Another Timbre TimHarrisonbre
Magda Mayas solo piano
1. shards 19:04
2. slow metal skin 32:32
1 recorded in Berlin, November 2008
2 recorded in New York, September 2008
An extract from that review is found below:
“ The surface of Heartland, by Berlin based improvising pianist Magda Mayas, seems at first to zone into that same textural ballpark – the inside of the piano, it transpires, has as many recognisable mannerisms as the keyboard – but the potency of her creative nous soon asserts itself. Mayas reminds us that the piano has physical dimensions, as she wires up its insides, elevating its inner mechanisms to the status of the keyboard, and deploys her instrument's wooden frame as an added sound source. Put together, it's an exhilarating sonic brew: after her introductory drones disperse, the music flies with cartoon-like velocity. Metrically intricate, brittle patterns ricochet against the instrument casing like it's a pinball machine, strings twanging together like the expressive tuning of a blues guitarist. Towards the finish, keyboard harmonies get more empathically struck – Mayas began with the future and has worked back to the instrument we already know.”
- Philip Clark, The Wire
Below is an article from Downbeat by Peter Margasak. It is a review of Magda Mayas’ music in general, and gives a good general background, but focuses particularly on Heartland, which it describes as “a significant artistic leap” in respect of her work as a whole:
“From the prepared piano pioneered by Henry Cowell and John Cage to Hiromi’s recent flashy excercises, plenty of musicians have experimented with the peculiar and gripping world of sound that comes from mucking around inside the instrument. Yet with two stunning new albums Magda Mayas has expanded the language for internal piano music-making.
Mayas was born and raised in Munster, Germany. She became interested in jazz piano as a teenager, and while buying be-bop records she also picked up a couple of albums by Cecil Taylor and Alexander von Schlippenbach. Mayas says she then quickly became enamoured of free jazz. In 1999 she began studying piano in Berlin, where her burgeoning interests blossomed.
“When I moved there people were playing free jazz” Mayas said. “I heard lots of concerts like that and I played with other people using extended technique.” Two years later she moved to Amsterdam where she studied under Misha Mengelberg for a year, and in 2005 she earned a diploms from Berlin’s Hochschule fur Musik Hans Eisler under the tutelage of Georg Graewe.
Mayas has made a handful of records, including a superb duet with Necks percussionist Tony Buck, Gold on Creative Sources, but she’s made a significant artistic leap with her stunning solo debut Heartland. The album’s two lengthy pieces showcase the full diapason of her talent, from thundering rumbles to piercing high-end screeches, from resonant glowing long tones to abrupt clattery explosions. Each improvisation flows organically from one episode to the next, with the pianist balancing a keen sense of investigation and on-the-fly compositional logic.
A second recording Teeming, with the French-Lebanese saxophonist Christine Sehnaoui pushes the sound palette in other directions. Although the reader can certainly differentiate between the reedist and keyboardist, that doesn’t mean the actual abstraction of sound bears much relationship to the instrument’s expected tones.
While Mayas has been interested by what she could do inside the piano for years, it’s only more recently that she’s thrown herself into the practice. “I don’t know what I’ll do in the future, but from playing the keyboard so much I became more interested in creating sounds inside as well, and in the last couple of years I’ve really gotten into it,” Mayas said,. “I don’t prepare it because I want to be flexible with the sounds, so I place objects on the strings or where the tuning points are, or I put gaffer tape on the strings. Use my fingers and hands a lot. I don’t stick stuff between the strings beforehand because I want to be able to get a conventional piano sound when I want it, or to change sounds quickly.”
Among her tools are wooden and metal objects, marbles, stones and even children’s toys. “I discover new sounds as I play, but I definitely practice with new objects. Sometimes I have a particular sound in mind that I have to create, so I work until I get it, but I do practice so that I can repeat certain sounds, more or less.”
Mayas also has duo projects with cellists Anthea Caddy and Okkyung Lee, and she has two unusual quartets, one with Buck, trumpeter Peter Evans and bassist Clayton Thomas, and another with Buck, Sehnaoui and guitarist Andy Moor from The Ex. “I feel like I’m still exploring a lot, and I’m excited about it.” - Peter Margasak, Downbeat
“Yet more piano tonight then, this time of the improvised variety, played inside and out with I suspect some degree of preparation. The CD in question is Heartland, a solo disc from Berlin’s Magda Mayas, released recently by Another Timbre as part of the piano series. Solo piano improvisation seems to be appearing thick and fast of late, with some wonderful releases coming from the likes of Sebastian Lexer and Cor Fuhler. This release from Mayas is another fine one to add to the list.
There are two pieces of music that make up Heartland, a nineteen minute track recorded in Berlin in November 2008, and a thirty-two minute live set recorded live in New York a couple of months earlier. The first of these is named Shards, which is quite a fitting title given the dramatic, almost explosive nature of some parts of the piece. Mayas’ approach to the piano uses a variety of methods inside and outside of the instrument, scrapes, crashes, thuds and strumming alongside some “normally” played keyboard notes. In many ways she is doing little different to what we have heard before by other players, but her playing has real character and personal style. Much of the time she works by mixing up different methods of playing at once so what we hear is a blend of different sounds, wild shimmering scrapes at the strings underpinned by regular keystrokes for instance, the overall effect being one of depth and variety, depite the fact we are listening to a solo performer.
Shards shifts from patches of sparse, minimally picked out low notes to massive earthquakes of acoustic resonance via everything in between. The track is rich with powerfully expressed emotion however. The music builds from the slower, muted sections into the more raucous in a manner than reminds me a lot of AMM a couple of decades back, but obviously on a smaller scale. The music broods for long periods in a tense, expectant manner, before gradually shifting up through slow storms of agitated strings into the crashing, thunderous closing section that sounds like Mayas picked up a series of heavy objects and dropped them one after another into the piano’s body. Its exciting and engaging stuff, all very intense and powerful and performed with no small degree of skill and understanding of the piano’s acoustic possibilities.
The longer live set, Slow Metal Skin inhabits similar ground, though the longer duration allows the music to stretch out a little more and use a wider range of sounds. The slow pace is still there, as is the sense of acoustic warmth, but again it is Mayas’ ability to portray a sense of feeling through her instrument that really shines through here. Five minutes in, after a steady build up there is a section of the recording made up of a wide array of techniques that really portrays a dark, menacing mood to the music, all abrasive scrapes and muted strikes at prepared strings. There follows a slide away into a sparse, echoing space full of small, partly isolated notes until things build again. The music oddly makes me think of a boat thrown about by stormy seas, caught on a rock at one point, struggling free, only to be hurled against the next looming hazard, thrown about before coming to rest in the next calm moment. Slow Metal Skin (great title by the way) is not as concise and well formed as Shards, but then it is a live improvisation and naturally tends to wander about a bit. It still goes through stages of powerful emotion however. The section beginning around twenty-five minutes in and running tot he end of the track is quite remarkable. The music rises to a crescendo made up of more sounds than Mayas has hands, wild attacks at the strings, a continuously rattling note and more besides, building in volume and intensity before suddenly collapsing into a single repeated strike at a reverberant high note and rifting gradually away to a series of clunks and crashes that sound almost comical after the weight of seriousness infused in the early music.
Heartland is great, a real tour de force of solo, entirely acoustic improvisation. Unlike Lexer’s digitally enhanced music, or Fuhler’s use of electronics there isn’t much here we haven’t heard before, so this CD is not about innovation or technique, but it is a fine example of one musician using their undoubted skill to portray strong, emotional music in a very direct, powerful manner. Another really good one.”
- Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear
“A solo CD by one Magda Mayas, who plays piano, on a label full of improvised music. Should improvisers release solo CDs - I asked myself this only recently, and just the other day I spoke about this with Dolf Mulder, our improvised/free jazz music lover. We think they shouldn't. In improvised music its the interaction between musicians that counts, we thought. That was before I heard 'Heartland' by Magda Mayas, who has two pieces of played live on the piano. I don't know her at all but I wondering how many hands she has, as at times it sounds like she has six. We hear the scraping of metallic sounds, like an improviser on percussion, the snares of the piano being plucked, while a finger hits the keys every now and then. All of which sounding at times at bit electronic. This is a great CD, very powerful and intense. The piano is the piano throughout, but Mayas knows how to pull out so many more of the instrument, the scraping, bowing and plucking that this fifty minute release is a breathtaking work. Excellently and expertly played. Who said that solo improvisers shouldn't release records?” - Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly
“Talking about listening experiences, this is an avant-garde experimental album that those of you with very open ears and strong hearts should listen to. It is one of the widest and deepest adventures into the sonic heart of the piano, including its entire cardiovascular system attached to it. It is a discovery of sound possibilities, that are utterly frightening while being soothing at the same time. Usually this stuff bores me to death after a while, but this one doesn't. It is so powerful that it's captivating. Magda Mayas is a German pianist. She is clearly a musical visionary. “ - Stef Gijssels, Free Jazz
“Heartland is the only one of the four Piano Series releases to feature a lone pianist. At least, that is what the album's credits tell us; whilst listening to this music, some may double-check that Magda Mayas was actually playing alone. On occasions here, she generates such a variety of sounds that it is difficult to believe they all emanate from one woman plus one piano.
The album was produced by Tony Buck (drummer with The Necks), with whom Mayas plays in an occasional duo. The sounds that Mayas produces combine recognisable piano tones with a range of percussive effects that are achieved by preparations or by scraping or striking various parts of the instrument's structure.
Whereas other releases here contrast the playing of two pianists, Mayas' own music alone contains a mass of contrasts. She frequently produces passages of play in which she adopts two different voices and conducts a dialogue with herself.
The real success of Heartland lies not just in the sounds that Mayas produces, but in the way that they are put together into a coherent and compelling performance. Across its two extended tracks, the energy and invention of the album never flags. It maintains a forward momentum that draws the listener in. Surprises are never far away, though. So, midway through "Slow Metal Skin" is an extended passage that most closely resembles the sound of a firework display. “ - John Eyles, All About Jazz
“Currently resident in Berlin, Magda Mayas is a young pianist who has studied with Misha Mengelberg and Georg Graewe, and her work is characterized by tremendous, sustained activity. Heartland (AT 25) is her first solo CD. Mayas plays two long improvisations here, the first, “Shards,” recorded in Berlin, the second “Slow Metal Skin,” at Roulette in New York. Her approach, like Sophie Agnel’s, is rooted in the timbral variety available by playing directly on the strings: striking them with mallets, scratching them, overlaying objects to create reactions that can be triggered either by playing the keyboard or, again, playing directly on the strings. Mayas further affects the piano sound by using very close micing, and there’s some evident distortion achieved through high recording levels. Akin to dance, a series of sonic gestures often employs marked contrasts in pitch and dynamics, from sharply percussive metallic rappings to scratched strings, whistling rubbings and koto-like plucking. Mayas’ flight to the interior frequently employs simultaneous contrasting events in a re-definition of two-handed piano playing. Further, her approach includes micro-gestures that sometimes repeat, creating a soundscape in which a figure moves through uniformity to sudden difference to echoing figures that suggest wandering in circles. It’s evocative, cinematic work with roots in Romanticism and Impressionism, sound coming in great flurries that resemble thunder and delicate tinklings like wind-chimes.”
- Stuart Broomer, Point of Departure
“Heartland is a solo recital by German Magda Mayas. She works mostly inside the piano, obtaining all manner of woody scrapes, sharp clicks, and metallic reports. She’s less interested in discreet events than a total sound, a detailed mass that flies over you like sped-up video footage of clouds. But even though she turns the piano into a steel drum band, a box of rocks, and an amplification chamber for precipitation, she never lets go of the piano’s essential self. Of all the players involved in this series, she is most in touch with the piano as a miniature orchestra.” - Bill Meyer, Signal to Noise
You can read the full text of Bill Meyer’s review of the entire piano series here
““The two solo piano pieces assembled in Heartland were recorded in Magda Mayas's studio in Berlin (Shards) and then live in New York (Slow Metal Skin, recorded at Roulette). In the studio Maya creates with her anguish the symbol of its endurance, distributing blows on the outside and inside of the instrument, which is now an almost classical technique, but she does it with great rhythmic authority. With shocking force the soul of the piano here awakens, growling, spitting and hissing. On the live recording the whole feel is more dry and more cut-up, and less impressive until the moment when a polyphonic play arises from the piano's resonance, and an avalanche of sounds begin: Mayas now concentrates on the strings and delights in the protection she finds again inside the piano. In both the studio and live, the same shadows are cast by the same musical personality, finally sealing the dark beauty and wide scope of Heartland.”
