Rare Birds

Magda Mayas is a young percussionist from Berlin but her favorite instrument is the piano. And this is sheer luck for us, the listeners, since she has developed a very solid technique on tingling, scraping, bowing and scratching the strings inside the piano, speaking to us in a very personal and comprehensive sonic language. Her CV is already full of important collaborations, e.g. with Peter Evans, Phill Niblock and Thomas Lehn, to report only a few of my personal favorites. This is the second product of the collaboration between Magda and her alter-ego in the wind instruments, Christine Abdelnour (Sehnaoui), a young, largely self-taught, sax player from Lebanon. Her high-pitched sonic expressions are influenced by the concepts of noise and distortion, following, in a very personal style, a long line of avant-garde sax players in the field.

For many people, art is the rendering and processing of nature by its human factor. In this way, numerous music compositions and playing techniques are determined by the language of birds, the most profound being Catalogue d’Oiseaux by Olivier Messiaen. Here, the birds’ presence is implied by the cover image, the title and probably by the recorded material which otherwise is a free improvisation. Bird sounds are often considered soothing and relaxing but a birds’ convention taking place on a large tree could easily end up in a hellish high-pitched havoc. Myriad¬† (UNSOUNDS 30U) is balancing on both sides of this coin following mostly a tender and clear path even in the rough parts of the improvisation, aligned with the female temperament behind the work. I have to admit at this point that I feel a special gratitude for the female perspective on modern music, that tends to deliver an increasing number of important works.

The two improvisations in this album captured by Unsounds label, home of some very notable musicians, are influenced by spectral contemporary music, building a high-frequency reverberating corpus and spreading very unequally in duration. The longest track, “Hybrid”, begins with what seems like the birds’ smooth awakening and develops into a complicated communication among different types of bird singing (or high-pitched sax patterns) accompanied by weird wood knocking and string plucking. The mood of this piece is constantly in motion, leading to a pleasant uncertain evolution of the music. The sax sound in the second track “Cyanide”, reminds of ambient pre-recorded soundscapes while the “piano” contributes with arpeggios and pitch-bending expressions achieved by the direct manipulation of the strings inside the instrument.

What we have here is a highly conscious, crafted sound of a duo that amounts to an impressive wholeness of a single entity. This is a very rare scenario when we discuss avant-garde improvised music played live (during the Meteo Festival in France). The instrument techniques employed are both original and complicated. The sonic expression is dense and consequently the listening experience requires a devotion that is nevertheless rewarding. My only complaint could be that the 33 minutes of the album seem too few and the work leaves a sense of being unfinished.

After their first album Teeming, Myriad certainly reinforces the appetite for more recordings of this unusual duo that consists of a standing pianist and a sitting sax player.