I had an incredible time yesterday recording my new solo microtonal piano album, Until I Set Him Free. I had the privilege of working with two incredibly talented, eminent people – producer and engineer Haydn Bendall and piano technician Finlay Fraser – on location at Chatsworth Baptist Church, West Norwood.
Haydn Bendall – whose work has won Grammys and an Oscar – was chief engineer at Abbey Road Studios for 17 years before he embarked upon a freelance career, and he has worked with Andrea Bocelli, Chris Botti, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Pat Metheny, Paul McCartney and Kate Bush, to name a few—so I knew I was in excellent hands! Early on in his career, Haydn also worked as a piano tuner for Steinway and Sons, regularly tuning for distinguished pianists such as Alfred Brendel. To be able to work with someone who is not only an outstanding engineer but also sensitive to the nuances of my microtonal piano tuning was a real privilege. Haydn set up the microphones in a way that captured all the harmonic resonances of the piano while also taking advantage of the lovely acoustics of the church. Throughout the day, his comments and direction were really on point, and helped me give my best performance. It was a huge advantage to be able to think about the music from a different perspective—for example, Haydn spotted all the moments where I needed to bring out the playful, dancing, thoughtful or emotional qualities of the pieces more, to best communicate the music.
Finlay Fraser obtained a first-class honours degree in piano tuning and restoration at the London College of Furniture, before going on to hone his skills as a concert technician at some of the world’s top piano factories (the Kawai factory in Japan, Grotrian & Steinweg in Germany and Fazioli in Italy), and he regularly tunes and prepares the pianos at the Barbican, Royal Festival Hall and Abbey Road Studios, so I was extremely grateful that he was willing to share his expertise with me to help develop this piano tuning and put it into practice. I worked with him over a period of many months – involving spreadsheet calculations, software instruments, an upright piano and lots of tea – to create a tuning that had exactly the right kind of harmonic resonances and musicality. Yesterday, after painstakingly preparing the piano with the tuning we had devised, Finlay stayed for the whole recording session, not just keeping the piano “in tune” between takes but also making slight adjustments to the voicing of the piano to keep the tone even.
I can't wait to take the recordings into the studio now, to listen back to everything with Haydn and mix the album!