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Kui Dong: Free-spirited Piano Preparations

img  Tobias

The pieces on "Hands like Waves Unfold" were taken from two long sessions and later merged into a 10-movement suite. Would it be correct to say that, in a way, selecting and sequencing the music was the compositional part of the album this time?
Yes. There was also a pre-compositional planning when I prepared the piano for the second session. I think of it as "orchestration", a timbre control that determines a different outcome of sounds than the first session

With this in mind: Were there, at some stage, different version of the album?
I chose the ones that are musically most interesting and logically connected among all takes. Therefore this is the only and definitive version. The pieces that did not end up on the album belong to my drawer at this moment :-), and I would only use them as base materials for maybe sound pieces in the future. There were at the time, two versions of sequencing involved in different placement of two tracks "magician and traveler" ensemble and solo. The released version makes more sense in the overall structure of the 10-movement musical suite.

You seem to see a story in the final sequence of the pieces. What exactly is that story to you?

To me sound is one of the most primal and sensual elements of human being.  Sounds happen before language. perhaps I was looking for that primal sound and those sounds become an entity that conveys various shapes, complex emotions, brilliant colors, intensive actions, tranquil harmony in abstract form, and perhaps that story is a story of an intimate relationship between one and another, a composer and his/her sound, a player and his/her  instrument. A dialogue between the "magician" and the "traveler"

What significance do the title of the album and individual track names hold?

Hands like waves unfold dreams... and each track is the name of each dream I had. the tracks were named after sequencing was completed. The last track is called "cradle song" in Chinese pronunciation.

While improvising, were you already creating clearly delineated pieces or did you edit tracks from a long, continuous sessions afterwards?

There are rarely edits in most of the tracks. The pieces were done while improvising. All are straight through recording takes except the first one "Magician and Traveler" ensemble, which was done with two takes overdubbing each other. In addition, the track "Temple of the Far East" was cut from its longer original take. If I remember correctly, we either cut the original beginning or the ending, or both out.

The first session was completely spontaneous. Was the second one, in comparison, more mapped-out and planned in a way?

The second one has a pre-compositional plan but I won't call it a complete mapped-out plan as it is not detail oriented. I only planned on making the piano preparation directly contrasting to that of Cage's and exploring sounds and playing different ways that were not in the first session. Once the recording session started, I played as spontaneous as I was in the first session.

What kind of input did Travis Garrison provide?

Travis was very much involved in every step of the project before it went to the record label. He was my recording engineer- we worked on mic locations together until we were both satisfied with how it sounds.  He was also the editor when I selected the takes and sequenced them. Travis was my immediate second pair of ears- both as a listener and sound engineer.

Wikipedia claims that the album shows influences of John Cage. I'm actually not that sure it does - other than the preparations, of course ...

I agree that preparation seems to be the apparent connection people make when they first encounter an album like this. Perhaps if people listen the second time or third time, I hope that someone might find that it is really not about the preparation of the piano. It is about music. Since we all listen to music with our own perspective and it usually has nothing to do with the author, I am quite all right with that comment in Wikipedia. Cage's concept about structuring music composition and how we listen to music is revolutionary and has opened doors to so many. It has opened door for me (I am borrowing the words from Gramophone UK reviewer Philip Clark, July edition, 2009). Although it was first a spontaneous action on my part, by
releasing the music, I feel that I paid my tribute to Cage by using his preparation as a starting point.

Improvisation and composition... These terms sound very unrealiable and imprecise with regards to the album from my point of view. What's your current perspective on them, two years after the interview contained in the booklet?
I agree with you too, that I had trouble defining what I did during the interview with Charles Amirkhanian in the booklet. I knew I was searching for something that I had not done before. Now I am more aware of my intention, as I find that it has increasingly shown up in my written works. My intention was to explore and to find a perfect compositional form that is elastic, that allows the combination of both traits I like, such as a spontaneous aspect from playing free-improvisation, and a well-thought, structurally controlled direction in music composition. I made this by selecting the music from a pool of improvised source materials (or source data, if I could borrow the computer terms) and structuring them in a meaningful way. Maybe I can call it a "subtractive composition method" So the music goes somewhere with carefully structured direction on a macro scale, yet utterly free-spirited on the micro level.

You seemed uncertain before releasing the music on CD. There have been a lot of reassuring opinions on the album in the meantime, but how do you personally see it with some hindsight?

I am a composer first and foremost. To release an improvisation CD with a Solo act is somehow a bit risky. I think Charles did a lot of assuring  at the time. That helped a lot. so thanks to him as well. I also understood that it may fall between the cracks because it does not belong to either improvisation or composition. But I am glad I did it. It is all about making music. It is all about music, after all.

Homepage: Kui Dong
Homepage: Other Minds Records

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