[ISEA2016] Artist Statement: ANDREA MANZONI & MARCEL ZAES — sjö : två

Artist Statement

Multimedia concert, performance including live piano, electronics, and a visual installation, 2016, 60’00’’

“Sjö : två”. What happens when a contemporary sound artist and a jazz pianist remain shut indoors in a baroque castle in the Piemontese mountains for two weeks? The result is Sjö a collaborative project between the Zurich-based electronic composer Marcel Zaes (CH) and the Paris-based jazz pianist Andrea Manzoni (ITA). From the sheltered rooms of their baroque retreat, Zaes and Manzoni present a sonic research project which is as contemporary as it is versatile. Sjö explores questions such as what it means for a piano to make a sound in the 21st century in a century over-determined by an electronic environment. Starting from Manzoni’s jazz-based technical expertise, the duo experiments with electronic transformations and the impact of their environment whether low-key piano bar or deep techno club, their sound seeks to adapt the piano to different 21st century musical settings. The visuals accompanying Sjö’s sonic investigations are provided by the artwork of the Munich-based artist duo Anna Schölß (GER) and Kristijan Kolak (GER). Sjö : två is a one-hour concert program consisting of nine cocompositions by Manzoni and Zaes. All compositions include a tonal-melodic piano part and an electronic part which is based upon sonic research ideas. Several research settings that get used by Sjö are inspired by the creation of artificial spatiality which exceeds the possibility of the acoustic instrument. One of them is the use of convolution reverb in live performance. Several pedal hits, microphoned in the inside of the grand piano, act as impulse responses, while the live piano’s attacks trigger these responses. The struck piano string, resonating in the inside of the piano, microphoned, going through a convolution reverb where it resonates again in the virtual inside of the piano, creates supernaturality. Another setting consists of the use/abuse of stereophony. For the sake of theater-suitability we limit our work so far to stereophony and try to go to its very limits. Stereo as an assembly of two mono channels instead of an “authentic” image of space is the underlying concept. The use of a “wrong” mapping of the piano microphones, phase inversion, the mixing down of the left and right piano microphone into one mono channel while the same signal passes delayed in the other mono channel, or the application of a convolution reverb on both piano microphones but with a different impulse response for both channels; all of this, when assembled again and played-back as if it were an “ordinary stereo”, results in an artificial spatiality which could not exist in reality.
The creation of artificial temporality is the second concept used by Sjö, as the interest lies on the temporal perception of sound. The live piano playing of Manzoni necessitates a human-created temporality, which Zaes with his algorithms interferes. Detaching the X from the Y axis, the temporal envelope from the momentary timbre is the underlying concept, which Marcel Zaes often uses in all of his works, not only in Sjö. The momentary piano event – an attack, a decay, a release or a piano body noise – is freezed with diverse granular and freeze algo rithms. Thus, the piano event results in an extemporal static sound, which then is shaped by Zaes again in function of time. The detached spectrum is joined with an artificially created envelope. Both the shape of this envelope and the parameters/ quality of the underlying freeze are controlled by Zaes on stage. Further ideas of temporality include the real-time reversing of a single piano note—a concept that for the reason of its physicality remains impossible—yet can be approached, or the concept of introducing pure sine waves as natural overtones in an ongoing piano note, as the played note—once released—is prolonged and results again in a continuous sonic event that can be artificially shaped.  sjo-music.com

Andrea Manzoni: composition, production, live performance, piano, synthesizer
Marcel Zaes: composition, production, live performance, electronics, programming
Anna Schölß: artwork, visual installation and video; Kristijan Kolak: video

  • ANDREA MANZONI (IT/FR) is a pianist with both a classical/ jazz piano and a composition background who never is satisfied with current tendencies of piano playing and hence searches for his unique sound. One of his primary interests lies in using the piano as a spatial body. Manzoni introduced not only post-Cagean prepared piano methods when performing, but also the idea of the piano body and resonating strings as a reverberation space.   manzoniandrea.com
  • MARCEL ZAES (IT), a composer whose compositional method is always starting from the physical qualities of the sound itself, in a post-Griseyan sense, acts as a “listener” to Manzoni’s piano playing. Watching and observing the sonic pianistic space, he waits for the subtle artifacts produced out of Manzoni’s playing: the pretended “silence” between two notes which is never silent, the release phase of single notes, the other strings which start to resonate even when they are not played, or mechanical noises/failures of the piano’s pedals and keys when used. Zaes’ methods are based upon the idea of bringing advanced studio processing techniques onto the stage and performing these non-real-time algorithms in a “quasi real-time” version. Zaes places close-up microphones inside, around and underneath the instrument, even above Manzoni’s playing hands, and enters all these signals into his Max patches, where he catches single pianistic moments and elaborates them. Furthermore, he adds pure sine waves and “dirty” idle mode noises of old-school analogue devices such as waveform generators that have originally been designed for military use. The processed piano, the sine waves and the generator’s idle mode noises define his sonic vocabulary. This first part of the composition process could be named the “composition of the sound itself”, in the Latin origin of the word “componere” and in a spectral way of composing. Now, with the yet defined sounds, Manzoni and Zaes as co-composers start the second part of the process; the traditional-musical composition, as they put their material together following quite traditional yet advanced rules of tonal-harmonic thinking, of melody and of formal structure. This vast contrast between the spectral thinking on the material level and the more traditional thinking on the formal level not only produces a quite unique voice of “Sjö”, but also permits the duo to have their music reach a wider range of audience, thereby making advanced sound processing available to people who have never before heard such algorithms.    marcelzaes.com

Full text and photo (PDF) p. 182-185