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Melsen's Piano Log

This is a sound journal of Melsen improvising on different pianos. Practically everything you will hear is raw and unrehearsed. There will be sounds of life happening in the background, and many of the pianos are not in tune. Mel has been improvising at the keyboard since he was very young, but he began making regular recordings in 2012. This podcast is a curated selection from the larger body of recordings he has made since then. Many of the pianos featured here were part of a public art installation in Boston during the fall of 2013 - "Play Me I'm Yours" - the Boston Street Piano Project.
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Aug 28, 2015

After playing duets with Dad, and after a rather messy performance of a Chopin G Major Prelude, I wanted to play just one more time before moving on to find our departure gate at the airport. If you're familiar with the prelude, you'll hear how I started there with this improvisation. I think this is the most exuberant one of the day, and a fitting end to the string of Portland public performances. Playing piano makes me so happy, and getting to play for other people even more so. Thank you for listening :)

Aug 27, 2015

Here is the second duet improvisation with my dad, Philip Carlsen (www.philcarlsen.com). In this one, I'm playing bass, and he's playing treble. I snuck a peak around us during the middle of this, and a sizeable crowd had gathered. It can be such a relief in a stressful situation like an airport to be able to make and listen to live music!

Aug 27, 2015

And then my dad joined me and we improvised two duets. This is the first: he is playing bass and I'm playing treble. I grew up listening to him compose at the piano, and I have been heavily influenced by his sense of musical adventure and creation. Check out some of his work on his website: www.philcarlsen.com. You can listen to clips there and on Soundcloud. Also, there is a professional recording of me playing a piece that he wrote for me, "October", put out by Parma Recordings. Here's a link to the recording on iTunes: https://geo.itunes.apple.com/us/album/october/id897219922?i=897220124&mt=1&app=music (but you can also find it on Rhapsody, and probably other music streaming services)

Aug 27, 2015

This is the second recording from the Kawai baby grand at PDX, and the third recording from last Saturday. By now, if you've been listening to this podcast for a while, you'll recognize this style of improvising: fast arpeggiated chords, where the content is a slow harmonic transformation with the illusion of a fast pace because of the many notes used, and where there is often a slow melodic line that sparkles out of the top. After I spent a week on the Oregon coast with the constant backdrop of the pounding Pacific surf, playing in this style took on a special significance.

Aug 26, 2015

This Kawai baby grand piano was just sitting in the terminal at PDX. The security guard said that sometimes they paid performers to play on it, but otherwise it was available for anyone to play. My family and I had a couple hours before our plane left, so my dad and I ended up playing for almost an hour! We did some pieces we knew, but we also improvised a lot. This is my first improvisation on that piano.

Aug 26, 2015

I was recently on the Oregon coast for a family reunion, and on our last day, some of us spent some time in Portland. To my delight, we found not one, but two public pianos to play! The first was part of the Piano Push Play project, and was installed outside the Portland Art Museum. It was a gorgeous day, and it had the feeling of the Boston Street Piano project all over again. This is the recording I made there. One of the keys had a missing hammer (and therefore couldn't play) - can you tell which one?

Aug 13, 2015

My partner and I visited my dad and his wife last weekend. He had recently gotten his baby grand piano back, after living in small apartments for a few years. It was sweet to re-familiarize myself with it. I spent hours practicing on it when I was in high school.

I woke up on Saturday morning, and before anyone else was up and about, I started this recording. You will hear Dad in the kitchen making breakfast at the end.

Aug 11, 2015

A little over two years ago, my grandmother passed away. I played at her memorial service, as well as many other times that weekend. Here's a recording I made when I was warming up on the stage where we were going to hold the service. 

She played piano as well, and I spent a lot of time that weekend poring over her music books, and reading her notes in the margins. I grew up on the other side of the country from where she and my grandfather lived, so I didn't get to see her very often. It was very cool to be able to learn more about who she was, and to discover similarities I didn't realize we had.

Aug 5, 2015

I made this recording right after the last one, again with the Sony PCM-M10. It's a bit longer.

Because of a very busy work schedule over the past few months, I've had a hard time finding time to even play piano, let alone record. It was really nice to be able to sit down and make these tracks.

Aug 1, 2015

Trying something new with this recording. I recently bought a Sony PCM-M10 Portable Audio Recorder, which records in stereo. So far, I'm really liking it! I'm able to record in much higher resolution than I did on my smart phone. Plus, this device is able to filter out some low frequencie sounds (like wind or household noises), and it also limits the levels so there is hopefully no distortion at the louder end of the spectrum.

This recording is on the mellower side.

