Ceci n’est pas un piano with Jennifer Hymer

I finally met Georg Hajdu , the winner of the 1st UnCaged Toy Piano, yesterday morning in New York.  From Germany, Georg  is among the first composers of his generation dedicated to the combination of music, science and computer technology. He is currently a professor of multimedia composition at the Hamburg School of Music and Theater.

In 1996, following residencies at IRCAM and the ZKM, Karlsruhe, he co-founded the ensemble WireWorks with his wife Jennifer Hymer a group specializing in the performance of electro-acoustic music. Yesterday morning, Georg and I swapped CD’s and he gave me one of Jennifer’s recent CD’s, Ceci n’est pas un piano. This diverse CD, showcases her on piano , toy piano, kalimba and narrative voice.  She performs works by Georg Hajdu, Sascha Lino Lemke, Tan Dun, Annie Gosfield, Manfred Stahnke, Cathy Milliken, and Annea Lockwood.

new review for my debut CD

My debut CD, UnCaged Toy Piano, was recently reviewed in the All Music Guide,a comprehensive online music review site. This is the first time my CD was praised for its production sensibility, which I’m proud to say was done in my apartment by my partner, Rob.

I recorded the CD at the Bunker Studio in Brooklyn over the span of 3 half-day sessions. The versatility that Dave Lewis praises in this review is partially the result of the toy pianos I chose to use for the recording.  I used three toy pianos for my CD and one of them was not even mine. On my first recording day, the engineers told me that they found a toy piano (very similar to mine) on the street side in Williamsburg. The toy piano was a 2 and a half octave baby grand piano (one where the lid doesn’t open) and has a really sweet ringing tone for that model.  I recorded The Memoirist part 1 on this piano because I thought the sound would go well with the music box. To record this piece, we had to put saran wrap around the microphone next to the frying pan. Aaron, the recording engineer, wanted to get a close mic on the frying of the egg, but also wanted to protect the microphone. Apparently some engineers use condoms as a protection for their microphones in situations like this.

The other two toy pianos used were my upright Schoenhut and my 3-octave grand that is so beat up now, I use it only as a prepared toy piano. Rob and I spent about 2 days re-mastering the tracks.  It was interesting to ponder what a controlled environment a recording studio has become–it is just an imaginary space for music. There are no music halls that would sound like it and are capable of shifting spaces from piece to piece. For example, I wanted the John Cage suite to sound closely mic-ed, almost as if the listener was inside of the toy piano, but I wanted Mirabella to be heard farther away in a small-sized concert hall.  Now with recording technology, the “hall” is really reflected in a lot of the re-mastering stage and also the quality of your headphones or sound system.

Hauschka’s small pieces

Rob just gave me Haushka’s most recent miniature CD titled small pieces. Hauschka, also known as Volker Bertlemann, is a German composer/musician who’s music revolves around the world of the prepared piano. Most people think of John Cage when they hear “prepared piano.”  There have been many composers and musicians who have continued to experiment with the idea of the prepared piano and to be honest, I think it’s hard to really “top” or create something new after Cage invented the prepared piano. However, I have really liked Aphex Twin’s album drukqs (that features prepared piano rather prominently) and some works by Hauschka as well. What I like about Hauschka’s work is his judicious use of the prepared piano. Unlike Cage, Hauschka is not trying to manipulate the entire keyboard to sound like a different instrument. It is clear in his music that he does love the natural sound of the piano but with additional textures or colors.( Also, his music has his own particular beat-oriented style that avoids more obvious comparisons to John Cage. )

This 5th CD of his was made for his recent Japanese tour. The pieces are clearly influenced by Erik Satie and the piano preparations are quite subtle. Some of his other CD’s have a more on-going beat track but small pieces has a more introspective sound world.

Glenn Branca: Ascension sequel

brancaLast night Glenn Branca performed with his new ensemble at Le Poisson Rouge for the CD release of his sequel album to his ’81 record Ascension. I thoroughly enjoyed his no-bullshit-tell-it-like-it-is character on stage and also in the preview article in the Village Voice this week. This new album titled The Ascension: Sequel, was released on his own label Systems Neutralizers. It was great to read that this album is completely artist made and released, making no record industry/marketing compromises. You want to know that the artist himself is proud of it! The ensemble consists of four guitars, drum and bass with Branca conducting himself.

I would generally say that this music is not what I listen to, but I was happy to be at the show last night. They were an intense and impact-driven ensemble that created walls of sound color that I usually do not experience. It kind of reminded me of a really magnified prism. I know that I miss out on some of the upper-end colors by using earplugs, but my ears had no way of sustaining the length of the concert at that decibel.

Glenn Branca made himself available to sign CD’s after the show. I found out that he actually has a piece he wrote for toy piano! I’m not sure if it is a piece for toy piano and electronics or a recorded track of sampled toy piano with electronics. I’ve noticed that composers generally love or hate the toy piano and I was pleasantly surprised to hear that his creative output had a toy piano in there somewhere. He said something about it not being released, but I hope to follow up on it someday!

Joanna Newsom Have One On Me

newsomJoanna Newsom, American singer-songwriter/harpist/pianist really out-does herself on her newly released 3-CD album, Have One On Me. I have fallen in love with Joanna’s music since discovering her debut album Milk-Eyed Mender. This 2-hour journey really allowed me to get lost in her world of epic fairy tales and logic-bending storytelling. There is a slightly different sultry and pure quality to her voice in this album. Though she uses a lot of additional musicians in some of the tracks, some of my most favorite moments are still solo tracks of Joanna singing and playing her harp (such as the song ’81 that tells her story in the Garden of Eden). There is a romantic imagination to her songs that inhabits such a unique world. Really, there are no good words to describe this album… but just listening to the CD at home, I would venture to say that this is one of the most memorable musical moments I’ve had recently.