88 keys attached to single strings played by a singular musician and composer. Meet Tristan Eckerson, the man who’s about to cast a spell over Plagwitz with his beautiful piano sound. I spoke to the American pianist recently during his tour, and he gives us personal insights here into his music and a glimpse of what may be on tap at his upcoming Noch Besser Leben gig.
Hi Tristan, and thank you for taking the time for this interview! We’re in love with your new album Disarm, and we’re very curious as to what you can disclose to us!
On your website, you describe yourself as a musical nomad. Can you put your musical journey in a nutshell for us?
It’s hard to put in a nutshell because it’s honestly been all over the place up to this point. I learned classical piano as a kid, played in bands in high school and college (and after college), and then went to Grad School for Music Production and Sound Design for Visual Media in San Francisco. That’s really where things got more focused, and since then I’ve been pursuing my career as a composer and pianist. I’m still trying to do more music for film as well. And that’s why I’m here in Europe for this tour!
Have you got musical goals?
I suppose I have more career goals than musical goals. I want to get a professional team around me to help me with my career so that I can focus solely on being an artist. Right now, I do everything myself, which also includes booking this tour. It really takes away from time that I can spend on music. So I want to get to the point where I can focus solely on creating and performing. I definitely want to compose more for ensembles: percussion, strings, etc. I’d like to keep doing piano music as well and performing, and also delve more deeply into music for film.
The sound of the Una Corda you play on your second album Disarm is very soft and has a purity with a strong natural resonance, albeit with a somewhat thinner and baseless texture than a conventional piano. What made you choose this instrument for your second album?
I heard Nils Frahm playing it and fell in love with it, and then I realized that Native Instruments had sampled it. I just loved the tone, and when I had been playing my compositions from Disarm and heard the sound, I knew it was the right choice for the pieces. And I am going to be playing on the 88-key Una Corda at the Piano Factory and Music Venue of the piano designer himself, David Klavins. That is this Saturday at his factory in Vac, Hungary.
Many musicians compose music on an instrument that offers a certain kind of sound and feel to release a creative trigger. What did the Una Corda spark off inside of you?
I think it just creates a sense of space that allowed me to relax and leave some space between notes so that the compositions weren’t so busy. I like a lot of progressive music, and I have a tendency to pack the notes in, so the Una Corda really gave me the chance to just hear the space and resonances. I could focus on them as much as the notes.
Can you explain the concept of Disarm to us? The title track in itself feels the most tense of all the tracks on the album.
All of the tracks were created as a kind of stream of consciousness. I had been getting really into modes, but I didn’t want to do something in the jazz idiom – I wanted to create “classical music” using modal as opposed to tonal harmony. I just went at it making sketches from different modes, and then went back and made them more concrete. So I think the album really has a kind of linear, minimalist tone to it, seeing that almost all of the pieces are modal.
If you don’t mind sharing this with us: Against what kind of a personal backdrop did the album come about?
My family and I had been living in the mountains in North Carolina for the past 3 years, and I think I was ready to move on to a new place, again (we move a lot!). It was winter, it was cold, and I was definitely restless, feeling the many possibilities and adventures that were coming our way. I think the album really reflects both the longing for adventure and the cabin fever from a long winter. Actually, right now while I’m on tour we are moving from our house in North Carolina to a new house in Cincinnati, Ohio! So the journey continues…
Stereo 2.0 purist or on-the-go earphones – how do you listen to music? And what’s on your current playlist?
Ever since grad school I’ve been a total audio snob. I can’t do earbuds. I take my Studio headphones with me everywhere I will be listening to music, and I’m always on the lookout for a way to listen to any audio on a more professional level, even if it’s just watching a movie. I even did an internship in a mastering and post production studio in San Francisco, so I’ve trained my ears to be pretty selective when it comes to audio quality.
Right now I’ve been listening to the Beethoven Piano Sonatas a lot, and also to Tigran Hamasyan and Hiromi. And also Elton John.
You’ve been touring for a while now and gotten in touch with many different people from various countries. Can you share with us an experience or anecdote that took you by surprise?
I played a solo piano concert in a venue in Burlington, Vermont, last fall, and there was supposed to be an acoustic singer/songwriter playing before me. But at the last moment I guess the agent decided to book a huge, Malian Percussion Dance Band instead. So these guys were tearing it up and making everyone dance and scream, and then I had to get up there and play my solo piano music. It made for a rather awkward encounter…
Final question. It has to be the hardest, obviously. Can you complete the sentence? Music is…
Thank you so much for taking the time! We wish you nothing but the best of success with your wonderful music and can’t wait to see you in Leipzig on 19 September!