The solo effort Somewhere the Sea and Salt features her highly physical “extended piano” music, which creates sonorities from every surface of the instrument, conjuring up a rich blend of often harrowing textures. — Montreal Mirror, Québec
“I consider this project to be an aural map — a soundscape — of the extended techniques that I have developed over the course of the past decade. Using non-invasive techniques (I don’t prepare the piano), I use objects as a means of eliciting sounds that play with the resonant ability of the instrument. All of the music here features acoustic piano; there has been no electronic manipulation. As well, the collection of works presented here enables the listener to hear — as much as possible — the music from the performer’s perspective. I was often fascinated by the minute details of and subtle characteristics of these unconventional sounds. So often, the magic of what enthralls a performer is hidden or inaccessible to the audience. This recording is a way of allowing those sounds to be heard.”
—Charity Chan, January 2009
CD (AM 188)
- 1Fallen In & Out (2008), 4:15
- 2Gone (2008), 0:48
- 3Penny for Your Thoughts (2008), 3:44
- 4Spinning Too Fast to Doubt (2008), 2:30
- 5Eleusinian Mysteries (2008), 4:40
- 6Burbles (2008), 2:05
- 7Sea Nocks (2008), 2:21
- 8Five-Hundred Echos (2008), 4:11
- 9Cabinets of Curiosities I (2008), 2:52
- 10Cabinets of Curiosities II (2008), 2:54
- 11Films of the Decamarone (2008), 4:37
- 12Silent Sands (2008), 3:17
- 13Tulugaak and the Origin of Life (2008), 4:02
- 14J’ai manqué son départ (2008), 2:35
- Label: Ambiances Magnétiques
- AM 188 / 2009
- UCC 771028118823
- Total duration: 44:43
- Sympathique case
- 126 mm × 126 mm × 5 mm
- 40 g
Some recommended items
In the press
Judge of the Tribunal of Hip Reviewers: “Aren’t you ashamed, Mr. Ricci, of writing now about an album released in 2009?”
Consider me unrepentant, Your Honor. Instead I should feel mortified in admitting that this is the very first chance for Chan’s music to shape up my ears, all the more so in consideration of her coaction with gentlemen whose business was inspected quite a few times here and elsewhere (step forward, Damon Smith and Weasel Walter). However, the wondrously titled Somewhere the Sea and Salt is so good that it deserves deeper immersions, a top-grade effort by a light-sensitive performer.
From the get-go one envisions a conspicuous withdrawal from anything that might have been predictable. The modus operandi animating these recordings is rather nonadjacent in regard to your average solo piano outing. Chan is truly inspired by the expressive properties of the instrument’s reverberation, acting as a medium between the unceasing invisible motility that comprises the core of our individuality and the wood/string interrelation turning her gestures into magnificent crystals — either finished or relatively unsmooth — of acoustic matter. She does not use preparations, still applying disparate means to summon forth vibrational radiance: mallets, eBows, Tibetan bowls, mbiras. The tracks — including the clangorous ones — are all gifted with a spectral perfume, presenting the listener with the refreshing sensation of witnessing events occurring within a higher domain of aliveness. When the Canadian decides to play according to “conventional” know-how (that is to say, employing the mere keyboard) there’s no way to remain disgruntled by even the slightest hint of humdrum tactic. Let’s just say that Chan seems to be aware of what is needed to let a sonic conflict be accepted as natural phenomenon (namely, what it indeed is: the cosmos evolves by contrast, yet the masses keep hopelessly looking for painless resolutions, thick-witted rhymes and abecedarian harmonies to quiesce brains in dire need of a critical fine-tuning).
Chiming intelligence to spare, and what an anti-feminist critic would call “feminine grace” spell out 44 minutes of luminous transport. Episodes like Five-Hundred Echoes and the gorgeously rumbling Eleusinian Mysteries could be utilized as a therapy against the phony worshipping of nondescript masters of nullity. I’d be willing to sleep for days inside this cathedral.
