Daily Archives: February 13, 2006

Idle Hands


In 1988 a friend gave me her old upright piano, at the time about 95 years old. I had her tuner do some repairs and then the piano and I settled in together for the next 15 years.

I’m not a competent conventional keyboardist by the kindest stretch, but over the years I’ve spent some time with keyboards (sadly far too much of it with only my right hand on the keyboard and my left on some wheel or control or fader).

But that old piano is as different from the synthesizers and electronic keyboards that I’d been playing as a thing could be.

With a creaky, cranky action, mysterious thunks and deep rolling resonances that would stack higher and higher (I have the little kid habit of leaving my right foot on the sustain pedal for very long times at times… I think I become hypnotized) the piano seemed at times to be so awash in sounds that I often thought I heard voices, old fashioned telephones, sirens.

Again and again I would stop playing, the sound taking a while to die — even with my foot finally off the sustain pedal — trying to hear whatever it was I thought I heard… someone just outside the window or perhaps a radio that had somehow come on, a television. Anything. But the sounds seemed to come out of the piano, almost as though it was channeling them to me.

And sometimes, on that century old piano, I just liked to turn my antenna to the stars: put my hands down on whatever note or notes found me… and then just play whatever came next…

Today’s track was recorded a couple days ago — not on my old piano (safely in storage in my garage), but on my new, sometimes very-piano-like MIDI controller keyboard. That keyboard is the first I’ve owned that has anything close to the feel of a real piano and sometimes I can lose myself for a while as I used to on my old piano.

This improvisation I’m calling Idle Hands is very much like the sorts of rambling musings I used to indulge myself on on my piano. If it tries your patience — imagine how my neighbors felt. 110 year old pianos don’t have volume controls.