Artist Statement

composer and artist joel garten, artist statement for music, artist statement for composition

My concerts usually consist purely of piano improvisations. This means all the music is created on the spot in the concert.

My music is a very personal creation.  I have been playing piano since I was 8, and have been composing since I was 10, so this means I have been improvising on the piano for more than two decades.  My music has evolved over many years, and from many influences.   I have been influenced by the composer Morton Feldman and the pianist Keith Jarrett, as well as by Balinese music (which I studied while I was in Indonesia) and other musics from all around the world.  I have also been influenced by visual artists, particularly abstract expressionists such as De Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Clyfford Still, whose approach to the creation of art I feel is similar to my own.

I have always been surrounded by art in my life, since my mother is an artist.  This has been a great gift to me, and I have a great and wide appreciation of all types of artistic expression, from modern dance to Japanese textiles to English ceramics to Korean music.

My music reflects a very personal engagement with sound.

It is thrilling to sit down at the piano at a concert, and for neither me nor the audience to know what music is going to be created in the moments ahead. That is the beauty of live improvisation, the music is really a living entity, which grows and shifts in every moment

Some of the key ideas of my music are repetition (one of the things I learned from Morton Feldman), dissonance, complex harmonies, and slight changes in rhythm. 

Repetition is an important part of my music.  When I play something once, it has a certain quality, but when I play it 12 times there is a discovery of a different depth and revelation.

When I play, the music is created very intuitively.  It is not created with some greater structure or program imposed or preconceived, rather the music grows organically from moment to moment.  In fact, what I really feel when I play is a sense of flow, like the music itself is leading me on and telling me exactly what to do.  The sense of flow means everything progresses at its own pace, and there is only a minimal amount of conscious intervention from me in the music.  The music in a sense creates itself naturally as I play.

I love to play on the strings of piano, and each concert usually has a few pieces where I play inside the piano.  I use a number of different tools on the piano strings: paint brushes from my mother’s studio, giant metal tweezers, metal pieces, my fingers, toy drum sticks, Indonesian gamelan mallets.  I love to use different types of brushes and hear the subtle difference in sounds each one produces. Of course, I have to check in advance with the concert venue owner to see if I can play on the strings, but most are happy to say yes.

My works work out these themes and others in a variety of ways, always in a distinct style of my own, that is heartfelt, often intense, and revealing of my own sublime experience of my music.  I hope you enjoy the music.


-Joel Garten