By Monica Ng
Instagram (and other social media) is a very powerful tool in connecting the world. As you may already know, I’m very passionate about music and always looking for new musical experiences. I’ve been searching for ear-pleasing meditation/yoga music for a long time. I’ve spent hours listening to different music on iTunes and YouTube, trying to find the “perfect” meditation/relaxation music, but I only managed to add three songs to my playlist. I had trouble finding music that I found peaceful enough to trust closing my eyes. Often, I find that the pieces have these annoying isolated chiming sounds (ping!) or the sound of water running (which I hate). I would never have imagined that I’d find my perfect meditation/relaxation music from the United Kingdom (UK). I was admiring art from one of the art curators I follow on IG, then clicked on the artist’s profile, then the artist had a musician playing a piece in front of her painting, then I clicked on the musician’s profile and somehow got to Inner Pieces. It’s amazing where a few clicks can take you.
Though, my focus is on interviewing Canadian musicians, I’m really happy to make a special exception for Inner Pieces.
EXCITING NEW SINGLE RELEASE: “MOTION” on MARCH 5, 2021. A collaboration with James Oram.
Inner Pieces’ Music
The Calling, Feat. Inner Pieces by Sean Tinnion – single (2021)
Breathless – single (2020)
Rains, Pt. 2 – single (2020)
Space – single (2020)
Within – album (2016)
One – album (2013)
Andrew Ford is the talent behind Inner Pieces. Based in Bristol in the United Kingdom, Andrew composes music, collaborates with other musicians and runs music meditation/yoga sessions. He plays the Hang, RAV drum, Native American style flute, Sansula and the piano.
The story behind his project “Inner Pieces” is an inspirational one. It was created out of Andrew’s personal journey of metaphorically putting pieces of himself back together in light of Scoliosis – a rare genetic condition where the spine twists and curves, his experience with hearing loss and Tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and respiratory failure.
Me: Andrew, I am so grateful for your music and a chance to interview someone so special. BTW- I love your accent! Through your music, I literally found the peace that I’ve been looking for. Your sounds are so beautiful, smooth and peaceful. For so long, I’ve been feeling so claustrophobic and cluttered in my environment (too much stuff mainly). I’ve put off any action to fix this because life is too busy, but after listening to your music for a few days, I was driving and suddenly knew that I have a mission to accomplish – declutter and turn my room into a “zen” space, where I can truly relax and calm myself.
I’ve never met you before, but your energy and vibe translate into your music. Where do you get your inspiration from? When did you first set your hands on those unique instruments that you play? And where do you even buy them?
Andrew: Hi Monica, thank you so much for inviting me to take part in this interview. I am really pleased that you have managed to find some peace from my music and I can totally relate to the cluttered environment! (Note to self, I must empty those two boxes in the cupboard from when I first moved in 2 years ago…)
Hmm, I guess it was the Hang that inspired me to start Inner Pieces. Late one night playing the Hang I felt this strong urge to somehow use my musical abilities to help people and to share these beautiful instruments with those who might not normally get to hear them.
So I did some research and then I started volunteering once a week at a Children’s Hospice playing relaxing music to the children and nurses. In fact a lot of the musical ideas and melodies for my previous album ‘Within’ spontaneously developed while improvising at the hospice. It was such a privilege, and at times heartbreaking to be able to play my music to these children. The work they do at the hospice is truly amazing.
But yes, it’s hard to pin down exactly where I get my inspiration from. Often I will just be improvising and experimenting and I will stumble upon a melody that wants to be fully realized. Sometimes it happens quickly, but sometimes it is a long drawn out affair filled with doubts and trepidation as it was when I composed ‘Breathless’.
It was July 2012 when I picked up the Hang. The Hang was invented in the year 2000 so its a very new instrument and not so easy to get hold of. Over a space of a year I wrote a couple of letters to PANArt, the creators of the Hang and they eventually invited me out to Switzerland to choose my instrument! It was such an amazing experience meeting the makers and trying out all the different Hanghang (plural of Hang) in their workshop! I must have played around 70 different instruments and they were all slightly different. In the end, the one I chose seemed to come to life more than the others I played.
I think I picked up my first Native American style flute from Ebay at around a similar time, but several years later I met David Cartwright from Second Voice Flutes who made me a beautiful drone flute and gifted me a flute specially made to fit with the tuning of the Hang.
The Sansula and RAV drum were later additions to my collection of instruments. The Sansula I stumbled upon in a little shop in Amsterdam and the RAV I discovered on YouTube.
Me: That’s an incredible gift from David Cartwright. And lol, who would have known that the plural of Hang is Hanghang! I like how you identify the different instruments played in each piece on your IG posts. It’s a great way to learn about them and the sounds they make. I can’t play instruments, so I’m really curious how you learned to play them. Did you learn on your own or through formal lessons? And were they hard to learn?
