Dustin O’Halloran – »I really love to sculpt the notes«

Foto: Theda Schoppe
The pianist and film composer Dustin O’Halloran just released __Lumiere__, a soundtrack without a film. We’ve talked to him about the power of the piano, the magic of improvisation and his colleague Hauschka.

The pianist and film composer Dustin O’Halloran just released Lumiere, a soundtrack without a film. The American living in Berlin gained popularity with his soundtrack for An American Affair and his records Piano Solos and Piano Solos Vol. 2. To present his latest record Lumiere__ he just went on a tour through Europe, China and North America, joined by different string quartetts. Some footage of his concert in Berlin can be seen on his website We’ve talked to him about the power of the piano, the magic of improvisation and his colleague Hauschka.

Your latest studio album, Lumiere, is concepted as a soundtrack without a film. Why do you think your record works without the pictures?
Dustin O’Halloran: Actually the record is a concept about Synesthesia the condition of seeing colors when hearing music, so yes it is visual but in a film way. I started to realize this was how I was experiencing music after I did some research on the subject while making the record. And I found a lot of connections between painters and composers like Kandinsky, Rothko, Olivier Messiaen, Schoenberg, Debussy.
Even though the other instruments seem to make certain moods you’re getting us into more intense, they always seem to be under the influence of one instrument that holds everything together, the piano. What do you think is it that gives the piano that ability, why is it such a powerful instrument?
Dustin O’Halloran: I think about this myself, but all I can say is maybe its the range of the piano which has the ability to cover so much variation and octaves. It’s really a solo instrument which I think always brings it close to people… the person playing and the listener… and this kind of intimacy always brings a certain kind of intensity.

Since when are you playing the piano? Can you remember what your motivation was to start playing that particular instrument?
Dustin O’Halloran: I started with some simple lessons when I was young from my church organist, but then didn’t play for many years. I got back into it again when I started my first project »Devics« with Sara Lov, through the band I found my way back to the piano and started writing in private these pieces. It was not until I moved to Italy where I found the time to focus on them and finally commit them to a recording.

What role does improvisation play when you are composing? Or do you prefer a more conceptual approach to music?
Dustin O’Halloran: Improvisation is always a role in the beginning of a composition I think, but it’s not my goal, I really love to sculpt the notes in a defined way … and cut out the ones not needed. I love to get the compositions down to their essentials and that every note has a real purpose. So perhaps in the end it is more conceptual. That being said, I do have a great respect for artists that just sit and improvise. It’s a really different way to approach and maybe something better to experience live.

You are friends with Hauschka, you’ve performed together a lot. Did you ever work with a prepared piano?
Dustin O’Halloran: It’s funny you ask this because I first met Volker (Hauschka) while I was living in Italy and at the time I was starting to experiment with prepared piano.  In fact that night I played him a piece of music I had been working on with prepared piano as I didn’t want him to think I had just run home after the concert and did this.. it was a funny moment… But honestly we have become really good friends since then and he is so deep into prepared piano that its hard to touch it now. But we did bring our sounds together for a special concert in Berlin where we played with two grand Boesendorfer pianos for the Modern Piano Festival. We prepared some music especially for two pianos, one prepared and one not. It was an amazing sound and hopefully we can do it again one day!

Further talks in this series: [link ruby_id=’157′] und [link ruby_id=’164′].