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Recently, we came across a the works of Rachel Morais, a pianist and composer based in Malaysia.
Unlike other piano compositions we’ve heard, there was something uniquely different in Morais’ works. Her music, according to her social media’s description, reflects the fragility and realness of life.
Her music is an eclectic blend between neo-classical sounds and has tinge of Phillip Glass’s minimalism fused with New-Age textures. You’ll be forgiven for mistaking her works to be that of Chopin or even Erik Satie, two pianists whom she has taken inspiration from. Rachel also tells us that she takes inspiration from contemporary acclaimed composers such as Yanni, Olafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm, Hania Rani, Joep Beving, and Ludovico Einaudi.
We recently spoke to Morais on what led her to fall in love with playing the piano, how it has impacted her life, and on her latest album, Order in Chaos.
There is so much soul in your piano playing. How does playing piano make you feel alive?
It is the strangest feeling when I play music that really connects to me. It could be my own composition or someone else’s but when I play, there is this sense of being solely present with the music and not being distracted by any other elements around me.
I am at one with my music and sometimes it feels like I give a part of myself away or expose a part of myself when I play. Perhaps it’s that vulnerability I experience when I play that reflects how much soul I put into my piano playing.
Again, I can’t seem to find the words to describe that phenomenon that happens whenever I play the piano however there are moments when I feel extreme sadness or joy. I do find that sometimes I actually have to take a breath after I play because so much of myself has gone into my playing.
Can you share with us how old were you when you was first introduced to the piano? What made you to fall in love with it? Do you remember that moment?
I love this question! It brings back so many memories and how music became a crucial part of my life. I started learning to play the piano when I was 3 years of age and I like to tell people that honestly, all I did was slap about the keys. My mother would take my sister and I for piano lessons at Yamaha School of Music and I think at that age, I really enjoyed being in a group setting, having my mum with me and gaining that appreciation for music at a young age.
I remember the moment I fell in love with music so well and I don’t think the wonder I felt at that time in my life will ever leave me.
I was 6 and my parents would play Yanni’s Live At The Acropolis album and for whatever reason, I just fell in love with the blend of many instruments in harmony and yet the one instrument that stood out to me was the sound of the piano.
I think it’s also because I was already learning how to play the piano and thus it was a relatable sound. I loved how his music evoked feelings of happiness, sadness and a sense of beauty and at the age of 6, I couldn’t understand it but all I knew was that I loved music at that moment and that music would play a huge part in my life, whether I would embark on studying music or just appreciating music.
How old were you when you realized that you needed to move away from classical piano? And why did you feel compelled to do so?
Ah! At this point readers are probably going to guess my age. To give a bit of a back story, I had been learning classical piano as a child all the way up to the age of 18 and while doing so, I decided to pursue music (thanks to the nudging of my good mother) at a university level.
At that point in time, I did not know what I wanted out of my music studies and what line of music I wanted to pursue. The safe route was to go with what I already knew that is Classical.
Around the age of 20, I was studying at ASWARA which is an arts and culture school in Malaysia and it was there that I was exposed to a whole new realm of sound, individuals and art. Interestingly, it wasn’t through my formal studies at the place that I was enticed to explore Contemporary music but the people that I met there played a huge part and which gave me a desire to make that transition away from Classical music. Don’t get me wrong, I still love playing Classical piano but it came to a point where I felt stagnant in my growth as a pianist and I was curious to explore genres of music that I had not played or learnt before.
Your music is inspired by the fragility and realness of life. Can you share with us an important moment in your life that made you decide to explore this theme?
If I’m being honest, a lot of the music you would hear on my album, Order In Chaos came from a very dark place in my life. I won’t go into details but making music was an escape for me and yet
also a way for me to confront my thoughts and feelings.
It felt natural and it was a form of catharsis for me. Similar to what I was saying about exposing myself while playing the piano, creating Order In Chaos apart from the creative and physical process around it was also a very vulnerable experience.
Why did you name your debut album Order In Chaos?
Good question! The inspiration behind naming my debut album Order In Chaos was through a correspondence with my dear friend who designed the album cover, Shanita Lyn Kumar. While
we were discussing concepts for an album cover, I was just about wrapping up my last composition (which at the time was untitled) and I shared with her that each piano piece on the album reflects a distinct moment in my journey through life. We talked about growth and pain, artistic ideas and embracing these elements. Here’s a little excerpt from Shanita’s email which really spoke to me and influenced my decision in calling the album Order In Chaos.
“The Fibonacci sequence of numbers is one of the most famous formulas in mathematics, where each number is the sum of the two numbers that precede it (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc.). It’s an endlessly fascinating study and there’s plenty more to read on it if you’re so inclined, but for the purposes of your EP art I want to emphasise these points. The sequence of numbers itself is interesting to me because each step is the sum of whatever precedes it, much like us in our life journeys — we are the sum of all the experiences we’ve had, and so much more at the same time. It represents growth that is exponential, infinite growth with no end in sight. The golden ratio is also one of the world’s most beautiful and precise naturally occurring phenomenons, reminding us that there is an order to the chaos and everything is falling into place according to a divine pattern, though we may not be able to see it from where we are.” – Shanita Lyn Kumar.
Can you share the creative and thinking process behind the creation of your album?
It really does vary from one composition to the next but I find that the best of my music comes from exploring an element of music I’m most drawn to at the moment. I went through a phase of
being fascinated by rhythmic structures in music, especially irregular time signatures which gave birth to the title track, Order In Chaos. Then there are moments where I have a melody in my
head and I try to either sing it out or play it on the piano to form a motif in my music, much like what you might hear on my more sombre and reflective track Soliloquy.
Personally, I tend to judge my sound early on in the music making process so I try to steer away from thinking too much about it. Instead, I try to focus more on playing what flows naturally from
me and accepting my sound.
Oddly enough, part of my creative process is to play in a quiet room or space that is dark and barely lighted. I think it helps me drive out all distractions and be at peace with making music.
Between order and chaos, which would you pick? And why?
This is a hard one because I see both order AND chaos as essential elements in life. Well personally, I do like structure and having a system around life so I would go for order. Funny, as you’d think a creative would prefer the excitement and spontaneity of chaos.
All images, including cover image were supplied by Rachel Morais.