Guillaume Belhomme, Le Son du Grisli
“Heartland – consisting of two long improvised segments from 2008, one recorded in studio, the other live at New York’s Roulette – stands among the few piano solo records heard in recent times that didn’t initiate the mild sense of “been there, done that” which by now tends to affect even some of the weighty statements released by the authority of extreme preparation. If you take a Google look at the images of what Mayas’ instrument typically contains, a literal bazaar – constipated by the most disparate materials and objects – welcomes your amazement. The Berlin-based artist approaches the performance with a precise structure in her mind, the hands looking to establish a series of hypothetical patterns within a relatively unlegislated macrocosm. Several distinctive features place the listener in unattended terrains, setting the music apart from “classic” experimentalism and attributing a trait of unprotected audacity to the playing that is really great to notice. A parallelism of semi-tuned irregularities, string-sliding and hard hits mesh with non-cosmetic notes on the “right” side of the box; a natural tendency to distortion – especially manifest in the sections where the amassment of frequencies begins to encircle the cranium and apply pressure – might elicit someone’s speculation about the use of pedals. A legitimately enjoyable album, bringing forth memories of eras in which the sheer gratification of discovery was still the innermost aim of an artistic quest and the unwritten imperatives of corporate avantgarde textbooks were ignored.” Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes
The following review deals both with Magda Mayas’s Heartland and Sebastian Lexer’s solo disc Da-Zwischen [on Matchless]:
“As part of individual quests for unique new sonic possibilities for improvisation, two German pianists serendipitously recorded these solo CDs during the same month a couple of years ago. Although both of these accomplished musicians are academics as well, the solutions they hit upon are quite different, making each of these discs fascinating listening.
Berlin-based Magda Mayas, who studied both with Georg Gräwe and Misha Mengelberg, uses specific techniques, amplification and preparations to express her inside and outside piano creations without negating the instrument’s innate physicality. She often works with players such as drummer Tony Buck and cellist Anthea Caddy as well. Sebastian Lexer, who is working on a PhD in performance practice at Goldsmiths, University of London doesn’t negate the piano’s material immutability either. However as someone who is also a recording engineer, programmer and lecturer for interactive music and media software, his creation involves a personally developed Max/MSP software and special microphones which allow him to analyze, process and alter the piano’s acoustic impulses. Working in real time, the results often sound as if more than one keyboard is involved. Committed as well to improvisation he plays with musicians such as alto saxophonist Seymour Wright and guitarist Ross Lambert.
Although it may border on the perverse to say so, in a way Mayas’ CD is more traditional, that is if you accept that an instrument’s role is sound production. On one long and one very long selection, her performance relies as much on the percussive as the melodic piano functions. Since much of the time she’s abrasively burrowing within the instrument, for her a theme is something that can be dug, stopped, strummed and plucked from internal strings. Frequently she mashes implements against the taunt strings, evoking timbres that resonate as much on the dampers, capotes and back frame as the soundboard. Simultaneously glissandi or tremolo runs are exposed on the keys themselves.
Yawning echoes and single key slaps are mated with twanging strings and bell-like resonation on “Slow Metal Skin”, the CD’s 32½-minute showpiece. Eventually the interface is such that both the piano’s insides and outsides are decisively exposed. Trembling mbira-like tones reverberate as if the instrument in use is a combination of wooden-rimmed percussion and metal clavichord. Kinetic pedal pressure adds extensive basso tones as individual strings are twanged sharply until off-handed presses give way to cumulative key patterning so dynamic and high frequency that the equivalent string stops and plinks are barely heard. Although the parallel sound expositions seem unstoppable, any suggestion that these strident drones and dynamic chords are produced by software is banished when hesitant fingering and familiar two-handed chording reveal the human factor beside the sequences.
Piano+ and Max/MSP are in use during Dazwischen’s six tracks on the other hand, but without the changes in sound levels or repetitive loops that would shift the emphasis from electro-acoustic to explicit electronica. Instead Lexer’s skill is such that the piano’s true properties are never in doubt. Pitches may be widened with granulation, or ring modulator signals may appear, but human intelligence still remains. With the keyboardist’s ability to manipulate both instruments simultaneously the end result isn’t unlike those improv CDs featuring meetings between laptop or synthesizer players and pianists.
On “Abscissa and Ordinate” for instance, the signal-processed oscillations are followed by adagio bass pedal thumps and steady chording. If the droning crackles and buzzes come from software, then the disconnected key shakes and strokes are created in real time. Meanwhile on “Defining Edges” the low frequency key clanking and reflective timbral clashes create an interlude of their own, only faintly accompanied by time-stretching electrical patterns. Similarly diffident, near-silent key slaps stand out even more when outlined by oscillated warbles.
The software gives Lexer the reed-like timbres or unending typewriter-key-like percussion that could be created or maintained on an un-extended piano. Yet the relationship is close and so organic to what the piano – and the pianist – initially create that, for example, when building crescendos or reflective rebounds arrive that could come from either piano or piano+, there is no need to identify the exact source.
Overall both Lexer and Mayas have created indelible documents outlining different ways in which pianos can and will sound in the future. These CDs should be appreciated for what they are, rather than studied to reveal the nuts and bolts that went into their creation.”
Ken Waxman , Jazz Word
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