Introducing the “reverie” …

Pawel Kováč talks to Richard Lewis about his latest studio release 

12 REVERIES BUDIN

Richard Lewis has emerged from the studio with a new collection of works for piano, with occasional arrangements for strings, woodwinds and percussion: Twelve Reveries for Piano and Instruments. The Louba Rêve office has already received requests for the sheet music. But, as Lewis explains, the collection is born of improvised sessions.

“My last album of songs, { You Are Here } , was all about meticulous composition. Taking the pop song format and perversely subjecting it to approaches that are more usually the preserve of higher art. This album is more or less the opposite of that — a collection of music that happens spontaneously at the keyboard when the mind is allowed to wander. The result is perhaps more structured sounding than you might expect, perhaps because I default to waltz-playing when no one is watching, though it’s certainly unsophisticated.”

So this isn’t a free improv record?

“No free improv — we’re a long way from Tilbury. There’s no ethos to it and it’s not a project I set out to make. I improvise at the piano all the time, it’s how I find music to work with. Usually I take those elements and construct something from them. Here I did not, I just let them sit as they came off my fingers. It’s quite naïve and unselfconscious. But I guess this is what’s running around in my head when I think no one’s looking.”

More like automatic writing then, perhaps?

“Isn’t that just a fancy way of saying you played the first thing that came into your head? I tend to shy away from terms. Like musique concrète or “found sound” — to me they smack of trying to elevate a rather banal process into an art movement or manifesto. This record emphatically isn’t that. That’s why I called the pieces “reveries”. They’re that much more than they are anything else.”

Lewis’s short film further articulates the process :

 

 

It seems quite a personal collection.

“You see, I never understand what is meant by personal, when it comes to music. I think the running theme in all of the pieces is that they are influenced not by a desire to make a certain type of piece but literally influenced by whatever is on my mind or whatever I’m feeling at the moment of playing. It’s personal in that sense but then again there are no words to guide the listener, so people can make of it what they will.”

How do you account for the arrangements? Is this still improvisation?

“Well, the piano underneath is improvised and the arrangements happened because the piece seemed to call for it. For example, in Place du Caire, I’d been playing for about three minutes and everything seemed to be flowing quite well and then for some unknown reason, just as the piece might have come to a natural end, I started playing this 7/4 riff that went off at a complete tangent. And even as I was playing it I was thinking, doh! now you’ve blown it. So that was necessity. It’s different from what I would call composition because in normal circumstances I might have been tempted to edit out that diversion and develop it elsewhere. I decided to leave it in and just play though and attempt to bring the piece back from it, as though it was supposed to be there. But the truth is it surprised me as much as it undoubtedly surprises the listener.

“The same is true of Place du Palais Royal. Initially I’d set up this rather haunting drone and I thought I’d improvise some piano over it and I was enjoying that … by the time I’d come round, as it were, I had this piece that built quite dramatically so I was tempted to have a crack at arranging it. That happened again with Place de la Réunion — the compelling stuff happens some way into it and usually I’d take that and re-perform it without the meandering that allowed it to happen. It occurred to me that the meandering was an important part of it. You see all kinds of ‘making of’ documentaries about films and even albums. But they only seem to show the production of a finished idea. They never show how the ‘ideas’ themselves were made. Probably because that would be a ten-hour film of someone staring out of the window. I tend to do much of my introspection at the piano. My music always flows out of improvisation. I guess I just decided to leave my workings in. In any case, I didn’t labour over the arrangements. They were completed pretty much then and there so it was still fresh. Laurence always improvises her parts anyway, so that was no change to previous records we’ve worked on together.”

The pieces seem to hold together a bit too well for improv. You don’t seem to play any wrong notes.

Well, you don’t hear all the pieces I left off the record. But I think that’s the point I’m making in the film. When I’m in a good flow, then I’m not consciously thinking about music and, basically, I don’t play wrong notes when that happens. Fear of playing wrong notes is a self-fulfilling prophesy. When you play without fear and without an agenda that you have to “get right”, you play much better. Or I do, I should say. I learned it from a gig I had playing accordion for a singer-songwriter. He wouldn’t rehearse and I basically had to show up at the first gig, go on stage and play without even having heard the material. I didn’t think I could do that but it turned out I played better that way. I was really surprised by what came out. We gigged for two years, never rehearsed. It was en eye-opener.

So, what does the future hold? Any plans to develop the improvisation theme further?

“No. I generally prefer to layer things up over time and work them until they’re played just right or until I have a certain sound. I’m not really comfortable sailing this close to the wind. My limitations are way too exposed. I play the piano as you might expect a percussionist to play it. To be honest, if I’d had one handy at the time I’d probably have redone Place de Rungis on the hammered dulcimer.”

 

Twelve Reveries is available as a download only for 2014, with other formats (including sheet music) a possibility for later in 2015.

 

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