Listening Beyond Expectation: Andrew Czink at SFU’s Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre

I am bombarded by sound. Staccato notes ricochet around the room, filling my ears with deep tones, then abruptly end. I expect quiet and am instead left listening to an enduring, echoing reverberation. Before silence has a chance to settle, the bombardment begins anew. This time I am attuned to it, more prepared to sift through the layers of sound. I can hear the clear tones of the hammer strike and the lasting ring of its sound. I can hear the percussive flatness of the felted strike itself. This time the end of active sound creation blends more smoothly into the echoing in between. I become aware of pondering spirals, how the beginning of sound flows past the echoes left before it and reaches into the echoes that come after.

The next movement feels more familiar, a melody more distinguishable, and I am able to relax into listening. The tinkling mid-tones mimic a mandolin and I peek through slit eyelids to remind myself that I am listening to a piano. I find myself wondering what instrumental category a piano falls into – strings, percussion, or something else?

A third movement catches me off guard, the higher tones of the upper register less able to blend into the vibrations left as their after effect. I am unsettled by a vague static hum and I long to reach out and still the piano strings with my hands. As the pianist moves back to the lower register, I become aware of the droning sound of an airplane. I settle on crop duster as the most appropriate name I can give this noise. I am looking at a piano and I am hearing a noise I associate with the dusty edges of a wheat field. As I begin to wonder how this sound is being produced, I detect the lower, rumbling hum of a locomotive. This is the deep thrumming buzz you feel in your feet long before you can see an approaching train. I identify the feeling of unease this brings as the knowledge that I am too close to a potential danger. Suddenly, the piece crashes to an end with a tumultuous slamming of hands and arms on keys. I am left with echoes and vibrations and memories and emotions.

The piano that had been arranged for Andrew Czink was misplaced prior to the beginning of his performance at SFU’s Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre. Had I not been staring at it while he played, I could have been convinced that the piano was never found. Mr. Czink crafts a soundscape through a rapid-fire interaction between his hands and the piano keyboard. He challenges his audience to suspend their expectations of what a piano sounds like and to be open to hearing unexpected things. Consequently, each audience member must draw upon their personal history to inform their experience of his work: when I hear a crop duster, another hears a didgeridoo. Mr. Czink’s structured improvisational style results in a unique performance combining artist, audience, and venue. There is a particular beauty in knowing that the work you are hearing cannot and will not be replicated. In his fleeting, evolving, responsive frenzy of vibrations and echoes, Mr. Czink offers us a series of reminders. We are reminded to pay attention. We are reminded to be curious. We are reminded of the importance of experimentation and play. We are reminded of the potential for connection through shared experience and the energy generated by turning to a fellow audience member and wondering: “What did you hear?”

 

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6 thoughts on “Listening Beyond Expectation: Andrew Czink at SFU’s Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre

  1. I really like your arrangement of this writing, as well as the details you gave in describing some of the sounds in Andrew’s music. If I had not been there, I would feel that you have given me great context for the performance as well as a bit of a gateway to understanding what happened there. I think this was really well written.

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  2. I agree with Casey. And in fact both of your reviews kind of make me wish I could go back and re-experience the piece to try and see some of the things you both saw in it.

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  3. I loved the way you made this performance accessible and gave voice to my muddled thinking. You found a wonderful way through the complexities of this piece and gave it a voice. Thank you!

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  4. Your review describes Czink’s performance so aptly. I confess I found this performance one of the least accessible. Perhaps that is because I was struggling to be in the moment and to allow the music to carry me away. Perhaps it was truly the fault of the uncomfortable chair. Perhaps it was the lack of musical training I have. Most likely, it is my own shortcomings as a modern art patron.
    I struggle to be present.
    The meditative headspace is one I have always struggled to embrace. I am the kind of person who makes To Do Lists during shavasana or gets irritated by the creaky sound of the massage table. Sasha told us an anecdote about an artist who encouraged the audience to daydream while we experience. That was profoundly relieving as was your review. Your insights have reminded me of what I am constantly trying to remind my students and my children- to be in the moment. Perhaps I needed that reminder myself. Sontag wrote about experiencing the sensations of art, more than fifty years ago. Some of us need constant reminders. Thanks for the gentle reminder.

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  5. beautiful review Andrea; a combination of truly experiencing the music and remembering those sounds and thoughts long enough to transcribe into words (not so simple) and injecting a bit of humour into your description of what was undeniably a challenging performance piece for audience members. Bravo!

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  6. I was intrigued by your review primarily because your experience of Andrew Czink’s piano performance was so very different from my own. Your writing really gave me pause and forced me to think hard about how very differently we experienced the exact same thing. I didn’t hear a mandolin or a crop duster’s drone. Locomotives and wheat fields were far from my thoughts during Andrew’s performance! And of course, you make this point clearly when you note that each member of the audience must draw on personal history to inform their experience of Andrew’s soundscapes. Your review did a brilliant job of giving me a sense of what you experienced. Your strong command of words that describe sound recreated the performance for me, crop-dusters not withstanding.
    I think that in context of the material I have now absorbed from this course – I am writing this after the course has finished and I’ve completed my course paper – I would love to read a review that gives a bit of background on Andrew himself – who he is, why he plays the piano like this and what he hopes to achieve by doing it. I think I would like some context into this form of sound exploration. Who else does this? How does it compare and does Andrew further the conversation with his work? I don’t think I need very many words on this context, but I would like some.
    I think I’d also like to be entertained by a review. I want to be told a tale. I want to smile in recognition of some witticism or particularly deft use of language. I also want to leave a review feeling as though I’ve read something with a beginning, middle and an end. I want to feel as though the reviewer is leaving me with some ideas to explore or wisdom to consider. I want the reviewer to be a weaver of story, a public intellectual and an entertainer as well as a reliable guide as to whether I should spend my hard-earned money! It sounds utterly unattainable in today’s world where newspaper critics are losing their jobs and, it would seem, many local critics at least, are retreating to publish reviews in their own, largely unpaid blogs.
    But back to your review which was written so much earlier in our course. I benefited from your comments about Andrew offering us reminders to pay attention, to be curious, to experiment and play. I had not consciously drawn that message from the performance, but realized how right you were on reading your last line: “We are reminded of the potential for connection…..by turning to a fellow audience member and wondering: ‘What did you hear?’” Thanks for a review that set me off on such a journey of rumination.

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