Ear-Walking Woman (1996)
Prepared Piano, Amplification
Ear-Walking Woman for prepared piano and exploring pianist, uses the classic piano preparations: coins (to detune the strings), screws, wiring insulation sheathing, plus bubble wrap, a rubber ball and small wooden balls, two round stones, a bowl gong, mallets and a water glass. The piece was commissioned by Lois Svard, to whom it is dedicated and who has given many superb performances of it.
When I started experimenting with these objects on my own piano, I found that even slight changes in the method of producing a sound evoked striking variants in sonic detail, for example: rocking a stone gently between two sets of strings brings out several pitches and their overtones, iterating in unpredictable rhythms. Getting the stone to rock really hard adds higher pitches and at times the stone will turn over, setting off a new set of strings and pitches, which gradually fade away as the stone comes to rest.
The work is set up as an open-ended exploration, in which I have determined which ‘tools’ are to be used in each section, and the pianist is asked to listen closely to the sounds created by each action, and to explore further the variants which arise when s/he uses a little more pressure and change of speed, a slightly different wrist position, a different make of piano. I think of this experience as “ear-walking”, like a hiker exploring a landscape.