In the process of developing a solo piano project I had already made use of extended techniques in the past, but one late autumn day in 2020 I decided to completely prepare my piano* with various objects** made of wood, metal and plastic, and improvise freely. The result became the first track of this album - ‘Beginnings’ - and was the start of an exploration and fascination that would last for several months. During that first improvisation I remember feeling a distinct lack of control, the pitches and timbres I would normally expect to hear were coming out entirely differently! This element of surprise never went away, and became a crucial part of how I came to interact with the instrument; a certain willingness to abruptly change direction within an improvisation was required based on the emerging sounds.
In this way it grew to feel like a genuine dialogue, almost as if the piano were another person with its own sense of musical direction, another voice to bounce off of. The percussive nature of the sounds also suggested a rhythmic language specific to the context, with polyrhythms and new tempos presenting themselves and seemingly wanting to linger. Furthermore the sounds themselves began to feel very personal, their mystical, often rough, sometimes bell-like quality somehow evoking something more earthy, more primal than what the clarity of a modern piano can offer.
All pieces on the album are free improvisations, with the exception of the final track which is loosely based on the harmony of an old jazz standard. I have fond memories of going to my practice space at the disused Tempelhof Airport, in the depths of Berlin winter with the country locked down, to fill the strings of my upright piano with unusual objects and explore in a spirit of curiosity. I hope that some of this unique atmosphere comes across.
Verzerren means in German: to distort, warp, contort.
*Prepared piano is a technique involving the placing or insertion of various objects on or between the strings to alter the sound, often drastically. Its invention is usually traced to John Cage's dance music for Bacchanale (c. 1938).
**List of objects used to treat the strings: wooden and plastic pegs, metal screws, plastic bolts, small paintbrushes, a radiator key, paper clips, metal/wooden/plastic rods, an LED lightbulb, wooden blocks, a metal hinge, plastic joints, cocktail sticks, Allen keys, metal and plastic coins, metal clips and miscellaneous other objects.
released August 28, 2021
Mark Pringle - Piano, preparations
Recorded in Berlin, autumn 2020 - spring 2021
Mastered by Jesko Stüve
Cover photo by Mark Pringle
Thanks to: Jesko for his hard work on the mastering and Martina Pozzan for filming me.
Made possible with the help of funds from the Senatsverwaltung für Kultur und Europa.