A spinet (or "bent-side spinet") is a small type of harpsichord whose soundboard juts out to the right of the keyboard, allowing an easy view and access for the (experimental) musician. Because of structural and mechanical limitations, it produces less expression and rich harmonics (a proper harpsichord employs a dual set of strings and individual disposition controls to allow two "choirs"); with the reduced reverberation due to body size and the need to cram more real estate in less space, the spinet is often seen as the poor-man's keyboard of the times (17th century). In other words, the appearance of a spinet at Christmas probably meant your parents' royalty status was flunking.
Pianist Christoph Schiller moved to spinet ten years ago to 1) play Baroque music with a representative instrument 2) free his creativity from the "history of piano music" 3) have a travelling keyboard and skip the scramble to find / adjust to another axe while on the road. He soon discovered that the so-called short-comings of the spinet revealed a number of possibilities for a new voice: the higher strings allow for better bowing; the lower tension of the sound board creates more dynamics when applying e-bows (that little magnetic resonator made famous by U2's The Edge and Bauhaus guitarist Daniel Ash). And so on. With fellow aficionado / visual artist Lea Danzeisen on a second spinet, Schiller performed two extended works ("zehn" for thirty-three minutes, "neun" at just under fifteen) in Switzerland at the global position indicated by the title.
The first impression of the sounds generated by the duo is the fragility of the spinet. Much less lugubrious and difficult to damper than prepared piano, instrument is nimble and able to stop / start with a smaller amount of effort. This might be due to Schiller's microphone placement (way up inside the body) but the intimacy is concentrated, and each strike — including the forcibly sustained passages — is minimally resonant; one is reminded more of Hugh Davies' microscopic sonic universe (i.e. Music for Springs) and Taku Sugimoto's subtle guitarisms than the Cage / Tudor legacy. But coupled with all the space and delicacy is a complex animation stuffed with a limitless arsenal. The duo moves from strokes and pinches, muted plucks, tiny maraca trickles, scrapes, woody taps, metallic hammer-on snaps and an otherwise pointillist approach to sudden clamorous fits where strings are feverishly rubbed with various materials and objects forcibly cascade across the instrument(s). Twenty minutes into the first work, the duo settles into a united almost-drone of breathy (?) whispers, rubbery nudges, nearly inaudible bowing and percussive tinkering in the high register. From there, the piece collides into a hyperactive disorder of who-knows-what, a culmination of all previous techniques at once that shows the virtuosity of Schiller and Danzeisen's imaginations, ability to transmogrify (also note "the beginning of "neun" where the e-bows create the lower range of clarinets) and athletic physicality.
Comments and Feedback: