Pianist: athlete

My eyes wandered back once again, involuntarily, to his forearms.

No elegant, long-limbed evocation of romantic Chopin here. Andrew Czink, pianist, could have been a boxer. Certainly his concert is as much a dramatic athletic feat as a musical exploration. But isn’t that how it is? Isn’t playing any instrument the culmination of long years of intense physical training? Didn’t I have to give up rock climbing when I started learning the standup bass?

Czink’s primary stated goal was to explore a sonorous practice.

”It’s really exploratory. What can happen if I play this note as fast as I can for five minutes? What kind of impetus and motion does this scale compel me into?” the audio engineer, teacher, GLS doctorate candidate and classical performer said of his structured improvisation. “It’s about movement, tactility and sound.”

And so he pummelled. As fast as he could. As loudly as he could. As fiercely as his forearm muscles would allow, and all the while as attenuated, differentiated and delicately phrased as those self-same, well-trained muscles would allow.

Andrew Czink is interested in the embodied physicality of playing music, or “musiking,” a term used by Christopher Small to underline that music should be thought of as a verb rather than a noun. Czink is interested not only in the pitch and duration of notes, but also the noise of the piano hammers hitting strings. “This is a compositional resource,” he said in a pre-performance presentation.

Czink’s 30-minute musical performance seeks to combine his physical body, his mind and emotions, the entire physical piano as well as its conventional ability to create musical tones, a pre-composed musical outline and in-the-moment/in-the-location improvisation.

I heard eight movements. The first consisted of increasingly long and complex variations on a short motif, each separated by held notes which allowed the piano strings to ring and waver into discordant distortions. It was an exploration of pacing and space. I began to worry if I’d last the full 30 minutes.

The second movement involved repetition of a note and variations. The third movement introduced physical, repeated hammering on some notes and included a transition to a more melodic line.

The fourth movement was clearly melodic with the introduction of chords. As a listener, I was now grateful for the more obvious melody and 4/4 rhythm. I found it intriguing that Czink made a mistake in this movement. His face twitched but he kept going. I wondered how many in his audience detected this mistake in a performance piece that was so complex and unpredictable.

The fifth movement may actually have been an extra long 4th movement. Did I miss a transition? He started using a bass note to lead the melody.

The sixth movement had a clear flow. There was phrasal movement in the non-stop flood of repetition and chordal notes.

The seventh movement returned to the clear, physical hammering with roots and fifths in the bass interspersing an ever higher drone reminiscent of The Flight of the Bumblebee. The physical virtuosity came to a climax as Czink shifted on his piano bench to play higher and higher registers.

The eight movement started moving back down toward the bass registers. For me, the sheer physicality of the feat dominated my response. Finally, Czink dropped his entire forearm onto the piano and waited for the sound to subside. I felt as though I’d watched an extended, tension-building athletic feat, and I was grateful for the release.

So here’s the rub. My engagement was largely a matter of watching Czink’s engagement, and Czink’s engagement was inward. Czink didn’t seem to mind, but I think I did.

Czink’s perspective?

“People say you’re expressing yourself in your music. I don’t know if I’m expressing myself. I’m configuring myself,” Czink said. “I have no stories. I don’t think that way as I’m making this stuff.”

 

— Jenny Lee

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Long Division: Where Math and the Human Condition Meet

One tragedy, seven characters, plus a whole lot of math equals an avant-garde play portraying the complex ways in which humans are interconnected.

Through a series of monologues, the seven characters in Peter Dickinson’s play, Long Division, share their memories of events that lead to the death of a bullied, mathematically gifted high school student. Dickinson’s use of the unconventional lecture/performance style to convey the stories in a non-linear format is intellectually engaging. As a lover of games, puzzles, and play on words, the lecture series gave me the opportunity to put together the pieces of plot as each story unfolded. The mathematical metaphors which required me to delve into my long-term memory to recall my university calculus classes got my brain juices flowing trying to “solve the case”, or rather discern the underlying theme of the play, that of human interconnection. To further metaphorize the theme of math and human interconnection, as one character told their story, the rest repositioned themselves around the speaker much like particles of a particle physics theoretical framework, signifying the six degrees of separation that connects one person to another.

I appreciate the variety of characters that Dickinson’ wrote into the play. Selecting characters from all walks of life truly made the story feel more plausible and appropriate considering the diverse city in which we live. However, I feel the casting director may have played into the ethnic and gender stereotypes a bit too much – a robust lesbian bar owner (Jennifer Lines), a tall, handsome, white male business executive (Jason Clift), and of course, my favourite, the Asian math teacher (Nicco Lorenzo Garcia) – how cliché. I do wonder if the playwright wrote these ethnic and gender choices into the script or if it was a decision made by the casting director? Nonetheless, the cast played their roles well, and spoke of the mathematical theories as though they were experts in the field even including some cheesy puns, to boot.

The black box set with the back drop of random 3D geometrical shapes was simple but gave the cast a lot of space for the abstract dance choreographed by Lesley Telford. Aside from positioning themselves similar to a string theory diagram, I honestly didn’t pay much attention to the intricacies of the choreography. Not because I didn’t care for it – I was just more engrossed in the dialogue and quietly snickering at the math puns.

To sum up (I can make math puns too!), Dickinson’s Long Division is a creative and well-written piece of experimental theatre that is not only entertaining but thought provoking and intellectually stimulating. Bravo.

long division