Interview with pianist and composer Dirk Maassen
With a huge following on sites including SoundCloud, Spotify and YouTube, Dirk Maassen is surely one of Germany’s most listened-to contemporary piano composers.
Over the past year, Dirk set out to travel all around Europe in order to find what would prove for him the perfect balance between piano, location, mood, composition, recording setup and himself. He is about to complete his “8 Pianos” project with his final stop off in Berlin in June.
I asked Dirk to explain the project in a nutshell…
Dirk: “The “8 Pianos” Project is one composer’s idea of recording eight minimal piano pieces at eight different locations across Europe, performing on eight different pianos, and creating an original album. This was the starting point of an amazing journey of a special kind…”
Tell us about the standout moments…
“Meeting people, making friendship, finding peace in silence, feeling timeless, impressions that directly transformed into music and imagery and subtly changed the flavour of each recording right in place whilst treasuring the moments of travelling, the colors of the world and the impressions within…”
It must have been an amazing experience to mix the travelling with your musical goals – and playing some great pianos!
“Giving time and space, letting the mind and creativity flow to where it wants to, was kind of an amazing experience, and finally it has been this setting that resulted in a touching and inspiring set of recordings – almost timeless moments as a musical counterpart to our hectic and fast changing times, where life often seems to take place in a time lapse.”
So for the “big reveal” – where did you visit?
“The journey started in Ulm where I was able to record “Dikur natem vone” at the big auditorium of the Ulm University. It was the piano class of the university who gave me kind permission to use their piano and to record on.”
“Next stop was with “Maienzeit” at the legendary town house in Ulm designed by the renowned architect Richard Meier. A place that not only was inspiring because of the stunning architecture but also because of the openness where the borders between inside and outside of the building are fluent…”
Am I right in thinking that your musician contacts and friends helped with finding suitable venues as you moved further from home?
“Yes. For the next stop, my sound engineer helped me to stay at a small castle at the baltic sea where the german pianist Thilo von Westernhagen lived and worked until he passed away, much too early.”
“In autumn 2015 the project took me to Sinaai Belgium, a place they call the “Land of Silence” which was quite inspiring. I was invited by Koen Janssen, another musician friend, to stay at his aunt’s farm for the recording and we had a great time with him and his family.”
Your piece “To The Sky” has been streamed online several million times, making it one of the most popular pieces of piano music in the world – I see that when you visited Theodor-Egel-Saal in Freiburg you recorded a new piece based on the material, called “Beyond the Sky”. Here’s the video of you performing it on the Steinway B:
And in London you met up with our mutual friend, the pianist and composer Ed Haydon…
“Again this is true. After stations in Freiburg and again Ulm, I travelled to London to meet Ed, a fellow pianist friend of mine, to make a recording inside St. James Church.”
London was your seventh recording – just one to go!
“Finally the next stop will be in Berlin this summer where I meet with Martin Herzberg a well known german pianist who kindly helped me with a venue over there. I am excited to meet him because we are also going to discuss further plans then, like supporting each other on upcoming tours…”
How did you select the pianos?
“A core concept of the project was to find the time to “make friends” with each piano and try to work out the composition and recording to build a unique work, combining these three elements: the piano, the composition, the recording.”
“Basically I wanted to have as much diversity as possible when it comes to the pianos. As in real life you often cannot tell who you are going to meet and make friend, I left it to chance which piano I met and tried to make the best of it, ….make friends!”
How was the recording made? What problems did you overcome?…
“The recording was done with a mobile equipment consisting of a field recorder and two pairs of Neumann and Rode Mics. As I had plenty of time for each recording there was a lot of room to experiment with the mic positioning.”
And videos of most of the recordings are on YouTube…
“While the audio recording went very well, most of the time we did not have a professional film team with us, so the videos are sometimes out of sync. However I see the videos more as a documentation of the journey and not primary as music videos…. Maybe next time we will take better care for the videos as well!”
Thanks for sharing this project with us – and with the world. What an inspiring idea – and I am sure that listeners will be drawn into your journey…
“A good listen to the album “8 pianos” might take the listener to another state of mind – like he or she might be somehow taking part in this journey. Each piece of music seems to spread and return all the impressions, colors and the moments I conserved in each of my pieces.”
The album is scheduled to appear in mid July, 2016
For regular updates on the project and to listen to Dirk’s music: