Magda Mayas on "Accretion"
Magda Mayas defended her doctoral thesis in Musical Performance and Interpretation in January 2020. Her artistic research project was based on her practice as an improvisational musician with so-called expanded piano techniques. Sound and acoustics, including the characteristics of the room where the music is performed were important factors in the research project. This interview was done shortly before her concert "Accretion – Trio for Three Grand Pianos and One Pianist, which took place on 24 September 2018.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and current work as a musician?
I studied Jazz piano and am now involved in different contexts and ensembles playing mostly free improvised music, from Free Jazz to sound art, solo, with my own bands and in other musician's projects. With some ensembles I have played for 15 years, e.g. with my band SPILL with Tony Buck on drums, but I also do ad hoc improvisations on stage.
I also play the clavinet since almost 10 years, a vintage keyboard with strings, which offers a more visceral sound palette.
What does "extended techniques" mean when referring to piano performance?
That's a bit of a tricky term, because piano preparations and different techniques to alter the sound of the piano are as old as the instrument itself. Usually it refers to preparing the piano by sticking different objects in between or on the strings (screws, bolts, rubber, magnets…), the "prepared piano", or by simply using other techniques than just pressing down the keys, e.g. playing on the strings, plucking, muting, bowing with the hands or using various objects, mostly referred to as "inside piano "playing.
Your artistic research project springs out of your own practice as a musician, using extended piano techniques in improvised music. Timbre and acoustics, including the capacities of the space where music takes place are important factors in this investigation. Perhaps one could say that you are investigating improvised music in a "bigger picture" or a more "holistic" sense, taking into account not only the relation between notes played but also their interaction with the surrounding space? Firstly, could you please correct me if I got this wrong! And secondly: How did you come to be interested thinking about music/listening in this way?
Your summing up of my research is great ;)
In essence I would say my project is about investigating Timbre in improvised piano performance, through a spatial, perceptual and physical approach.
As a pianist and playing improvised music I am confronted with a lot of changes from performance to performance: a different instrument, a different space, a different audience and hence also different musical material and structures each time.
I was looking for ways to gain more knowledge and artistic control about this interplay of different elements, in the realm of improvised music.
Another motivation for my research was to share my listening experience with the audience, to dive really deeply into the sounds I play and how they are perceived.
Can you describe briefly and in layman’s terms the method you use in your research?
My research is practice based and in the last 3 years I developed different artistic projects investigating dynamic relationships between the piano, sound and space through creating different contexts.
I am working with amplification and recordings, surround sound and multichannel playback in life performance.
I also explore sound spatialisation with a specifically developed interface and software.
I use a phenomenological approach when listening to and exploring my own "sound catalogue".
To present my research, I create "Audio papers", where I integrate pre-recorded sounds and my own (and other artist’s) voice(s), into a life performance.
Audio and video examples
"Accretion – trio for three grand pianos and one pianist" is a collaboration with Toby Kassell, choreographer… and one more person? Can you tell me briefly what the concept/idea of this performance is! And: Will there be a talk or Q&A or something similar in conjunction with the concert?
"Accretion" is a collaboration with choreographer and dancer Toby Kassell, investigating space and sound in a very physical way, working with sound, memory and body.
The "trio" refers to the three grand pianos – the piece is developed together with the choreographer, but I perform alone with three grand pianos placed in different spots in the room.
The grand piano is a very static and mostly immobile instrument with a very complex sound projection, especially the way I play it.
It is important for me to develop further the very physical aspect of performing and producing timbre and how I relate to space with my body. We wanted to create a situation where a performance could offer the audience as well as myself, different spatial and aural perspectives, where sound and memories of sound and gesture become a physical thing you can relate to.
We are planning to have a Q and A afterwards, yes!