Sound artist and composer Olivia Block turns to the piano | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Sound artist and composer Olivia Block turns to the piano 

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click to enlarge Olivia Block

Olivia Block

Andrea Bauer

On most of Olivia Block’s records, what she does to sounds matters much more than how they were originally made; using field recordings, instrumental passages, or electronics, she cuts, distorts, and layers the material until even the quietest passages feel packed with multiple meanings. But in concert, things can happen for a long time without intervention; the sustained organ notes and prerecorded electronics of 132 Ranks, which she performed last April at University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel, turned the building’s interior into one giant instrument for an hour. Block brings together her studio and performance practices on her latest recording, an untitled piece for piano and organ that has just been released by the British label Another Timbre. Its three movements include long passages of Block’s unedited piano playing, some of which is purely acoustic and some of which is amplified so that notes sound like sonar pings. Emphatic figures and single resonating notes call attention to the space around the instrument, while sequences in which the strings have been damped by various preparations make you aware of how much metal is strung inside of the thing. The record isn’t entirely recorded live; Block turns time back upon itself by using a microcassette player to record herself playing, then accompanying the tape as it plays back from inside the piano. It also employs overdubbed piano clusters and subliminal organ drones and piano clusters. In another temporal reversal, Block doesn’t finish scoring her pieces until after she has recorded them. She and Haptic’s Adam Sonderberg, who coproduced the album and will play organ and second piano tonight, will use the completed score as their guide as they perform the entire piece in real time.   v

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