Pianist Charity Chan sandwiched our interview between two practice sessions in different parts of town, her schedule indicative of her increasing activity within the Montréal improvised music scene. Originally from Kitchener, the 28-year-old first settled here in 2005 to complete her music BA at McGill, which included improv classes with Lori Freedman and Eric Lewis. After stints in the USA, completing an MFA in contemporary improvisation at Mills College (studying with Fred Frith and Roscoe Mitchell) and the start of a PhD in musicology at Princeton University, she has been back in Montréal since August. “Mills was perfect for me at that time. They were flexible and supportive,” she enthuses, “but I always wanted to come back to Montréal.”
Chan has two discs out on the Ambiances Magnétiques label, which she says “feels like family.” The solo effort Somewhere the Sea and Salt features her highly physical “extended piano” music, which creates sonorities from every surface of the instrument, conjuring up a rich blend of often harrowing textures. Her trio disc with Fenaison is entitled plat, and features Rémy Bélanger de Beauport on amplified cello and Kris Covlin on saxophones. Chan plans at least two further releases for 2011. A second and as yet unnamed (“titles are always the last thing,” she says) solo CD will feature works for piano, harpsichord and accordion. “If you can improvise then you can compose,” Chan asserts, and the CD will include both approaches. An online, digital-only set will look back in time, comprised of improvised recordings with fellow Mills students. The latter will be for sale by donation only, an experiment in the workings of the Creative Commons licence, another one of Chan’s diverse interests.
Her PhD dissertation studies the culture surrounding improvised music. Using Montréal as its primary locale, she will document how musical improvisation scenes and distribution networks develop, and the pedagogy of improvisation. She will run a workshop next fall with renowned French bassist Joëlle Léandre and SuperMusique, aimed at teaching younger improvisors. “One can go through techniques such as conduction and graphical scores,” but in a philosophy that echoes Mills professor Pauline Oliveros, her main point is to “encourage a state of mind that encourages improvisation.”
Also, look forward to a duet with Nicolas Caloia of Ratchet Orchestra fame, and a multimedia extravaganza with Chan on piano accompanied by two cellists, de Beauport and Gaël Huard, video projections by Raphaelle Frigon, and a dancer to be named later.
Se Ganesh Anandan e Hans Reichel, con Self Made, attraverso sottili intarsi percussionistici ci spingono in un mondo dove il profondo oriente si sposa ad una raffinata propensione improvvisativa (Amphibian, Primate Marathon), Charity Chan (in Somewhere the Sea and Salt) ci guida nel Regno della Dissonanza attraverso l’acustica deformata di un piano preparato ed “oggetti vari”. Ma è ancora il femminile ad ammaliare in Amy Horvey (Interview) dove la trentenne trombettista canadese si cimenta in quattro brani di compositori contemporanei tra cui spicca l’asciutto lirismo di Quattro pezzi per tromba sola, opera del grande Giacinto Scelsi (musicista ligure ultimamente molto rivalutato) e il radicalismo della conclusiva Overture to the Queen of Music Boxes. L’attenzione alla “classica contemporanea” è mantenuta alta anche da Quasar, che con Miroir des vents ci regalano un vivido affresco fiatistico dove la solitudine del vento (leggi i sax di Marie-Chantal Leclair, Mathieu Leclair, André Leroux e Jean-Marc Bouchard) viene declinata attraverso otto composizioni che trovano ne Le chant de l’inaudible di Jean-François Laporte la sublimazione ultima.