Jun 10, 2015

I'm considering starting to compose finished pieces using ideas I've explored in these improvisations. I would then make recordings and release them in albums. I would also make the sheet music available for sale. These are grand ideas, and because of the nature of my day job, there are only certain times in the year when I would have enough creative energy and time to devote to such a project, but...it would be so cool, wouldn't it?

Jun 1, 2015

Here is one that has a very dreamy quality.

Apr 7, 2015

Here's another recording from March, released after the fact! It's a long-format one.

I've been thinking about why I typically choose the keys I do to play in. And what makes a key feel like it does? I find I gravitate towards flat keys, but what does that even mean? A-flat Major is technically the same as G-sharp Major. But I believe I always think of it as A-flat when I'm improvising. Similarly, I often think of D-flat Major, not C-sharp Major. B-flat minor, not A-sharp minor. Is this typical? I wonder! But I also wonder if my penchant for flats steers me away from improvising in keys that just have sharps in their key signature - like B Major and E Major...

Apr 3, 2015

This was an improvisation inspired by a piece I wrote in elementary school called "A lot of Jazzy Jazz" (which was itself a variation on an earlier piece: "A little bit of Jazz"). Not sure how actual jazzy this ever was, but it was fun to play with!

Mar 31, 2015

March 2015 - Day 31

Here it is  - the last post for March. I wrote Ocean Squalls when I was in late elementary school. On Sunday night, I read through it a couple times and then put my music notebook away. This is me playing it from memory, and taking a little artistic liberty. I hope you enjoy!

Mar 30, 2015

March 2015 - Day 30

Only two days left in March, including today! I'm trying to decide how frequently to continue posting to this podcast. I recently went through all my files, and I have more than 200 recordings. They are not all ones I would want to share publicly, but many of them are. If I continue to record a few new piano logs every week, I should be able to post at least two every week for a long time. Stay tuned! What I've learned through the course of this month is that I love doing this podcast, so it shouldn't be hard for me to continue!

Yesterday, I went through my tiny composition notebook from when I was very young. I was born in 1982, and there were little pieces in there from '87 to '92. My dad is a composer, and most of them are written in his handwriting. Many of them are very much in the style of the beginner pieces I was working on. The first one is "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", but with "Mel Bass" instead of Alberti Bass. The last one is a piece called "Ocean Squalls", which I was very proud of. I recorded that one yesterday as well, and I'll be posting it tomorrow.

Mar 29, 2015

March 2015 - Day 29

This piano was in a little courtyard at Harvard Law School. I had the feeling of being in a sort of room, even though I was outside. It felt oddly private. Perhaps as a result, I think this improvisation ended up sounding more introspective.

Mar 28, 2015

March 2015 - Day 28

In 2013, this young person passed away after a tragic bicycle accident. I played thinking of him, and thinking of the people he left behind who grieved his passing. Often, music can express things when words aren't helpful. And also, I'm not a traditionally religious person, but sometimes for me, playing music is the most direct and raw way of connecting with something larger than myself. I don't really ever choose to attend religious services, but I am always so willing and grateful to be able to play music for them, because I believe I'm helping to hold that open space for the people who are listening.

Mar 27, 2015

March 2015 - Day 27

I drove over the river from work in Watertown on my lunch break to play this piano. It was unusual in that the keys were painted in addition to the cabinet.

Mar 26, 2015

March 2015 - Day 26

This was one of my first ever recordings of piano improvisation. Up until 2008, I had improvised so much, but I had never thought to record. It had been my way of warming up at the keyboard, relaxing, or even practicing techniques. But that was all. I didn't take it nearly as seriously as my classical training. Which is perhaps entirely appropriate.

So, here it is - my first attempt at recording. I had no idea what was going to happen when I hit the record button, and I guess I still don't!

Mar 25, 2015

March 2015 - Day 25

This is the last piano I played on the first day I ventured out to play street pianos. It was a baby grand sitting out in front of the MFA, and it was decorated with an easel and tubes of paint!

Mar 24, 2015

March 2015 - Day 24

My friend Maggie was dancing to this improvisation. You can see a video of this and many other street piano performances on YouTube.

Mar 23, 2015

March 2015 - Day 23

For this one, I focused on a left hand melody with right hand accompaniment to start. I think it has an eerie quality.

Mar 22, 2015

March 2015 - Day 22

I recorded a few piano logs today - here is the first! More to come throughout the coming week...

Mar 21, 2015

March 2015 - Day 21

Spring has come! And there are only ten days left of March! This is a recording from 2012, when I didn't have a home acoustic piano to play. My Casio keyboard really saved the day during those months when I wanted to keep playing.

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