Hi - I have a record coming out at the end of this month called CICADA WAVES. It’ll be out on April 30th. Until then I’m using this space to share the video for each song and different written takes on aspects of the album ~ hope you enjoy:
I don't call myself a piano player. Or a pianist.
At the very most I'll say that I "play piano."
A piano is all heft, wood, and tension, screwed tight and piled together. They're heavy - I failed out loud trying to move one recently, had to get some guys with a forklift to help us get it out of the U-Haul trailer. They have a gravitation, when they rumble out chords and tinkling little melodies they broadcast wiggling energy into the space. We are drawn to them, moth-like - we gather round and sing christmas carols or wobbly three-part harmonies on half-remembered Beach Boys songs. They accompany the choir, the give us our notes, the other instruments - less complex and less dense by a few factors of ten - adjust their reeds or dial their machineheads according to the whims and fluctuations of the piano. Oh, the piano is a little flat, better tune to it. It bends the bodies and the vibrations of the other instruments and human beings according to its will. It imposes order. A piano emanates, has its own history, even if it has just been sitting there for years. They're regal, poised and immobile, a fancy piece of furniture, and playing a grand piano with the lid all the way open feels pretty similar to sticking your head in the open mouth of a circus lion.
My first piano was an all-white upright Yamaha in the corner of a living room with fleshy, pink carpet and my grandfather's brandy bottles on a wooden coffee table.
The second piano I ever remember playing was a nondescript scratched black spinet that lived in the choir loft behind the enormous stage where my sister and my mom sang every Sunday, preacher with a wireless headset microphone watching and nodding along. On that second piano I would do the weird trick of taking the things I learned on the instrument in my family's living room and try them on this other instrument, in another city, near the wire rack where the choir hung their robes. How weird that all pianos are all the same but all so totally unique, no two pianos precisely alike, in fact the same piano never the same twice, like stepping into a stream.
I remember playing a Neutral Milk Hotel song over and over again on the brand new baby grand in the rehearsal room at my fancy high school, didn't have a scratch on it - the school had only been open for four years.
In college I most often played pianos in the subterranean hallways of the campus arts center - under every single one you could find graffiti that someone had scratched in while they were tripping, why was there such a long history of dropping acid and laying under the piano? All that architecture, the flying buttresses of the pedals of the upright, plus you were literally underground and therefore maybe safe and sheltered. Ear training exercises and trying to force my left hand to do something different than my right, usually failing. Lonely miserable winters in my last teenage years and taking comfort in the rumbling bulk of the brown wood, brandless uprights, the music building practice rooms a whole stable of old oxes each in their little carpeted paddocks.
(there's that LaMonte Young piece where the score instructs you to feed the piano a bale of hay - many read this as satire but I think he's on to something, a piano is livestock)
First day of my first music theory course in college and the professor - a vibraphone player I often see smiling in the jazz bargain bin at record stores - shows me, for the first time, how deeply insidious colonialism actually is. He does it in that pinched, shouting way he had, saying that this class we were in was all about the white man's music theory. And didn't we find it interesting that the white keys are called the natural ones and the black keys are called the unnatural ones? And did you ever think about how the piano itself is made of the violent products of colonial extraction - ebony wood and ivory tusks? For the vibraphone player music professor, the piano was a machine of musical hegemony, the brutalizing engine on which the dominant system of harmony (Western) was established as the de facto definition of music. 12 tones, equal temperament, that was the white supremacist definition of Music, fuck your just-intonation ragas, fuck your slendro and your gongs, fuck the oral tradition. Play your hymns to the monotheistic white male god on this standardized keyboard, 88 strings, requires specialized knowledge and tools to maintain.
I have played pianos that were stashed in the back room behind enormous movie screens, quietly rolling out the chords as to not be heard over the soundtrack. I have played pianos that were all but forgotten about, with missing teeth and cigarette burns. I have played pianos on the 30th floor overlooking fireworks over the Hudson River. I have played decades-old antiques that were ever-so-gently relaxing out of tune over the years, slow-motion hang gliding into being steps flat. I have played pianos in train stations in Italy. I have played pianos in, were I to guess, at least a dozen states. Oregon, California, Alaska, New York, Georgia, New Hampshire, Connecituct for sure and probably others. I have played pianos on islands and in recording studios. I used to often play the piano at Manhattan Inn (RIP), something I loved to do, and the last time I played there I the small audience gathered in the round to come and lay hands on the piano - I wanted them all to experience the same rumbling of chords at once, I wanted the piano to feel them resonating in response.
I have played hundred-year-old Steinways in the most improbable location, I could hardly convey myself there to those woods, how did this complicated imperial machine - you can imagine a piano serving you Earl Grey and cucumber sandwiches at precisely 4pm - come to feel the humidity in this bug-ridden rainforest? And why does it sing so sweetly?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
good morning ~
I’m still not sure why I don’t call myself a piano player.
I’m very appreciative to everyone who has listened & picked up a copy of this record thus far. Thank you very much! Tape copies are in fact - amazingly - now sold out but we’ll hopefully announce another run or another format soon.
But what about you? What was the first piano you ever played? What are your imperial machines? What do you make sing sweetly?