If you don't know where you're going, you might end up someplace else.--variously attributed to Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel

File under?

This music doesn't fit comfortably into any of the usual record-store categories. Two seem less wrong than the others, but I'd have to flip a coin to pick between them.

The generally serene and contemplative character makes the "new age" label an obvious choice--but the wide range of emotions, tempos, and volumes, especially the occasional passages of intense dissonance or piledriver beats, won't satisfy those craving a musical tranquilizer. Of course, that's true of a number of artists commonly found in the new age bins, like Mark Isham and John Hassell.

Some listeners have described what I play as jazz. While it is improvisational and exploratory, as a fan myself I know my style doesn't come out of that tradition, and by jazz standards my piano technique is incompetent. On the other hand, the term is used pretty loosely these days, and eclectic improvisers like John Zorn and John Hassell often end up in the jazz section.

About the music

I've been doing stream-of-consciousness free improvisations since I was ten, but if I hadn't heard Keith Jarrett's "Koln Concert" solo record it would never have occurred to me that you could make them as listenable as composed music or more structured improvisations. I didn't think of attempting that daunting task myself until 1992, when I acquired the 1934 Chickering grand used in these recordings.

John Cage was another big influence, again conceptual rather than stylistic (though I can hear echoes of Cage's early piano works in some of my quiet passages). When I first conceived this project, I was troubled by my inability to perform harmonically and rhythmically complex passages without making mistakes. One day, inspired by Cage's ideas, I decided to abandon the concept of mistakes entirely: whatever notes I played would be the right ones. I expected this to make my music more dissonant and sloppier. Instead, to my great surprise, overnight it became much more harmonious and precise. Go figure.

My fondness for odd time signatures started around 1970 when I heard an ear-opening recording by Don Ellis's big band, after which I spent several years avoiding all meters divisible by 3 or 4. Eventually I got more open-minded, and picked up from Stravinsky and Frank Zappa the notion of using changing time signatures in a rhythmic analogue of harmonic cadence, for example "resolving" a 7/8 passage with a 4/4 climax.

Another rhythmic eccentricity is my occasional use of multiple pulses, where two beats start out synchronized, then get out of phase with each other as the tempo of one or both changes. That comes from things I used to do with electronic keyboards, playing off the mechanical pulse of echo machines, digital delay lines, sequencers and so on.

I long ago got over my Ravi Shankar-inspired phase of modal improvisation over a drone, but you can still hear elements of it in the simple tamboura-like figures I use in slow passages, and in my heavy use of the sustain pedal to emphasize tonality through sympathetic vibrations. From the minimalists, particularly Charlemagne Palestine, I picked up the related notion that when you hit on a sonority that appeals to your ear, you're free to whale away on it as long as it feels good.