Discussions: Aija Alsina

Latvian composer and pianist Aija Alsina has delivered a deeply touching follow-up to her 2017 debut Domum. Recorded at home on an upright piano, Alsina employed the instrument’s felt mode. When its third pedal is pressed, strips of felt land between the hammers and strings. The softening effect is ideally suited to her very personal work.

Is Creation a reference to motherhood?

Creation is a tribute to everything we create. I have always been amazed by people’s ability to create art. But when I got to woman’s ability to create a human being, it struck me completely. It is so far beyond my comprehension; it is not something we create with our hands or mind. This act of nature is a complete miracle to me. Inevitably, after becoming a mother myself, my mind is around children most of the time. So I wanted to dedicate this album to my youngest son and my own growth as a mother.

I love the idea of nature working through us. Do you ever feel that way about the composition process? Does your work ever take on a life of its own?

Yes, most of the time. When I compose just for myself, I let my compositions take me where they want to. Sometimes I am asked to write for a specific picture, in that case I focus more on how my music could help portray the message in the image.

Is that a time-consuming process?

Yes, definitely. Mostly because I struggle to find uninterrupted time for composing. But I accept it, because I am a mother of two young children and I wouldn’t want to take that time away from them. My logic is that my children need me now, while they are little. I will always have time to compose later when they are bigger. 

[S]ome tracks were recorded during the day with the windows open. If you listen carefully, you will hear birds chirping outside.

Aija Alsina

I’m curious about how you recorded this album. The work has such an intimate feel.

I’m very glad to hear that, because this was exactly my intention. I fell in love with the felt piano sound many composers are using these days. So for this album, I wanted to try it out.

I thought, it’s time for me to buy a real acoustic piano. I was looking for one that had this felt layer built in. Hence, all the piano parts of Creation were recorded at my home, entirely on an upright piano with the felt mode on and with close-up mics. I want it to feel as though the listener is sitting right next to me on the piano bench.

Most of the tracks were recorded late at night, when there was finally silence at my home. But some tracks were recorded during the day with the windows open. If you listen carefully, you will hear birds chirping outside.

As a composer who previously had only written music using virtual instruments, the beginning of the recording process with an acoustic piano was really frustrating. I had no experience in recording live piano, so I wasn’t sure if all the sounds I was hearing were really supposed to go into the recording.

There’s so much of everything – mechanical noises, different overtones, pedal noise, bench squeak, etc. I was afraid to move. Also, with virtual instruments you have all the possibilities to adjust the wrongly played note after you have played it, or tweak your notes around to your perfection. But here I felt like there’s so much beyond my control. I was frustrated at not being able to play my pieces perfectly. I had to play them over and over so many times. And when you finally play a really nice version, either some ambulance sirens go off or a distant dog starts barking. You can imagine. 

For a long time I was doubting whether I should keep on recording on my new piano. But the more I listened to my recordings, the more I liked them compared to the same songs played on virtual instruments. I think they have this very personal and intimate feel to them, like you can hear that there had been a real person playing these compositions on a real piano.

Kevin Press

The Moderns, vols. 1-3 – available exclusively from Amazon

Leave a Reply