Andrew: One great thing about these instruments is that they are very accessible to play and don’t require years of training. The Hang, RAV and Sansula are made in such a way that it’s not really possible to play a wrong note. They lend themselves very well to improvising, as the instruments only have 7 or 8 notes which have been chosen to produce a certain mood. The Native American style flute is also quite simple to play, as it is tuned to a 5 note pentatonic scale which is very pleasing. However, like all things, these instruments do benefit from practice but you can be creating beautiful sounds in a matter of minutes.
I learned to play mainly just by experimentation and listening to others. With these instruments there is not really an absolutely “correct” way of playing them. A lot of Hang players I saw would use the sides of their thumbs or their palms hitting it like a drum. But I found I didn’t really like the slap sound of metal so much, so I started playing with my fingertips to get a softer sound.
Me: Needless to say, the way you play these instruments is incredible. I would just hold and stare at them with no clue where to begin.
Congratulations! You’re about to release “Motion” – a collaboration single with musician James Oram. I love the beautiful simplicity of your cover. What is the significance of the title “Motion” and what was the inspiration for the single?
Andrew: Thank you, I am really excited about releasing “Motion”. It’s quite different to anything either of us have released before. This is my first collaboration with James Oram and the track is definitely a little more energetic than the stuff I usually create.
It came about when I posted a little clip to Instagram of a rhythmical groove idea I came up with on the Hang. There wasn’t much to it but there was definitely something in it that required further exploration. James had seen it, and then sent me a recording on WhatsApp of him jamming along to it on the piano. It sounded great and took the groove into a totally new direction that I never would have taken it to on my own.
Because of the lockdown restrictions, we sent some ideas back and forth over the internet and had a couple of jams in the garden. I think it took us around 6 months to fully craft and record the track.
As is usually the case for me, the title of the track came much later. The track felt like it was going somewhere. In my mind, it felt like travelling through space and passing different planets in the solar system. And the piano definitely added to the feeling of motion with its cascading melodies. “Motion” seemed like a good fit.
Me: I can’t wait to hear Motion. I listened to some of James’ music as well and he is very impressive. To get to know people better, I always like to ask musicians who are their top 3 favourite musicians. Who are yours?
Andrew: Ah, this is always a difficult question. I guess I’d have to include Beethoven for the sheer breadth of emotion in his piano works, Manu Delago for his creativity and Hang playing and maybe Nitin Sawney for blending Indian classical music with western contemporary styles. But there are many more, Bob Marley, Chopin, Thievery Corporation, anything unique and interesting really.
Me: Very interesting. I haven’t heard of a few of those artists…I’ll have to take a listen. Because of the COVID pandemic, the world has been an absolutely crazy place for about a year now. I enjoyed a live concert the day before the lockdown here in Ontario and have only been watching online concerts since then. How has COVID affected your day-to-day life and music?
Andrew: Yeah its been quite a ride this past year. I make a living teaching piano so this all stopped very suddenly. But thankfully I was able to transition most of my students online which I am really grateful for. Thank god for the internet! But it has actually given me a chance to slow down and dedicate more time to my creative projects which has been really great. I don’t think I would have released as much music last year if it wasn’t for lockdown. It has definitely made me reassess my priorities.
The biggest thing I miss are the gigs! I have done a few Facebook live gigs which have been really fun, but it is an odd experience performing in my living room. You get the interactive comments and stuff but it’s not quite the same as looking people in the eye and talking to them in between tracks.
Me: Yes, the common theme with musicians playing via live streams seems to be the oddity of performing in a non-human interactive environment. I can tell from your IG posts that you have quite the talent for photography and videography. How did you develop these interests? And are there any other interests that you have?
Andrew: I guess I’m a bit of a control freak, so I like to do everything myself. I always enjoyed taking photos but videography came about through necessity and lack of money. These days, music is becoming much more visual so it’s vital to attach music to video wherever possible.
That’s actually been another benefit to lockdown life. Its given me so much more time to watch 100’s of hours of YouTube tutorials learning different photography techniques. Last year I did a ‘Photo a Week’ project where I had to take a photo every week for a whole year. I didn’t expect to be confined to my house for most of it so it forced me to get as creative as possible! I really feel I’ve stepped up my game this last year. I am however really looking forward to going out and about with my camera a lot more!
Other than that, I enjoy going to gigs and watching bands, and seeing films.
Me: Hopefully, you’re sharing your “Photo a Week” collection somewhere. I’d like to check it out. You seem to be really in-tune with your inner-self. Since you’re involved in guiding meditation/yoga sessions, can you give a few recommendations to those wanting to try meditation?
Andrew: Yes, I do try. I go through phases of meditating a lot and then sometimes not at all. Before the lockdown my partner and I would often meditate at the Buddhist centre here in Bristol, which I really miss. During lockdown I have found it much harder, but recently I have got back into a daily meditation routine as I came to realize I was neglecting my self-care.
I guess my advice to those wanting to start, is to try and set aside 5 minutes a day at first. This is what I am currently doing. Because we are all very busy and there’s always so many distractions. But there’s really no excuse to not be able to find 5 minutes somewhere in the day!
I use an app called Insight Timer which is free and has lots of different guided meditations. However I use it just to time my meditations as you can set your own meditation length and it will begin and end the session with a chime from a Tibetan Bell. For me, focusing on the sensation of breath is my favourite type of meditation, but there are many different techniques out there.
With meditation, the effects are cumulative, so little and often is a good way to start.
Me: So true – there’s no excuse to NOT find five minutes a day to calm your mind and body.
I was reading your blog on your website about Scoliosis. You’re very open about your traumatic physical, mental and emotional experiences relating to the condition, as well as the metal rod in your spine. What gave you the confidence to share your personal story with the world?
Andrew: This has been quite a long journey. I spent most of my life trying to hide the curvature of my spine from the world and I never spoke about my worries and anxieties growing up. I was an anxious child. I guess this goes hand in hand with meditation, as I have been on a quest for self-discovery and psychological healing for quite some time. At some point I realized that to really heal I would have to shine a light into the shadows.
In Jungian theory it states that there is a lot of energy tied up in the shadows (I’m paraphrasing badly here). For me I can see that it took up an awful lot of my resources pretending that there was nothing wrong. Trying to hide my body with more clothes than necessary during the summer months for instance. So these days I am trying to embrace it and accept my body’s asymmetry. My hope is that my writing can inspire others to fully embrace and heal themselves too. I still have a long way to go, but I feel a lot lighter and happier than I used to be.
Me: I never thought about the concept of energy being tied up in the shadows before, but I can see that it’s true. I go through phases where dark thoughts consume me and drain my mental energies. I’m thankful for my writing because it helps me to re-channel the negativity onto the paper or screen. On your blog, you also wrote in detail about your experience with hearing loss and Tinnitus. Normally, the thought of losing ones’ hearing and ringing in the ears is scary enough, but I would imagine that it’s even scarier for a musician. You mentioned that you took precautions by wearing ear protection when playing electronic music in the past and being around loud music, but it wasn’t enough. You also wrote that Tinnitus could be more of a mental issue than a physical problem. What are your struggles with hearing loss and Tinnitus, with respect to music?
Andrew: Yeah that was quite a transformative time. It completely changed the direction of my life with music. But in the end it definitely helped change my life for the better.
I had lost a fairly substantial amount of hearing from gigging and working in noisy environments for many years, but my hearing tests showed me that my hearing had stabilized despite the increasing volume of the ringing in my ears. With the help of a Tinnitus therapist I was able to see that a large part of my negative experience with Tinnitus was caused by my mind and the way that I think. I went through a lot Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to eventually rewrite some of my problem neural pathways. The Tinnitus is still there, but it doesn’t affect me so much anymore. Most of the time I don’t really notice it, which is quite a relief as when it was at its loudest I really didn’t know how I would cope.
But yeah, I ended up quitting all the music I was doing at the time and I was in a really low place. I slowly began piecing things back together and it was around that time that I picked up my Hang from Switzerland. The music I am making today feels truer to my inner self and more fulfilling than anything I was making before. If I hadn’t had all the problems with my hearing, I don’t think I’d be making the music I am today.
Me: I love the visual and emotional aspect of piecing yourself back together. That’s so inspiration. You already went through so much, then you were recently diagnosed with respiratory failure. That’s crazy! My heart breaks for you. But you’re so tough and keep fighting back.
I already loved your song “Breathless”, but appreciate it even more after I learned the story behind it. You were literally breathless and in need of a ventilating machine for sleeping. Does this condition affect your flute playing?
Andrew: This was definitely one of my biggest challenges to date, but I do want to make clear that it was not as extreme as it sounds. Because of the Scoliosis my lungs are restricted somewhat and therefore at night when my body relaxes, I don’t take in quite enough oxygen. It had been creeping up on me for many years and it just meant I was becoming increasingly groggy in the morning with headaches that would persist for the whole day. It is technically respiratory failure as my lungs are not exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide as well as they should, but not in an immediately life threatening sense like it can be in more extreme cases. I now use a ventilator every night to keep my oxygen and CO2 levels in check while I sleep.
Unfortunately this does affect my flute playing as my lung capacity is greatly reduced so I am unable to sustain notes for as long as I’d like. But it doesn’t stop me being creative and expressing myself with the flute.
Composing “Breathless” was a rather cathartic experience and it really helped me to channel a lot of difficult emotions. I think it’s probably the most honest piece of music I have ever created.
Me: Andrew, you’ve proven that even though life can throw a bunch of crap, beauty (your music) can stem from it – much like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
I’m really looking forward to your new collaboration single and new music from you. Thank you so much for being you and agreeing to this interview. Everyone, make the meditative sounds of Inner Pieces part of your lives and channel your inner peace…Om….
Andrew, do you have anything else that you wish to share?
Andrew: Thank you so much Monica. It has been really awesome connecting with you over the last couple of weeks.