different movements- like chapters (or lives)- are markedly different, in that they are in different keys. Again unrelated , but they belong together, I think.
‘First Steps’, came from a snippet of melody I remember hearing my grandfather whistle from time to time. I must’ve memorised it, like a bird call. The piece starts out slowly, at the time I composed it, I was attempting to show how all you need is one phrase of melody to write a while song, if you get in the moment. That’s why it starts out slowly each time I play the phrase and speeds up as confidence is gained. Also the first steps of a child… We go through this sort of learning process over and over through out life.
I got a surprise when I first played the CD – 3 extra tracks were on there! Fortunately they were more of the same genre/mood. I named them after two rivers in Melbourne: Maribyrnong and the Yarra (beside which I’ve spent a lot of time playing the piano at Southgate and selling my albums and art at the Sunday Arts Market). The final track I called ‘Tasman’ – the ocean between Australia and New Zealand. It seemed right, this was an album started in NZ and finished in Australia (the final 3 ‘surprise’ tracks).
I’m extremely grateful to have been given these gifts. I’ve worked countless hours, honing my craft. It’s a calling, not a career. It gives me a lot of pleasure to hear other people play my songs, reading my sheet music arrangements- because I know how much pleasure it gives me to perform.
So in a small way, my songs have made a difference. And that feels great. That’s what I set out to achieve: have my art and music be something positive in people’s lives.
Positive Feedback has been wonderful, from people that have bought my albums.On that note, One more thing I’ll relate: A few years back, I walked into my mother’s house, back in NZ on a visit. On cue, the phone rang, mum wasn’t there, so I answered it. The fellow said “I’d like to get a message through to pete pascoe”. “Tis I,” I joked, using a mock regal voice, thinking what a coincidence, timing-wise! Anyhow, this chap was really pleased to have made contact. He went on to tell me he played my River Music album repeatedly for 9 months when he hurt his back and couldn’t move. Reckons it ‘saved him’. He loves it, loves the fact, because of the improvised nature and constant changes, it stands repeated listening …very nice to hear indeed.
With my technique (the quirks that make up my own style) and my understanding of music (learning all the time), the combination of notes are my interpretation of what I feel was somehow suggested to me. Like acting on intuition. In fact that’s exactly what it was. I’m so glad I recorded it, then shared the album.
Of course Eridanus/River Music -and the other 3 piano albums: The Unfolding, Release and Peace -are available online, on a number of platforms:
You can download them from: https://petepascoe.bandcamp.com/ or from Cdbaby, Apple itunes, amazon…etc
Or stream it on Spotify, etc – (add it to your play lists ..tell your friends…)
Or order a signed CD from me. (the only piano albums currently available on CD are Eridanus/River Music and Release). http://www.petepascoe.com/
Why would want this album? It’s very relaxing…the music seems to cause you to take the sort of breath you take when you finally get to be on holiday, away from the city. Great for creating a relaxed vibe.
What about a video? Well if you go to my YouTube channel (Pete Pascoe Music Art) & view the slideshow of my seascape paintings, music from this album is at 6.19 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9UT_sipiTk More videos coming soon.
Thanks for reading. Somewhere I’ve got a painting I did of my dog I had when I was younger. I’ll try and find it. Hmm… that could be my next post. He turned into a cartoon character too…