In February of 2020, I released a music album titled Music for 18 Pianos. Please listen here and read on to learn about its influences and concert design.
Influences and Related Music
This album is either influenced by or related to:
- Minimalist music of Steve Reich et al.
- Percussive melodic music of Aphex Twin, et al.
- Loopist music of Marc Rebillet et al.
- Beatboxing and vocal modulation of Reggie Watts, Camille, Pogo, Young Thug, Moby, et al.
- Ghanian polyrhythmic bell patterns
There's a playlist with my music influences here.
Minimalist Music of Steve Reich et al.
The title of my album is a direct reference to Steve Reich's 1976 piece Music for 18 Musicians (which is in David Bowie's top 25 albums of all-time!). Reich's piece has many different instruments, while mine mostly focuses on piano. Both have a strong sense of a "pulse".
Percussive Melodic Music of Aphex Twin et al.
Some of my more somber songs are inspired by Aphex Twin's ambient piano works, like Avril 14th. My upbeat, aggressively percussive tracks are inspired by songs like Bucephalus Bouncing Ball.
Loopist Music of Marc Rebillet, et al.
As electronic music has become increasingly ubiquitous, we've seen more and more "live looplists"—artists who build a groove by layering loops on top of each other. Almost all of my songs take this form: a buildup by layering 3-10 pianos, then adding a melody on top of it.
Beatboxing and Vocal Modulation of Reggie Watts, Camille, Pogo, Young Thug, et al.
Most of the songs on the album have piano as the only instrument. But I add vocals to a few songs. In XI. Voice Box and XII. Low and Deep, I beatbox and use pitch modulation in a similar way as Reggie Watts. Camille's album Le Fil is another great example of this—looping plus beatboxing. In I. Dynamism and VI. Reflect, Relax, Rejoice, I turn vocal samples into percussion in a similar way as Pogo. The higher pitched voice modulations are especially influenced by Young Thug. Moby's Play album is also quite similar (piano-based with vocal chops).
Ghanian Polyrhythmic Bell Patterns
I played in a West African drumming group for all of college. The timeline bell patterns from that music strongly influenced this album. For example, IV. The Traverse does a "timeline switch" from four beats to three beats mid-way through the song. VII. Feeling Love uses a 4:3 polyrhythm as part of the buildup.
Other Influences and Notes
- I took a constraints breed creativity approach to this album. All of the songs are to the C-Major scale, and most of the songs only have piano. One could also call this the "lazy" approach.
- Because I restricted myself to only piano, I needed to find other ways to add musical structures, like bass and snare. The bass-snare experiments are most easily seen in II. Of Life and IX. Signalling.
- Many of the songs have piano notes from all seven octaves.
- About 50% of the notes were "drawn in" (especially the ones that were too fast to play) and the other 50% were played live with a MIDI keyboard.
- Because the album is restricted to the C-Major scale and de-emphasizes chord progressions, some of my jazz friends think it could be called it a modal album.
- I often use the pop song chord progression (I-V-vi-IV).
- The final three minutes of V. Searching for a Name is inspired by the final three minutes of Kanye West's Runaway (which inspired other work like Bleachers' Who I Want You To Love). All of these songs use a single instrument to explore musical space for an extended period of time. It's kind of like an extended solo where you build a relationship with the soloist's exploration.
- Also in V. Searching for a Name, the 1st minute buildup is inspired by "sprinkler hi-hats" found in trap music.
- Some of my songs are intentionally "painful" to listen to, like XVI. Surrounded. This is similar to Jon Benjamin's I Can't Play Play Piano or much of "outsider music".
- Both CHVRCHES We Sink and the beginning of XVI. Surrounded share a musical construct—the listener feels a certain pulse with Loop 1 and then is "forced" to feel a different pulse as other music is layered on Loop 1.
- To understand how I find/consume music, see my article here.
- Edit: After sharing with friends, they have noted my similarity to Poppy Ackroyd and Hauschka's 2017 album, What If.
- Edit: Other similar music that I thought about after publishing: Dawn of MIDI.
I'm curious—what other music is like Music for 18 Pianos? Please let me know if it reminds you of anything.
When I play this album in concert, I'm hoping it will be similar to Ragnar Kjartansson's The Visitors (which was named the #1 art piece of the 21st century by The Guardian). You can see a clip of Ragnar's piece below:
The Visitors takes a song and breaks it into 9 separate tracks that you can walk towards or away from. In a similar way, I want to take my songs (some of which have up to 18 pianos), break them into about 9 tracks, and give audience members the ability to spatially interact with them. It think this is a cool way to represent any loopist album, and I'm excited to try it with Music for 18 Pianos. As a rough draft, I will just master the tracks into 9:1 surround sound and play it on 9:1 surround speakers. Later, I'll actually record all of the videos too (but it'll be around 10 hours of recorded video, so it's no small task!).
Album Creation Process
I made this album over the course of seven years: from 2013-2020. Many of the songs were made while I was in China at the end of 2013. The album was essentially finished then, but I made a couple of songs over the next five years, and finally got around to releasing it in February of 2020. I made around 50 songs total, 20 of which made the final album.
I used Landr for AI mastering and DistroKid for distribution.
From 2017-2019, I slowly "released" clips of songs as the intros and outros for my podcast, Grey Mirror.
I used Ableton Live's "Grand Piano" MIDI instrument for all of the tracks.
I'm proud of this album, especially because it seems pretty different from other music I listen to. I'd like to thank my brother, John Lindmark, for designing the album cover and helping me cut tracks.
I'd love to know what you think of it. Please reach out! I might add your review to the list below :).
If Chopin and Satie had a whimsical baby with Squarepusher, this would be it.
In releasing this album, Rhys manifests an anti-perfectionist perspective on the creative process. It ultimately poses the question, "As a creative, is it better to release in-progress work or no work at all?"
There are a lot of interesting ideas in Music for 18 Pianos, but perhaps too many in too small a space.
This album sounds like the soundtrack for an introspective silent film about someone's mental state/thoughts.
Percussive looping piano is the means but it's not the identity itself.
I think the list of influences you reference is incredible and represents a huge breadth, but to consciously evoke them all while constraining yourself to one scale and relying heavily on a pop chord progression that those artists don't generally use leaves the album in a bit of an identity crisis. The songs develop too quickly and too conspicuously to live in the Reichian world and the use of dissonance and sparse textures are kind of prohibitive to them inhabiting the pop world. Merging the formulaic nature of pop with the slow, gradual development of minimalism is a tough task indeed.
It just sort of flies by. Or pirouettes, more like.
It's an exploration in music creation solely with a piano—well that's nothing new. That was the majority of music for like a century.
I could see this as a soundtrack to a quirky animation film with no dialogue.
My mind kept trying to piece together a movie to go with this. By the end, I decided this album would be linked to a movie about a kid bursting with joy when engaging in their favorite activity. But as they get older, they struggle to hold onto their passion. It would go through the highs and lows of the love for this favorite thing in their life. The struggle of following their own path and being pulled into conformity.
Sort of like a modern version of classical without anything too jarring.
This was...hard to get through.
There's a ton of talent on display here, but somehow not a lot of life or energy. The songs are rarely cohesive, often repetitive, and come across as sterile and incomplete. It's an album that feels rife with untapped potential. It sounds like a foundation for a more fleshed out and vivacious future project.
The album's re-listenability suffers from the monotony of having only one instrument, which is a disappointment because there are a number of gems that become exposed on multiple listens.