Con Rainer Wiens (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors) la faccenda si fa davvero intrigante: il percussionista (sic) di origini tedesche organizza undici performances in forma di solo e duo dove si alternano il flauto di Jean Derome, i violini di Malcolm Goldstein e Joshua Zubot nonché il sax di Frank Lozano. Il risultato - profondo e suggestivo - trova la sua sublimazione estrema nella traccia omonima: oltre dieci minuti splendidamente giocati dal duo Derome-Zubot, attraverso un zigzagare materico nel silenzio incombente…
Solo album Somewhere Sea and Salt by pianist and improvisor Charity Chan. Chan studied and plays classical and modern repetertoire, but she focuses mainly on improvised music today. The piano is her tool. She uses all kinds of objects to trigger unheard sounds, timbres and resonances from the piano. With this wide palette of possibilities she carefully choses the sounds, etc. she can use. Not just to demonstrate a bunch of extended techniques, but in function of a minute and detailed research into all the subtleties between the different sounds that can be generated from the piano. This, sometimes in a way that it is hard to imagine that the sounds come from the piano. As a result Chan creates a diversity of moods and textures, sonic landscapes that one loves to explore.
Charity Chan has appeared on two previous Ambiances Magnetiques releases. On those, with the trio Fenaison (Remy Belanger de Beauport on cello, flute and electronics and Kris Colvin on saxophone and voice), her extended piano fell deep within alien abstractions. The Montréal label now isolates her instrument for a solo CD that is a series of beautiful surprises.
Chan distinguishes her technique as “extended,” rather than “prepared” piano, in that the objects she uses aren’t fixed. In the Cagean tradition of prepared piano, nuts and bolts are put between the piano strings, they are muted with duct tape, or otherwise altered to affect their vibrations. Chan’s approach is more like a slide guitarist — handheld objects are moved across the strings, sometimes as she plays but more often being both slide and plectrum.
A piano is not a guitar, however, and the deep resonance of the instrument’s big case cannot be, shouldn’t be and isn’t hidden. Somewhere the sea and salt is an eminently pianistic record. The first half of the disc tends toward greater extension, with techniques employed that are not dissimilar to the work of Denman Maroney. The microphones are set so close that the listener is put alongside the tin pans and metal bowls inside the case. It’s unorthodox music for sure (although the language of altered piano is starting to become codified), but it’s also warm and musical. Which makes it all the more surprising, just past midpoint, when Chan reveals herself as a strong, classically trained player. The piano begins to sing, to proclaim its presence, making its way through the applied rattles and mutes. The instrument’s natural voice then disappears again on the beautiful Silent Sands, a piece built around a gentle midrange drone that sounds as if it might be generated with an E-bow. By the lovely closing track, J’ai manque son depart, piano and player seem to have found compromise as harpsichord. The 14 tracks are quite a workout, and Chan proves herself to be a talented and inventive player.
Animated by a pair of inspired ideas: a steady focus on extended piano technique as a timbral playground of percussive expanse and recording this material from the perspective of the performer. It’s amazing how much the nuances of extended piano sounds shift relative to the ears perceiving the struck, plucked, strummed and manipulated strings within the instrument. Somewhere the Sea and Salt is offered as a creative encyclopedia of sonorities discovered and coaxed by Chan from the piano. The use of resonance is particularly striking — and a clear path of innovation. The short tracks unfolding as poetry written in sonority.
It’s tough work developing a sound-based vocabulary on an instrument such as the piano. Not unlike her mentor, guitarist Fred Frith, Chan is endlessly imaginative in her use of various external objects in conjunction with the piano’s strings and body, dreaming up a wealth of new timbres one would never associate with the instrument. She coaxes an array of hums, roars and buzzes, layering those sounds with painterly melodic fragments. Frequently using the whole instrument as a massive reverberator, she’s just as likely to unexpectedly hit the off-switch, leaving the sounds bare and dry. Her assertive tone and wide palette can approach Zeena Parkins’ brutish harp playing on Nightmare Alley, yet Chan complements more violent gestures with, or even transforms them into, smoother refined shapes as well. The tearing shrieks of Burbles, for instance, somehow dissolve into ghostly choirs of rubbed strings. Elsewhere, her magic touch produces ambient vignettes such as the elusive Five Hundred Echoes. Using e-bows (electromagnets) to create a bed of singing tones, she plucks gently at other notes. Even bearing in mind prior pianistic innovators — John Cage, Henry Cowell, etc. — Charity’s voice remains fresh and lyrical.
