Agustí Fernandez, A Portrait In Words For An Artist Of Sounds: a discussion with Ken Vandermark

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KV: When I’ve seen you perform or have worked with you, you often utilize prepared piano techniques.  I often wonder how pianists deal with the potential limitations of the tempered scale in contemporary improvised music, and preparations that alter the sound and possibilities inherent in the piano are one way to contend with this issue.  Do you wrestle with this aspect of the piano as an instrument, or are the preparations, and your use of density and complexity, ways to transcend the “tempered limitations” of the piano?

AF: For me, the prepared piano techniques are just an extension of keyboard techniques. I see the piano as an instrument with endless possibilities of sound production. The keyboard, with the tempered scale, is just one. But if you only play on the keyboard you can’t change the sound that comes out of it, you can’t modulate it, you cannot deal with other sound universes. This is what I’m trying to do when I play with what are called “extended techniques” inside the piano- expand its possibilities, reach the strings not only through the hammers but through any tool that I like to use.  But I don’t prepare the piano before hand, in a “Cage-ian” way.  I like to prepare it on the spot, altering the timbre with objects or just my hands, fingers and nails.

Also, in this way I get closer to the physical relationship that a string or wind player has with sound and with his/her instrument. I mean, if you hit a key on the keyboard of the piano, that’s it. You can’t do anything else with the sound that you get, just listen to it, or stop it. This sound has an attack and a decay, that’s all you get from the classically played piano. But if you have an object on the strings being struck then the sound can be modified, the sound is alive and at your will, so to speak, exactly in the same way as a violin or saxophone player. You can follow the sound, live with it, change it and transform it into something else, in real time. This is from the performer’s point of view.

From the listener’s point of view you get not only a family of sounds (classical piano) but many different ones. Depending on the quality of the object you use, you get certain harmonics or other ones, fixed or moving (sliding etc). And this whole universe of sounds makes me richer and gets me closer to the sounds of the other musicians I’m playing with. But nowadays all instrument have an array of extended techniques and sometimes you can’t tell who did what. This is not bad, it’s just a new sound world that all players share. And, of course, the music that results from all the extended techniques we are using sounds very different than the one made only with standard playing (Beethoven or Bill Evans). It’s called evolution.

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