Monty “Miro” Hancock is one of the first artists to release with the New Dawn Collective. Over the years Miro has displayed competence in writing a vast array of styles – yet still maintaining his signature sound. From the melancholic “The Gardens” EP, to his experimental “Self”, he returns with a strong follow up to his previous solo piano EP “Threadneedle”. “Spine” is yet another testament to Miro’s masterful composition abilities. Today Monty agreed to gratify our curiosity and share his creative process, and musical background.
There are so many instruments to learn, like trombone and flute, but you have chosen piano to be your main instrument. Why?
For a couple of reasons I picked piano as my main instrument. I should mention that back when I was at school I learned the clarinet and the double bass as well – which are also incredibly fun instruments!
I think the piano is a great instrument because it’s one of the few solo instruments which can be polyphonic and rich in harmonic movement. With say a trumpet, you only have a monophonic melody, whereas with a piano, you can play the melody whilst also adding harmonies and chords underneath. It sounds like a simple observation, but there are few instruments that can be played like this. The guitar would fit into the same category, which is another instrument that seriously fascinates me.
How long have you been playing piano? Have you ever felt like giving up on it?
When I was growing up we had a piano in the house and so I started bashing the keys since I was about 2 years old! At school in the UK we have a board called ABRSM which does ‘Grades’ 1 – 8; 1 being the easiest and 8 being the most advanced. I had a slew of piano teachers which made me feel so demoralized (that’s not to say I didn’t have some great teachers as well!). I think with something like classical piano, where there is such an entrenched stigma with the genre, it can be nauseating to try and adhere to the techniques and practice that a teacher may give you if you don’t get on well with them. People need encouragement to learn the piano, not belittlement.
The moment I started to take piano and learning skills into my own hands was around the age of 15 where I discovered Animenz and TheIshter doing incredibly advanced and intricate piano covers of theme songs from shows like Tokyo Ghoul and No Game No Life. So I started to learn from their scores, and by doing such not only did I advance my technique generally, but it also gave me transferrable skills to classical pieces. I then pursued classical piano performance for 2 out of the 3 years I was at University, which was incredibly challenging and an enormous step up – but overall paid invaluable skills to my playing now.
What are your favorite piano composers? Are there piano songs you’re getting inspired by?
Classical: Brahms, Liszt, Chopin. The romantic and luscious feeling of their music is so appealing. But my main sources of inspiration come from a relatively wide range. Ryuichi Sakamoto, Joe Hisashi, and Ólafur Arnalds are three of my favourite composers. There’s something inexplicably delicate about their music.
What’s the biggest challenge for you in writing music with one instrument only?
A lot of the music you hear ‘solo piano’ as nowadays has far more than you may think going on. Subtle synth pad ambiences, field recordings, reverse reverbs. My goal with Threadneedle and Spine is to pare the music back even further, to really have the bare bones of piano music. Keeping it simple yet interesting is the biggest challenge.
Additionally, I like to try and make the piano music quite technically challenging, yet sounding simple. For instance, with ‘Hina’ from Spine – the melody and main bass notes are both played by the left hand, which has to cross over the right hand when the melody comes in. This was a technique I picked up from when I learned ‘Un Sospiro’ by Franz Liszt.
We recently ran a piano composition contest on our Discord and had three amazing submissions. What do you think of them, and which one you’d choose as winner?
Absolution by Miakoda
This piece has such a lovely airy feeling with a great choice of reverb as well. The solo melodic line is written in a longing and emotional way which really gripped me. I love the way this has been composed as well, melody and accompaniment with a flowing quaver movement, not to mention it’s in E major which is one of my favourite keys!
Sorrow by Carpö
The classical style of this piece is incredibly intriguing. I always appreciate some harmonic exploration too which this piece certainly has. The metric modulation into the waltz in the middle keeps the piece fresh and adds interest into the journey of the piece. A thought-through and fascinating piece.
Requiem by Aurai
Hearing the strings and the hampers of this piece make it so intimate – I am frankly amazed at the production quality of this one. The harmonic progression keeps flowing and moving which prevents the piece from becoming catatonic, and the subtle melodic movement in the arpeggiating right hand soars really nicely.
Out of the three pieces, the one I think is the winner is ‘Absolution’, on the basis that it’s the piece that gave me the most feelings and emotions. Thank you so much to Aurai and Carpö for submitting I am really grateful – I hope you release those songs publicly soon so everyone can keep listening to them, and I shall send Miakoda a copy of the book with a congratulatory message inside.