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.
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.
I have recently been contacted by many composers and toy pianists around the world expressing their enthusiasm for the little instrument. It very much reminds me of what I was like many years ago when I realized that there is a small but dedicated toy piano community out there in the world. As many of you know, I host a toy piano composition competition every year called the UnCaged Toy Piano. I am looking to expand this competition into a more involved festival with more performances, workshops and events, composer chats,etc. If anyone is interested in being involved in any way, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Performers, composers, volunteers, music enthusiasts, radio DJ’s, presenters, promoters, are all welcome to contact me if they are interested. I would love to put something together at the Big Apple!
I have recently started working on a new piece written for me by the Austrian composer/performer/improviser/educator Karlheinz Essl. I first heard of Karlheinz from the Extensible Toy Piano Project in 2005 where I performed one of his pieces, Kalimba, for the festival. Since then, I have played numerous of his works for toy piano including Kalimba, Sequitur and WebernSpielWerk. In fact, at most of my concerts I’m playing one of them. After playing so many of his great pieces, I am so honored and happy to be premiering his new piece , Whatever Shall Be (for toy piano, gadgets, live-electronics and surround sound) at the Look & Listen Festival in May. Without giving too much away, I am extremely excited to be performing a piece that asks for such unconventional approaches to the instrument.
The festival is a great annual new music event that happens in galleries around the Chelsea area. I am thrilled that Karlheinz will be in town for it!
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.