Solo Piano III & IV

With 13 dates left in his Spring European tour (and more dates in Summer), Chilly Gonzales was interviewed by “Sud Ouest” (South West), which covers news for 50 towns and villages in regional France.

In the interview, Gonzales reveals that, for him, the best way to connect with rappers or electro artists (e.g. Daft Punk and Drake) is through the piano – though lush harmonies that bring a ‘human’ element to the otherwise programmed sound. In some ways, incorporating the ‘voice’ of the piano and Gonzales’ harmonies provides electro-based songs with a ‘soul’.

When asked for musical influences, Gonzales affirms his influence from Erik Satie, but adds that Satie was also a humourous man who went ‘against the grain’ in music as well as other areas of life, and those qualities are also influential. Other influences include Scarlatti, Brahms, Franck, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, the latter two more for their ‘affected nonchalance’.

The interviewer asks Gonzales about the contradiction between serious solo piano music, and his humourous reputation. Gonzales responds that there is humour within Solo Piano – it’s just a bit more subtle. He also states that humour, when used effectively, balances out the seriousness of a composition.

Some of the last comments from the interview revolve around recording Solo Piano II, and Gonzales reveals that recording something that is inherently imperfect sounds more perfect to our ears (how true)! He also indicates that he wants to continue to compose and record more music in the solo piano genre, and that there will “no doubt be a Solo Piano III or a Solo Piano IV album.”

That’s fantastic news for everyone who loves Gonzales’ music!

Finally, in response to the interviewer’s question around the original of the “Chilly Gonzales” pseudonym, he replies that with a name like Chilly Gonzales, audiences will have no doubt that they are going to see a show!

Gonzales’ shows are addictive and highly recommended; tickets for upcoming shows are available off Chilly Gonzales’ website.

6 thoughts on “Solo Piano III & IV

  1. What does he mean there is humor in Solo Piano II? How can there be humor, even if it is subtle, in music that has no vocals? Are there certain progressions are harmonies that just “sound” funny? Or is there humor in certain concepts of a piece and the execution? The contrast between the classical source being referenced and the modern interpretation? Could you give me a specific example in Solo Piano II?

    • Great question! There are definitely chords, melodies, and unexpected (and sometime disharmonious) notes and techniques that are scientifically proven to elicit a humourous response in listeners. Great humour is a sometimes bit of a shock to the system – just enough to elicit a smile, but not so much that we recoil in horror. Our mental sense of balance has to be temporarily disturbed, and this imbalance can be achieved in a number of ways – words, sights, and sounds – even solo piano sounds. That aligns with your comment about ‘certain progressions or harmonies just sounding “funny”. Your other comment is spot-on as well: there are humourous concepts within a piece (or the entire piece) that are considered ‘funny’. Gonzales employs both forms of humour in Solo Piano II.

      What’s more, achieving that sense of humour though solo piano is a testament to the skill and experience of the composer. If you know Gonzales’ early work, then you know that he firmly rooted in the humourous camp. I think it’s part of his physical and psychological makeup, and that he brings a deep and intelligent sense of humour to all of his work – including Solo Piano. I’ll have to fully answer your question in a new and expanded post analysing the humour inherent in Gonzales’ solo Piano music! In the meantime, here are a few areas where I personally see humour in Solo Piano II:

      White Keys: Sort of an inside joke – Gonzales has managed to compose a song that isn’t inherently pompous and ‘happy’ on solely the white keys. He has a great bit in his live concerts where he compares white keys to the satisfied (and ruling) majority. Gonzales has said that many of his compositions start out as ‘challenges’ on the piano and that this was one of them.

      Kenaston: The basis of the entire song is Gonzales’ childhood (Kenaston being the street where he spent the first few years of his life in Montreal). The song moves between melancholy and childhood joy, supposedly recalling loved ones who may no longer be around, and happy memories. There is so much to analyze in this song that it’s also another separate post! The humourous parts of the song (in a joyful sense) are the lilting descents though the high registers and response from the middle register. They make me smile every time I hear them!

      Escher: Historically speaking, a great deal of humour in classical and solo piano music that stemmed from imitation (creating the ‘original’ virtual reality). Saint-Saens, Vivaldi, Beethoven all composed songs that imitate objects, seasons, etc. In Escher, Gonzales stated that he thought his composition sounded like someone going up and down a flight of stairs. Listening to the song with that imagery in mind is certainly a form of compositional humour.

