The Art of Experiment: Magda Mayas, Tony Buck, and Nate Wooley

Experimental music demands a performer-composer to be both an artist and a scientist. An artist, who can reach musical integrity and full completeness on the spot “from scratch,” just being there, and a scientist who is in perfect terms with acoustics.  Both roles were accomplished perfectly during two performances of Magda Mayas and Tony Buck (Roulette, September 29th), joined by Nate Wooley (Ibeam, October 14th).

The gig in Roulette resembled an act of sorcery or shamanism. While Magda transformed the piano into a string and percussion instrument, the percussion itself became a cauldron, where Tony was cooking some mystic potion – with small boxes to sprinkle the spices, and a censer to spread the incense. When sounds become magic – are they still sounds? When we hear them as if emerging from the depth of the cave resembling sirens or stones thrown into our ears – are they music? When any sound of environment can be prepared on a musical instrument, should we go back listening to nature? But nature alone could not, as easily as this music did that night, take a listener onto a spiritual trip, with a singing bowl at the end leading to a final meditation that calmed elevated heartbeat.

In experimental music the minimal advance preparation of tunes or sounds plays a role of composition – material that initiates an act with unpredictable outcome. During the trio’s performance in Ibeam the timbral palette became even richer.  Percussion and string sounds coming out of a piano do not require obvious experimentation, but what about imitation of electronic noise? And what about same electronic noise, coupled with refrigerator drones and factory whistles produced by Nate’s muted trumpet blowing into a metal sheet?  The images of acoustic laboratory appeared in my mind, suggesting that a composer role had been taken by the role of a scientist.

A few words on the duo/trio’s audience. Slightly over twenty people in Roulette, which made the place look embarrassingly empty. Twelve listeners in Ibeam (just the right amount for such an intimate place), myself being the only woman. What I described as spiritual trip above, often felt like an almost physical one. It’s hard to say what exactly makes the magic work here – proximity of the performers, or exceptionally rich palette of timbre – but I felt that the sound was physically touching my skin, underneath it, crawling along my spine… Such experience is not rare, but it only occurs with involvement of improvised music, when several players are fully engaged and speak each other’s language, especially when exploring new sounds. Sometimes I wonder why the audience at such concerts is predominantly male. Why women deprive themselves of the pleasure to be touched and caressed in such an exquisite and pure way – by sounds – in the midst of the magic and art of experiment?

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