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75 Minutes of Continuous piano music?

(Taken from an unpublished interview I did in 2016)

I didn’t set out with this intention – it just sort of developed that way! I like to doodle a lot (some may call it improvising!), so found myself often starting one tune, going off on a tangent, and ending up in another tune. Invariably the destination tune would have very little in connection with the starting point – normally a different key and different tune type! So I began testing myself and experimenting with more and more outlandish combinations of keys and forms and ways of getting between them. I got to the point where I started to get more excited about the journey between the tunes and then the overall shape as the ‘thing’ started to grow. The resultant album has no ‘narrative’ running through it, no real thematic connection between all the pieces – it’s more a stream of consciousness I suppose. But it all makes sense in my head! 

I like silence and space (not just in music!). And I like creating soundscapes and moods and love drama and tension in music. This extended and unrestricted format gave me the vehicle to explore and satisfy all of these things, while at the same time remaining relatively true to the source material.

I recorded the album at home. It wasn’t recorded in one go, although that would have been a much cheaper way of doing it! But the original demo was, so it is possible! For the actual recording I’d focus on small sections – normally start off from the end of the previous recorded tune and keep going for a while, then by the powers of modern technology we were able to piece it all together at the end. The piano parts were recorded entirely live with no overdubbing. So all of the unusual effects and sounds – dampening and plucking strings, eBow, etc. – are both ‘acoustic’ and performed in context. 

The continuous nature of the album meant that unanticipated decisions had to be made for the final product – would it be one long track or would we break it up? Having one long 75 minutes track more or less guaranteed that very few radio stations would ever play it! And also very few people would ever get to the end of it! So we decided to divide it into tracks. This compromise meant that on older CD players (like mine!) there’s a slight blip as the track changes! There was also an issue for the digital version for people who wanted to buy individual tracks – we actually made a separate edit for this with starts and finishes to all the tracks! But for the optimal experience I’d recommend a modern CD player, a quiet room, and a bit of time! And maybe a gin and tonic!

I think tunes can be significantly transformed if played in different keys. Every key has an individual sound or colour, especially on piano. Most traditional tunes are only in those keys because of the limitations of particular instruments. The piano obviously doesn’t have any limitations in that regard. With Bach’s ‘Well Tempered Clavier’ in mind I decided to try and cover all 24 major and minor keys. Pedants might point to the modal nature of this music but we won’t go there! As the album was beginning to near the maximum capacity of an audio CD we had to make cutbacks, so ironically there’s no G major! Think I covered all the rest though!

I suppose my main influence has always been Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin. I devoured his ‘Dolphins Way’ when I got my hands on it as a young teenager. I narrowly missed him when I moved to study music in UCC but caught up with him a few years later in UL where I was extremely fortunate to get a few piano lessons from him! 

I’ve always been interested in jazz. This was probably instilled by my first teacher in Armagh, Romeo Forte. He taught me the basics of boogie-woogie and stride, before moving onto his arrangements of standards and then some of his own compositions. Although I still dabble a bit at home I’d never consider myself a jazz player. However some elements have certainly crept into my piano playing – most apparently I suppose on the Buille albums. This new album is entirely blue-note free though! There are maybe superficial echoes of Keith Jarrett’s ‘Köln Concert’, and other favourites like Jan Johansson’s ‘Swedish Folk Songs’ album and the work of Bulgarian pianist Dimitar Bodurov.  These influences may just be in my head though!

I now love accompanying singers. I’ve been fortunate to perform a lot with Karan Casey over the last 10 years or so, but up until my first gig with her I’d never actually accompanied any singer before! It was a steep learning curve but hugely enjoyable and rewarding. I played in the band North Cregg with Fiona Kelleher before this, but as a fiddle player. And even at that I dropped out of most of the songs due to her preference for unfriendly keys for the fiddle! We’ve  worked on a variety of things in the past number of years including a really enjoyable children’s project and album entitled ‘I am a Little Boat’. I  was delighted when they both agreed to record with me on the album.

Album review: flowing like a dream

There is a meditative, dreamlike quality to Caoimhín Vallely’s second solo piano album which is in keeping with the time of year of its release into the ether. A pianist of rare delicacy, the influence of Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin is palpable, yet Vallely’s appetites are for expansive, loping tune arcs that trace uncharted terrain with unfussy precision.

Conceived as a continuous piece, Vallely has helpfully spliced the content into digestible tracks. However, there’s a naturalness to the flow between and within sets, so that Tomás Rua Ó Súilleabháin’s lament Amhrán na Leabhar cosies up alongside Vallely’s own Gravité (a tune inspired by a fine bottle of wine) as if they were conjoined twins.

Singers Fiona Kelleher and Karan Casey revel in the richly mined material, borrowed from Appalachia, Jean Ritchie and Bess Cronin with sensitivity. A long player in every sense.

Siobhán Long – Jan 2017

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