Thursday, May 22, 2014

1.) Tulips

The start of this project coincided with cherry blossom season in Brooklyn.  It's really one of the best times of year here.  After a long, less-colorful winter, the cherry blossoms are a powerful display of rebirth and energy.  So I had the idea that the cherry blossoms would be the first subject of this project, but these tulips, just a block away on Albemarle Road kept calling my name.  They were impossible to ignore.  These were the same tulips after which I titled the last piece of the Messiaen Project.

These beauties so embodied the upward Spring energy.  They were trying to be so tall, swaying in the wind, begging to be noticed.  They appeared to be stretching up, trying to look over each other's heads.  Their rich color was so satisfying to look at.  I loved how this particular variety of tulip spread it's petals wide during the day, soaking up every possible ounce of sun.  At night they closed up a bit, as though they were conserving the energy they captured during the day.  For about three weeks I'd walk past them every time I took the dog out for a walk, and they never failed to inspire.

After capturing the footage, I played around with it for a few days until I had an edit I was satisfied with.  Then I spent a week or so improvising at the piano along with the video.  Certain ideas and themes started emerging.  I enjoyed taking my time in this process - a nice contrast to the last two years of composing, during which I had to finish something every week.  Eventually a 12-bar blues form with an angular line of varied-length patterns took shape.  For the recording I improvised the line on the third of four choruses. 

This film was definitely a learning experience.  I struggled a bit with the idea of replacing the natural sound of the video with my music.  I considered keeping the natural sound and blending it with the music, but it wasn't consistent enough from shot to shot.  There were plenty of lovely birds throughout, cars passing, but also lawnmowers that were blasting in some shots, while absent from others.  It just couldn't have worked with the amount of shots I was using.  That actually brings up one of the things I learned this time around - that I should have taken longer shots that would have allowed more flexibility in editing.  If I had done this perhaps I would have been able to create that mix of ambient sound and music.  But learning is what this project is all about, so onward I go.

The process of creating Tulips brought up some questions.  Notably, what should come first, the video or the music?  As far as I know, most film scores are added at the very end of production, except for music videos I suppose.  But since I am foremost a pianist/composer, and a novice film maker, I might do well to start with the music.  I foresee experimenting with the order of this going forward.        

Saturday, May 3, 2014


Welcome to 12 Films With Music.  This is the fifth consecutive internet project Brooklyn-based of pianist and composer Jesse Stacken.  This project follows a progression of sorts.  First was the Daily Improvisation Project, for which I record and posted a solo piano improvisation daily for a year.  That led to the Weekly Improvisation Project, for which I recorded and posted an extended (one hour or longer) solo piano improvisation every week for a year.  After the conclusion of that, it seemed natural to do a weekly composition, which I did for a year, posting a recording and score every week. That gave way to the Messiaen Project, which I just completed.  For the Messiaen Project I composed, recorded, and posted weekly a solo piano composition which utilized in some way the techniques of the French composer Olivier Messiaen.  All of these projects are preserved in full at  I invite you to check them out when you have a moment.

So, about three or four months ago, in the midst of the Messiaen Project, the idea for 12 Films With Music was conceived.  I didn't commit to it being the next project, and I was actually thinking of going another route until about a month ago.  The gist of the project is this:

I will shoot, edit, and score a short film every month for a year.

Now, I must be up front with you.  I am not a film maker.  I have no training.  I have no professional equipment.  If I had professional equipment, I would have no idea how to use it.  I do have an interest in film beyond Hollywood, but I am far from what you could call a film buff.  I have my favorite directors, but I'm sure there are many important people that I should really know about if I was to get serious with it.  What I will be shooting is essentially home movies - not in content, but it quality.  I have a consumer grade camcorder.  I have a Nikon DSLR camera that I might try to learn to shoot with.  And I have an iPhone.  I will use iMovie to edit the films, unless I find I can't stand it, in which case I may upgrade to something better.  I say all of this to basically ask you to "throw me a bone" as far as the film quality and maybe even content goes.  My expertise is in music, and my focus will be the scoring of the films.  These films can be thought of as no budget music videos.

The music might be composed, it might be improvised.  It will probably be solo piano, but if the opportunity presents itself, I could see adding some other instruments to the mix.  This music will be recorded live.  I have no interest in using midi (does midi still exist?), or computer samples, or anything like that.  I really love acoustic instruments and that's where my interest lies at this time.

These projects always start out as something, and turn into something else, so I don't want to say too much about what's going to happen.  Right now I have an interest in shooting nature, and highlighting seasonal change.  I think that a monthly post could show a nice progression of the seasons.  However,  I do not want to commit to that idea.  I'll allow this project to go in any direction it wishes.

I will upload the videos to YouTube, and then embed them here on this blog.  I invite you to follow by email for updates.  Thanks for reading!