Night In The Secret Garden is a collection of pieces for piano that celebrate all manner of uncanny encounters. While my interpretation of a secret garden is quite different from what Frances Hodgson Burnett presented in her similarly titled children’s classic, both rely on the same primal notion that such a place is intrinsically transformative.
Here, the secret garden is a framework designed to help convey the ineffable. Highly personal and subject to the eccentricities of the individual, it should nonetheless be a quiet refuge from the ceaselessness of modern life.
As an organic space, your secret garden could as easily be a special room in your home as an actual garden, a state of mind or even a software environment. Really, the key is that it be appropriate for exceptional visitations of a magical or metaphysical variety. A kind of ritual space, I reckon.
In developing the material for this album, I’ve imagined a fabulous overgrown walled oasis, complete with fragments of statuary and bits of ancient architecture intermingled amongst unusual, luxuriant and uninhibited vegetation.
In my secret garden there is no distinction between flora and fauna because both are equally sentient, curious and can animate according to their own unique desires. A kind of vibrant ruins, alive in moist spirit and crackling with electric mystery.
For me, it is always night when gods and apparitions manifest themselves in the secret garden. Whether to continue centuries-long conversations or to briefly possess the corporeal, etherial beings are hungry for echos of fleshy pleasures.
You’ll recognize the feeling. Starting with the sensation of being watched surreptitiously, a faint and peculiar riddle begins to crystalize as if from distant memory. The sudden synchronization of the senses produces a bewildering rush that defies intellect as movement gives way to terror and then to a reprieve of breathless resplendence.
In directionless suspension you have simultaneously received and become the Muse. Now, beneath cloud filtered moonlight, long forgotten myths can be re-enacted and intimate glimpses of eternity are achievable at the whim of your curiosity. To find oneself in the Secret Garden at night is to be both the plaything of, and a witness to, the Divine.
After the orchestral excess of Budapest Undead, I thought I’d try working with a more restricted pallet. In doing so, I had to re-calibrate the way I built pieces, how I viewed my compositional process and what was practical for me in terms of execution.
Rather than thinking in triads from the outset, I started with interesting dyads and found that larger harmonic structures almost seemed to conjure themselves. While it’s unmistakable that I’m not a natural or trained pianist by any stretch, I hope what I lack in technical facility could be pardoned by my sincere desire to present inventive harmony.
In many ways this album is the most revealing of my recent musical offerings and not just because the piano as a solo instrument is so damnably exposed. On several pieces I’ve tried to pull back the curtain by holding chords that intrigue or excite me and it’s my hope that by often leaving them unadorned, a kind of brief tonal uncertainty might be achieved.
Indeed, as with all intentional ambiguity, it must prove to be fruitful in the end. I’d be immensely pleased to know it led the listener to surprising ports of call.
As a genre, solo piano is rife with great masters and in my feeble and gushing attempt at imitation, it’s dawned on me that an album which tries to honor each would be a noble effort on my part. For now, my homage to Eric Satie and the modal mash-ups that dare recall his most beloved melodic and rhythmic shapes will have to do. Certainly, my ham-fisted stabs at channeling Chopin will require an offering of apology when next at Père Lachaise.
Just so my admiration for the greats isn’t the only clear novelty, please notice the aptly mis-titled piece for piano four hands. In actual execution it is a piano duet with myself, performed through the magic of multi-tracking. While I was steadfast in my concern not to overlap into impossible unison, there are many tightly syncopated near-misses that should delight two simultaneous players banging away at a single keyboard.
Unaccustomed as I am to disagreeing with Aristotle, I believe the ear to be the true organ of temptation, not the eye. I’d wager those venerable monks who long ago admonished parallel harmonic movement would be in my camp, as you’d doubtless find the author of Paradise Lost.
Setting his poem in a secret garden as well, Milton depicts Satan “squat like a toad, close at the ear of Eve” tempting her with illusions and dreams as she sleeps. Considering those mellifluous whispers are said to have precipitated the Fall, what’s to stop you from giving into temptation and joining me for a Night In The Secret Garden?
Besides, “what hath night to do with sleep” anyway?
My compliments always!
Rotterdam Deck, MS Westerdam
Victoria B.C., July 2022