      Othello: Like the imagery in Escher, Gonzales indicated that this song imitates the steel drums of Othello Molineaux – a renowned steel drum player. After purchasing the Othello music box from Gonzales’ store, my brother-in-law (who never heard the song) remarked at how much the music box reminded him of steel drums. The imagery of steel drums played on a piano is both humourous and impressive! Also, in the middle of the song, Gonzales solidly ‘thumps’ the pedal – which is a really quite funny for a solo piano song! In concert, he often rhythmically ‘cracks’ the fallboard in time to the music – that always draws smiles from the audience. Being an accomplished drummer, Gonzales has an inherent sense of timing like no other piano player, and a big part of comedy is timing!

      Wintermezzo: Very playful and light-hearted – the arpeggiated chords add a sense of humour to this song. Some of the very best songs combine unbelievable virtuosity with humourous elements for an irresistible mix of emotions. There’s a definite playfulness at work here.

      Thanks again for your question; I’ll start working on the expanded post as soon as I can!

      • Please do! I was compelled just reading your overviews! Any day I can engage in some sort of intellectual dialogue is a good day. Any day I don’t just feels empty.

        Could Escher perhaps also be a reference to M.C. Escher, the graphic artist who created the now infamous “paradox pictures” of stairs that appeared to be infinite. If so, the image of the guy walking up and down a flight of stairs is complimentary because stairs are often associated with M.C. Escher! Also, I personally find the harmony of the song to be almost paradoxical, how in the beginning section of the piece, there are three distinct chords that are a single half step or whole step away that each create a “harmonic ring” that can also be heard in the F Major chord right before the bridge down to the d minor basso chorus.

        The idea that he bridges three harmonic rings together in such a tiny space on the piano is extraordinary, beautiful and almost hauntingly surreal every time I listen to it. On a more subjective, abstract level, the piece evokes the same sense of mystery and wonder as an M.C. Escher for me.

        I eagerly await your extensive analysis of Kenaston! I love reading and learning about music theory because 1. it is inherently fascinating to me, 2. I like to understand anything around me, and given that I listen to music like all human beings ever, I want to understand music on a conceptual, fundamental level, and 3. being knowledgeable in the ideas behind music makes learning and memorizing pieces on the piano easier and less frustrating. Without a full understanding, it feels like to trying to memorize Shakespeare without even speaking English!


    “…that can also be heard in the F Major chord right before the bridge down to the d minor basso chorus.” IN “WHITE KEYS”.

    “On a more subjective, abstract level, the piece evokes the same sense of mystery and wonder as an M.C. Escher for me.” AS AN M.C. ESCHER PARADOX PICTURE DOES FOR ME.

    • Haha – maybe you’ll contribute a guest piece on your favourite Gonzales composition!

      Gonzales himself indicated that Escher was named after “M.C. Escher” due to the ‘endless staircase’ he heard in the song. I alluded to the Escher angle in a Tweet from last September:

      “Does “Escher” tip its hat to Bach’s, endlessly rising “Canon per Tonos”? A wanderer on steps that never reach a destination.”

      In Bach’s composition, there are three voices – the upper voice played a fifth higher. The song successively modulates though 6 keys, then returns back to the original key (but an octave higher). This gives the impression of an endlessly rising tone (see Shepard tones).

      Thanks for sharing your feelings on Escher – that’s part of the beauty of Gonzales’ compositions: every listener has their own unique experience with the songs. Your brain has a chance to ‘fill in the gaps’ as opposed to the typical ‘hot’ mixed songs of today.

      Funny that you mention Shakespeare – whenever I analyze a song, I’m reminded about Shakespearean analysis – how much did the bard purposefully (or subconsciously) incorporate into his stories, and how much is our interpretation (or imagination)? It’s the same way with analyzing a great song; composers put a great deal of thoughts into many aspects of their work, but we are pretty much guessing at what they incorporated. Sometimes, it’s a simple as, “I thought that chord sequence sounded cool!”

  3. Yeah, sometimes it just comes down to “sounding cool”. It can excruciatingly difficult to articulate an idea occasionally, but that inability keeps music alive throughout the centuries. Despite essays upon essays of analyzation of Moonlight Sonata, there is still a profound quality of enigma and mystique that defies explanation and absolute reductionism. Vocals, most of the time, tend to add an expiration date to the music, which I think is a primary reason why Gonzo has said in interviews that he prefers instrumental music to vocal music. This is not an original idea by a long shot, but music without words is universal, even if different cultures experience different emotions.
    If I was a creative writing teacher, I would take my students to a room one day with top caliber audio equipment and play Escher with the lights all turned off, and then ask them to write a poem or story about what they experience. Creativity is about making connections, not being trapped in an Ivory Tower. Funny how the best artists tend to be all consuming artivores, feeding endlessly off of other seemingly dissociated ideas.

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