Dreamscapes is an album I have been conceptualizing in some way or another for years. The title “Dreamscape” alone has enchanted my imagination since I wrote the first piece which bore that namesake. It strives to express what I have wanted to for many years with the music I write. My hope is that in these pieces you hear a taste of the beyond, of nightly escapades to new and foreign lands, of magic and wonder, of left turns and incongruities that defy expectation yet retain an inarguable logic. This is the abridged artistic statement; to fully describe its vision, I feel I must also tell its story.
Around the spring of 2014, I was finishing my first full year of teaching piano in Chicago. At that time, the teachers would each play something at the annual recital, so I decided to debut a piece I had been working on, which I was calling “Dreamscape #1.” It was the first piece I wrote that was intended for solo piano, and to this day it holds a special place in my heart. It was born on the piano I grew up on, for this instrument had made its way back into my life (and apartment) when my parents moved out of my childhood home. In this first piece, one can hear many of the qualities that have manifested in the other compositions on this record: a certain hypnotic melodicism, harmonic adventurousness, and alluring groove. I have to say I was tickled when I gave a demonstration of my playing for a retirement home here in Colorado, and after playing Beatles, Bach, and jazz selections, I concluded with this piece and everyone at the home enjoyed “Dreamscape #1” the most. But I digress!
The following year, I wrote a 2nd “Dreamscape” (2015) to present at the annual recital, and a 3rd (2016) the year after that. It became a bit of a personal challenge: I would write a new song each year which I felt comfortable presenting as complete within its pianism, as a way to showcase my musicianship to my students and their parents. This was a definite test for me as a composer; though I was comfortable writing 15 minute long through-composed songs for my band IndigoSun, and had penned many albums worth of music for my various groups, I was still intimidated by solo piano. It felt like something I was an impostor at, something that ought to be reserved for an upper echelon of musicians to which I did not belong. I was so comfortable with keyboards, synthesizers, production, and group playing, but felt so alien at the very instrument I had spent my first 11 years of musical life focused on. So, these compositions sat on the shelf. I would pull them out here and there, sometimes recording them for family as part of gift albums, or playing them at soundcheck, or when people would come to our apartment and ask me to play. Largely, though, they went unused and neglected beyond the context of the recitals.
Nonetheless, the aesthetic of the pieces and the idea of writing a full album worth of these songs never left the back of my mind, and at the end of 2017, finally it had its day. In September 2017, my wife and I moved to Colorado, and soon after I was hired as a Collaborative Pianist (aka Accompanist) at a high school here. After nearly 10 years of focusing on everything but acoustic piano, suddenly I found myself around baby grands for hours every day. The difficulty of learning many songs very quickly pushed me to begin focusing on my complete musicianship again, and with this came increased prowess. I could begin to do things I had been lazily hoping to get under my belt for longer than I care to admit. And, due to a nexus of inspiring circumstances, the rest of the “Dreamscapes” began to, truly, write themselves. Where the first 3 pieces took 3 years, the next 7 took a matter of months. I believe the feeling of effortlessness with which these compositions have come together is a tribute to their namesake, for they have come into being in much the same way dreams arise: less through cold calculation and hard work, and more through an effervescent bubbling to the surface of the mind. From these initial flashes of inspiration, I have sought to distill each of the compositions to their essence. In this way I have largely eschewed the instinctual long, exploratory improvisation that stems from my jazz heritage in favor of more pop-inspired forms and structures. I am delighted to thus be able to present what I feel is a proper exploration of this vision and concept.
With these pieces I have–both by happy accident and careful intention–sought to draw from a far more extended tonal palette than in my past compositions. With my earliest songs, for my first band Lissin’, I was writing what was clearly meant to be jazz music. I feel blessed that with my main project, IndigoSun, I was able to delve into myriad styles. I learned how to express a cohesive compositional voice through hip-hop and neo-soul grooves, EDM influenced heavy house beats, spaced-out funk, even Gospel shout and prog-rock inspired breakdowns. Here, on Dreamscapes, I believe you’ll hear the effect of this past experience, but evolved into a next step. For you see, I have often contained my harmonic language into what I feel is acceptable for an audience. Though perhaps unconsciously, I have made a point to avoid territory that is too far beyond “the norm.” With IndigoSun, I think I often did this because the intention with our music was always to heal, and I felt that certain choices of chord and melody would detract from this intention. Sometimes I saw those choices as too dark, or to put it in a very jejune way, just not happy enough. This may have been true, but as I have found new elements of my voice while writing these pieces I have also found that perhaps I avoided those colors because I was afraid of them. To me they sometimes sounded like the monster under the bed, or the creepy thing in the basement. My own fear (of all sorts) made me in turn afraid of certain arenas of tone, mood, and harmony.
It’s worth saying that my horizons broadened over the years with IndigoSun, and especially the last few songs I/we wrote chipped away at these barriers. And being musically on my own as I am here in Colorado, I find myself untied from any prior constraints or conceptions, which provides a most liberating internal environment in which to write. Most of all, as I have filled my ears with the music of a particular Frenchman almost nonstop for the past year and a half (more about recent inspiration here), I have found those fringe sounds pouring out of me in totally unexpected–and delightful–ways. And what I have discovered is that, far from being frightening, they have led me to exactly what I wanted to convey since I found the word “dreamscape” sticking with me: surrealism. This is the greatest thing I want you to walk away with a sense of after hearing these songs. My wish is that you hear this music as a surreal journey through the multitudinous vistas of your own imagination. Though my titles may allude to particular imagery or scenery, I hope you feel encouraged to discover for yourself what these songs may mean through the lens of your own experience. Perhaps it will even take you down some rabbit holes that are impossible to chart in our ordinary waking life, but when navigated through the lens of the dreaming (or even daydreaming) mind make perfect sense. As one of my 10 year old students in Chicago once told me, “the great thing about music is that it can make you see things.” I couldn’t agree more with him, and my desire is that you listen in such a way that you allow your mind to conjure up your own unique spectacles. I feel that if this happens, and you feel so transported through these 10 compositions–which represent the happy marriage of my past musical avenues and visions of tomorrow synthesized into a tight package of solo piano songwriting–I will have done my job. Enjoy your dreams, friends.
food for thought
“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.” – Lewis Carroll
“Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.” – Salvador Dali
“Progressive art can assist people to learn not only about the objective forces at work in the society in which they live, but also about the intensely social character of their interior lives. Ultimately, it can propel people toward social emancipation.” – Salvador Dali