Sonorousness: Hearing More

On hearing Andrew Czink, Ph.D candidate
in Graduate Liberal Studies at SFU
Contemporary piano concert”    
May 15, 2016  

When I know I’m going to be challenged by music, I feel like I might as well settle in, buckle up, and try to let go, to just see where it takes me. On a rainy night last week at the Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre, I sat deeper in my plastic folding chair, closed my eyes and allowed myself to be completely present in the moment.

When Andrew Czink spoke to our small audience on Monday night, it was clear that he thought about music in a much more transcendental way than I ever had. He opened up his talk by explaining that, as Christopher Small says in his book, Musicking, music is not a sheet of notes. It is a verb. It is “a sonorous practice”, meaning that it does, and should through its hearing, include all of the sounds that an instrument makes in producing a note, both intentionally and otherwise. The strike of a bow against the neck of a violin, the fingers sliding over the fretboard of a guitar, or the wooden clack of a hammer on the short, high note of a piano. It is the nature of the instrument and how it is handled by the player. What Czink plays is what he dubs “structured improvisation”. The piece he was to perform has, he says, no written notes. But he knew every sound it was possible to make in it, and some that might surprise even him.

Like having the wind knocked out of you, the first few moments of this piece were jarring, even stunning, in their volume and atonal dissonance. And then after the introductory assault, Czink froze over the keyboard, arched and waiting – waiting for the buzz of the strings and the hum in the wood of the piano to not only subside, but to become utterly silent. It  had to have taken at least twenty seconds for that silence to finally descend. The silence, held for a moment, was defining and dramatic. What followed was a continued warping of the sounds of what one expects to hear from a grand piano. There were 2-inch bamboo poles striking each other, rocks tumbling and eddies of wind. In a more musical vein, the piece broke into something reminiscent of the Bulgarian folk songs sung by Kitka, complete with verbal chatter in between sung phrases. Sometimes the voices drowned out the melody and sometimes the reverse was true. At this point, it occurred to me that Czink must be becoming physically exhausted. He was striking keys so fast and so hard, it seemed inconceivable. The sound went from controlled to frantic and back again and, ultimately, calmed like a Vancouver rainstorm, orderly in its rhythm, then disorganized and loud, then once again aligned and rhythmic. Symbolically, as the piece ebbed it sounded like a train, gliding into a station, complete with metal wheels on metal rails, brakes protesting.

Andrew Czink’s composition is experimental and fresh. It might not seem focussed through any familiar lens. It is a full-body experience meant to expose the hearer to sound and music in a new way. It can make us think about the edges beyond music, the places where music pushes us and sears itself into our memory. It’s worth a listen, with an open mind.

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4 thoughts on “Sonorousness: Hearing More

  1. I really appreciate reading your impressions of this piece, since mine were so markedly different. I found the velocity of some of the passages and the depth of certain tones anxiety-inducing, which coloured my experience even though it was plain that Andrew is an incredibly skilled and gifted player and quite fearless in his exploration of possible sounds to made with a piano. You’ve described sounds and sound metaphors, but out of curiosity, what feelings did the piece evoke for you?

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  2. Interesting…I didn’t feel anxiety which is interesting, as on any given day I can create anxiety out of a stick and a piece of string. I felt almost like I was “in” the piano, which sounds odd, but I felt fine grained wood, strings, keys, high polish, finger marks, and sweat all jumbled yet distinct and vibrating. It was an out-of-body experience for me. I was really transported to something on another plane. I don’t know if this makes sense, but it’s the best way I can describe it.

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  3. How interesting to read your interpretation of this performance, Casey! Your first paragraph really drew me in. Nice reference to the plastic chair. It really helped situate me and helped me settle into your review. I loved your first few paragraphs. All those lovely little details: Monday night, small audience. You really gave me a sense of what it was like to be there.
    Funny how differently we respond to things. I heard no bamboo poles, no rocks, wind or Bulgarian folk songs! For me, the experience was almost that of voyeur – of watching Andrew as he made his explorations.

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  4. Really enjoyed your review of Czink’s performance Casey! Like you, I was transported into a world of visual imaginings, and heard sounds which struck deep into the heart and gut. My eyes were closed as well and through the medium of those early deep and echoing chords I heard sonorous mountain bells. The frantic syncopations which followed sounded more like a stringed instrument than piano chords and I was distracted by my desire for more melody, then swept away again as Czink bent and warped the notes and I experienced visuals of scenes from Yahgulanaas’ manga work and began to sense rhythms of paddles in water. The notes I was hearing were opening the interiors of the chambers of my mind, from symmetry to dissonance and reconciliation; the blood pumping, the heart pounding, the mystery of the ancient cave. So interesting how we all experienced such different responses. I too like the way you situated yourself as listener in the red chair, on the rainy night. Nice!

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