A bit of a departure from the previous tracks, “Deep Brown Studying” is an instrumental piece for solo piano. As usual, click the “play” icon above to listen, and the sliders below for more information about the music.
Recorded in May 2010, in Rick’s Home Studio
Rick: Digital Piano (Clavinova CLP860)
Something I generally take for granted, but am really thankful for when I take the time to think about it is the fact that I see colors (or “sense” them at any rate) when I play music. It’s been like that as long as I can remember, and it’s consistently the same colors… for example, “D” chords are a vibrant blue, “A” is orange, “C” a goldenrod yellow, “F” a slightly-magenta red… and the key of this song, “G”, is a deep, earthy brown color.
When I’m writing music, the color palette definitely figures into it (at least subconsciously). It’s clear to me which colors blend together well, and those color changes translate directly into sensible chord progressions. Sitting at the piano for this song, my hope was to explore (i.e., “study”) the color space around that brownish hue, imagining being lost in reverie. At the same time, I tried to develop a prominent melody to sit out in front of the chord progression to guide an outsider observer through my wanderings. Funny enough, because I wrote the song over 7 years ago, I’ve had plenty of time to interpret it myself… I tend to picture traveling through farmland in the late fall. A few years back, I had a business trip to Lincoln, Nebraska, and the flat-ness and brown-ness of the place seemed exactly right.
The recording was done on my digital piano at home, but once I got it into Sonar (the digital audio workstation that I use), I decided to double it with a second piano (“TruePianos Amber”) reading the same recorded MIDI stream at a very low volume level to fill out the sound.
One challenge I had to address is that the song intrinsically has a bit more dynamic (volume) range that the other “band” songs we’ve been putting out. After my first mix attempt, I popped it on my iPod where it directly followed “The Shortstop Song“. I played “Shortstop” at a normal volume level and when the tracks changed, the opening section of “Deep Brown Studying” was really soft. However, in the middle sections the piano becomes relatively loud in comparison to the opening, so I couldn’t simply raise the levels (without risking deafening legions of fans, or causing the senseless destruction of myriad speakers).
So, despite my conflicted feelings about it, I decided to apply a little bit of compression when mastering the mix. Over-simplistically, “compression” reduces the volume range of the song – the would-be soft parts are made a little louder, while the would-be loud parts are made a little softer. In a sense, doing it takes away a little bit of the “emotion” of the song for the sake of conformity to the other tracks – and were this being released as one of a number of similar instrumental songs, I wouldn’t even consider it – but I think it was a necessary trade-off to make it blend in more smoothly with the other songs. At a minimum, it soothes my guilt to be honest about it here.
As a last note, I’m perfectly awful at giving names to the instrumentals I’ve written. My wife likes to tease me about that – if she or my kids want to hear something specific, they’re forced to do it by the “hum-a-few-bars” method. In this case, however, serendipity came to my rescue by providing the phrase “brown study”… which is a somewhat archaic term for being in “state of serious absorption or abstraction”. That fit perfectly; the song was a “Deep Brown Study in G”, which I eventually shortened to the present title.
Steve: If you have been reading along during this series of song notes, you have probably observed that the thing I care about is that these musical compositions tell stories, that they take you from one state to another. “Deep Brown Studying” has no words, yet in the mood it conveys, in the sequence of the notes, it seems to me to have a clearly discernible plot, with beginning, middle, end. Being that we have not cluttered its theme with anything so specific as words, the nature of that plot is up to you. I know that were I ever to attempt to put words to this piece, I should have no trouble doing it, it is so evocative to me, but to do so would be to unnecessarily reduce a song that speaks for itself without my help.
The world abounds in solo piano pieces, and so many of them are so much aural wallpaper. I am quite proud that “Deep Brown Studying” demands that you listen to it. Even if Rick had called this piece “The Flamboyant Yellow Dragon,” I’m pretty sure it would still reach out and grab you with its wistfulness and yearning to find… what? Like I said, that’s up to you. I’ve been listening to this song for a long time—it’s part of my regular rotation—and I’m still considering the answer. I hope I never stop wondering.