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.