Barcelona Piano Sculpture

“Don’t Mind” at Jamboree – 6th Mar. ’16

Josep-Maria Balanyà (piano)

Josep-Maria Balanyà has been busy in Barcelona. Resident in Brussels, Bcn is his home town and on visits he can be heard and seen (and I recommend you do both) participating in various free improvisation performances. On this trip, he’s performed at two out of the four BCN Impro Fest concerts, appeared more than once at Robadors 23, and this evening, he’s presenting his latest CD, “Don’t Mind” at Jamboree. Busy.

A single grand piano awaits, centre-stage, liberally equipped with microphones trained on its various innards; plus two more set at the stage edge.

After the usual lengthy Jamboree introduction, Balanyà walks on-stage, his darkly attired, compact frame full of obvious energy in much the same way as a zen master might be: limitless potential action surges unseen beneath a placid demeanour…

Pausing only to wedge the sustain pedal down, Balanyà seats himself on the floor, back against the piano, in between the floor mics. With a pair of brushes, he begins to play the air, creating amplified vibrations. The brushes are soon creating further sounds, on the floor, his feet, legs, the body of the piano… A switch to a pair of soft mallets and with a dancer’s poise, Balanyà moves about the piano, reaching inside like some musician-mechanic to elicit fresh tones. This introduction becomes an extended exploration of the instrument’s percussive possibilities. So extended that the first contact between mallet and an actual string (creating a distinctly piano-ish note) is quite shocking. It’s all primitively satisfying to listen to and enthralling to watch.

Continuing to avoid anything so mundane as a keyboard, Balanyà applies a drumstick, scraping it inside the piano to create sharp, metallic, ringing tones: high-pitched, resonant vibrations.

10 minutes or more into a one-hour solo piano concert, Josep-Maria Balanyà touches a key. Well, pounds it, really – the first in a series of dark, sonorous hammerblows, the interstices filled with softer, searching notes, the preface to an extended sequence of increasing density, heavy on the bass notes but with bursts of right hand…

As a pause or respite, Balanyà takes a moment to insert a series of wooden rods inside, between the strings – this preparation is a sonic act in itself, silence is impossible – and then proceeds to pinch the rods with his fingers, running them up and down each rod to produce echoing, expanding/contracting exclamations. Each rod offers up its own melancholy, and even the act of changing between the rods is part of the structure – as each rod is let fall, the impact on the piano’s frame becomes a punctuation.

The performance continues. Each piece a different exploration incorporating fresh elements: spontaneous vocalisation, chordal collages, jagged avalanches…
The whole performance is like watching a sculptor at work. First, surface strokes, confident yet preliminary, slicing away the hard edges, softening the shape. Then, deeper cuts, searching for the heart as the subject emerges. Finally, endless detailing, both subtle and bold and always unhurried. As to the subject, perhaps it is simply the piano. But the shape that emerges isn’t necessarily the one we may have been expecting…

(Incidentally, some later ‘research’ showed that the concert was actually quite a faithful performance of the CD – or at least, listening to the CD strongly evokes memories of the concert – so if you interest is piqued, you could do a lot worse than check out the disc from Laika Records.)

www.balanya.net