The Pursuit of Excellence

Several years ago, while on a trip to Canada, a friend of mine gave me a little book entitled ‘Excellence In All Things’. I don’t remember exactly what was written in that little book but the gist of it stayed with me ever since – to set your standards high, always seek to improve your skills, and never settle for anything but your best in all that you do, whether that’s sweeping the streets, governing a country or playing music.

Over the past few months, I’ve been at home working on some new solo piano compositions, and while working on them, I got an email from Damien Rice, who had recorded my first two volumes of solo piano music in his home in the mountains outside of Dublin. He told me that he’d been listening to those recordings lately and that he found himself feeling that perhaps they could have sounded better. He felt bad that they didn’t sound as good as they might, and he suggested that perhaps I should re-visit those pieces with someone more experienced in the realm of ‘solo piano’ recording, to see if I could step them up a notch in sound quality and bring them to a higher level of excellence.

So returning to my first 20 pieces, and with a handful of new ones on my mind, I set out to search for a new piano to record on, and the right person to record it. I started off in Dublin, and eventually found myself trying out pianos in London, New York and Paris. I tried out Bosendorfers, Baldwins, Bluthners and a bockety old Bechstein. I even tried out Freddy Mercury’s ‘Fazioli’ – an elite Italian brand of handmade grand pianos designed by a team of musicians, scientists and engineers in a town called Sacile, near Venice (the kind of piano people like Freddy Mercury can afford to own) – at a studio in London.

Eventually I began scouring the liner notes of my favourite piano recordings by composers like Wim Mertens and Yann Tiersen, and I kept finding the same name popping up in the liner notes of almost every album – a Belgian recording engineer called Stephan Kraemer. After some research I found out that Stephan’s recording career spanned some 300 albums over the last 30 years, including everything from classical to heavy metal, and he had spent his youth working at Neumann – probably the world’s most important microphone company in the history of recorded music. I sent him a short email to see if he might be available for a recording session, and I was delighted when he agreed to record my music.

I travelled to Brussels to meet Stephan and he brought me on a tour of his favourite pianos and studios around Belgium. We settled on a classic “Steinway D” – a 9-foot concert grand, the standard ‘best’ in the world of grand pianos, and I spent 3 days in a Brussels recording studio re-visiting my first two albums ‘Don’t Go Back To Sleep’ and ‘The Home of Laughter’ with the man who had captured the sounds on Yann Tiersen’s famous ‘Amélie’ soundtrack – one of my favourite records.

Some friends have remarked that simply because of familiarity, they’ll always prefer the old recordings, but I was happy to bring these pieces back into the recording studio. After two summers of playing piano on the streets of Dublin, the pieces felt steadier under my hands, the louds and the quiets more purposeful, and the overall performances more relaxed and confident. And thanks to Damien’s high standards, and Stephan’s studio skills, the recordings have a new clarity to their sound too.

Volume 3 is still in the oven, but in the meantime, Music For Solo Piano – Volumes 1 & 2, newly recorded by Stephan Kraemer, along with the sheet-music books for both albums, are once again available on iTunes and right here on my website.

…Just an experiment in the pursuit of excellence.

Best wishes, and as always my deepest thanks for your support,

Luke

Don’t Go Back To Sleep – Music For Solo Piano Vol. 1

The Home of Laughter – Music for Solo Piano Vol. 2

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11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Richard Young
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 19:43:51

    Your search for a good recording technician illustrates how difficult it is to capture the true sound of a piano. The overtones of the instrument are extremely subtle and hard to capture completely. I’m glad you found someone to do this.

  2. Luke Slott
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 00:23:46

    You’re absolutely right Richard. There are so many subtle ingredients in a good piano recording… the room, the mics, not to mention the instrument itself! Many thanks for reading.

  3. elikamahony
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 08:57:58

    Hi Luke,

    Thanks so much for this inspiring post. I’m so happy for you that you have found a way to record your lovely piano pieces. I’m sure you are absolutely thrilled. I’m in a transition right now and am looking for a new producer to record my next album. I’m hoping that I can achieve this long distance. I look forward to hearing how your recording sessions go and whether you were satisfied with the outcome. If you have any thoughts or recommendations please let me know.

    On another note, I’m looking for a way to score my piano pieces. Did you do that on your own or did you hire someone to do it for you? (Sorry if I’ve asked you that before – my memory seems to be on vacation)!

    Wishing the best with your new project.

    Warm regards, Elika

    http://www.elikamahony.com

    “Let your heart burn with loving-kindness for all who may cross your path”. Baha’u’llah

    ________________________________

  4. Anonymous
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 12:30:49

    Hi luke that’s fantastic news about recording with Stephen Kraemer. Looking forward to hearing the c ds. I did not know you liked Wim Mertens he was on the same label as Nightnoise. I saw him with his band in Milan years ago. I really liked his music.

  5. John Hyland
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 17:24:24

    Hey buddy,

    Loved the post. Are you around the pale these days? Love to meet up for a coffee if you’re knocking about.

    Peace brother

    J boner

  6. Luke Slott
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 13:36:10

    Thanks very much Brian, yes it was a great experience recording with Stephan. He’s a gentleman and a fantastic engineer. Really enjoyed your gig with Sean Whelan the other week. Hope to see you again soon. Luke

  7. Luke Slott
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 13:38:37

    John! You’ve been on my mind. I’ll be in touch and we’ll get together soon x

  8. Bobbie Lee
    Nov 02, 2012 @ 10:31:03

    Your “One Hundred Thousand Veils” is so beautiful. I think I may have purchased the only available copy of “Excellence in All Things” yesterday on Amazon, and ordered the soundtrack for “Amelie”, too. I look forward to listening to your new productions of “Piano Solos 1 & 2”.

  9. Luke Slott
    Nov 04, 2012 @ 12:37:10

    Thanks Bobbie! Wow! That’s cool that you found that book! I’m sure you’ll love the Amelie soundtrack – its a beautiful album (and a great film too)

  10. Bobbie Lee
    Nov 11, 2012 @ 11:20:12

    Luke, my copy of the book came and it was originally published in New Zealand in 1981. I love it and have since found the booklet is available online at http://bahai-library.com/compilation_excellence_all_things and through the Baha’i Book Store, http://bahai-library.com/compilation_excellence_all_things –if anyone else is interested. The soundtrack of Amelie is wonderful and after watching the video, I understand PBS’s “Be More” commercial where the goldfish escapes to the wild water–and recognize the music! Thank you for sharing your inspiration with us.

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    Jan 02, 2015 @ 22:27:55

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