...and the Body of Transformations (2018)
For Magnetic Resonator Piano
Piano: Rolf Hind
Live recording of first performance
Recorded by Alessia Milo
The temple complex of Preah Khan is part of the vast area more commonly referred to as ‘Angkor’ in Cambodia. It was built by Jayavarman VII. An obsession with Angkor began thirty years ago and I had written a series of large-scale works based on its architectural designs, as well as encrypting the pieces with lots of relative information. However, it was not until 2017 that I actually visited Cambodia and saw the ancient city ‘in person’.
I felt a need to return ‘musically’ to Angkor and to respond to what I had seen. Of all the extraordinary sights, Preah Khan left a new and immensely strong impression. Books generally refer to the unique two-storey pavilion with its almost Romanesque columns, no doubt because they initially appear more ‘European’. However, there is nothing remotely of the ‘West’, and its neighbouring ‘Hall of Dancers’ reveals some of the most exquisite bas reliefs in all of Angkor. Similarly, the mix of man made and natural architecture is exemplified by the way in which trees and buildings now entwine, as if purposefully juxtaposed by a surrealist artist. I know that I will never forget standing in what still seems like a surreal and other worldly part of the complex, surrounded by mysterious buildings encrusted in fine and ornate bas reliefs. That was a literal ‘dream’ in a day’s reality.
The piano is an instrument we believe we know fully. Yet there are aspects and sonorities of the piano yet to be discovered. There is another hidden instrument. Andrew McPherson’s Magnetic Resonator Piano adds a complex set of magnets to the strings of the conventional grand piano, which, through clever manipulation, creates totally natural new sonorities. Instead of having the strings ‘struck’ by hammers, these strings aurally ‘glow’ in response to magnets that pull at them and cause them to vibrate. And through further clever manipulation, they can be made to vibrate in certain ways to achieve a series of new and unexpected sonorities. Some of these sonorities sound ‘electronic’, but they are absolutely not. All are entirely natural – and therefore they achieve an ever-changing quality of tone and colour. Exact repetition is impossible.
The Magnetic Resonator Piano (MRP) exemplifies a mix of familiar and unknown, it captures a seeming ‘other’ world, a surreal quality that I adore, and it beguiles through its completely natural beauty of tone. It seemed right to try to evoke a new response to Angkor through this deeply special instrument.
The curious thing I found was that while my music had moved on, I returned to the same schemes of creating ciphers and designing musical structures I had adopted many years ago. I realised that these compositional tools were ‘within’ my natural way of thinking. The fact that I had now seen Angkor in reality, as opposed to through illustrated books, ultimately made little actual difference to the creative spur the inspiration ignited. Yet there is a difference, which I can acknowledge. To attempt to recreate a ground plan, a physical structure that can be viewed from an infinite number of angles, plus the heady atmosphere of a moment in time is impossible. All we can ever do is evoke a perceived mystery and report aspects of an inspiration.
The opening lines on Preah Khan's stele translate as "The Lord (bhagaván) is divided, for his body is the Body of the Law, the Body of Enjoyment, and the Body of Transformations". From here comes the title of this work, which is ultimately all about transformations.
Grateful thanks to Andrew McPherson and James Doherty for their help in the preparation of this work for MRP, and to Rolf Hind whose exemplary pianism brought it to life.
The photographic image of Preah Khan was taken by the composer.
For a film version, please visit: https://youtu.be/qD3M0idiRDY
© Paul Max Edlin 2018
- Magnetic Resonator Piano