How did you conceive of the pieces on this disc?
The pieces for this album were improvised, although I had some preconceived structures for some of them. In some cases, there were combinations of objects or techniques that I wanted to place together or feature.
Which musicians inform your unique approach? I hear a bit of Zeena Parkins and Charlemagne Palestine.
I listen to a wide variety of music, from indie pop rock to avant-garde to free improv. I’ve actually always been fascinated by saxophonists and percussionists, including Jean Derome, Joane Hétu, Frank Gratkowski, Lê Quan Ninh, and Roscoe Mitchell. Their sensitivity and control, particularly over timbre, have led to some of the most entrancing performances I can remember. Along the same lines of creating an effect of layered and interacting sounds, Zeena Parkins’ solo improvisations and Charlemagne Palestine are definitely at the top of my list. Living in Montréal, one of the best things was hearing all the local musicians — there was a concert of improvised music every night of the week. Everyone was open and supportive, and some of the most important things I have learned were from them. My first introduction to improvisation though was when I was a student at WLU studying with Heather Toews and watching my friends play together.
You tend to use a lot of objects inside the piano but it never feels gimmicky.
Two important factors for me are how easy it is to use an object and how readily I can reproduce the sound it makes. My favourite items are mallets — timpani mallets are a must — singing bowls, an e-bow, or two, and something called gorilla snot — for guitarists to hold their picks. I also just play with my hands inside the piano. I think of the objects in the same way I do the keyboard — the objects act almost as an extension of me. It’s easy to make “different” sounds but learning to understand them in the same way as conventional ones is the most interesting aspect about that approach.
This is Charity Chan’s second disc for the Ambiances Magnétiques (AM) label and I have had the good fortune to hear her play live with AM All-Stars at The Stone last year. This is a solo piano effort and it sounds as if Charity has been working hard at developing her own sonic-world. The sounds she evokes from the piano are carefully chosen, occasionally dark and often most haunting. It sounds as if Ms. Chan is playing a harpsichord at times, from the way the strings are plucked. There are moments when it is difficult to tell what exactly she is playing since some of the sounds are somewhat alien and not very piano-like. Each piece seems to cast a spell and often evokes ghosts or floating spirits. The production work on this disc is especially fine, richly dynamic, capturing the piano in all of its glory. This is refined gem that should be savored for a calm, rainy day.
Charity Chan calls her piano style ‘non-invasive.’ In other words — no prepared piano. But the piano still sounds like a whole different beast when it’s played by Chan. This evening The Signal features music from her latest recording, Somewhere the Sea and Salt. Chan thinks the music on this recording is a kind of “aural map” of the techniques she uses to coax unexpected sounds from the piano. Here’s how she sees (or hears) it: “I was often fascinated by the minute details of and subtle characteristics of these unconventional sounds. So often, the magic of what enthralls a performer is hidden or inaccessible to the audience. This recording is a way of allowing those sounds to be heard.” If you haven’t heard of Charity Chan as a soloist but follow new music, you may be more familiar with a previous project she was involved in with the group Fenaison. How’s about this for a celebrity endorsement — from Fred Frith: “Listening to Fenaison reminds me why I enjoy improvisation. They make music that is passionate, mysterious, and full of contradictions….in other words, it’s alive! And well…”
Is Ambiances Magnétiques developing a “Guelph connection”? This solo piano CD is Charity Chan’s debut for the Montréal label. She is credited for “extended piano,” i.e. piano with spontaneous and ephemereal preparations. I cannot not compare this one to Sophie Agnel’s solo CD commented on last week… and the comparison is not in Chan’s favour. She simply doesn’t manage to weave as much mystery and hypmotic charm around her instrument. However, this remains an interesting album, a fine catalogue of extended techniques forming a highly personal vocabulary… but it sounds too much like a catalogue, actually.