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Cor Fuhler: Stengam

John Eyles By

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Since John Cage drew attention to (rather than invented) prepared piano in the middle of the last century, it has steadily gained in popularity and acceptance, to the extent that most improvising pianists give it some role in their repertoire and it even makes occasional appearances in popular music.

While many pianists mainly play the keyboard straight, and dabble with using prepared piano and/or playing inside the piano, Cor Fuhler takes prepared piano to another level. Every pianist has their own distinctive ways of preparing their piano; these include using such things as sheets of paper, telephone directories, nuts and bolts, lumps of rubber, paper clips... As this link shows, Fuhler takes the preparation of his piano very seriously—using e-bows, magnets (stengam, geddit?), and home-made gadgets—and the inside of his piano can get quite crowded!

Here, Fuhler only plays prepared piano. Consequently one could listen to this album and, for long periods, not realize that a piano was being used. Yes there are passages where the use of the keyboard is evident—at the start of "Stengam part 4, for instance—but otherwise you might believe that this is a small group performing on gamelan instruments, tone generators, percussion and strings with extensive use of electronics, such is the variety of sounds. But, extraordinarily, no overdubs, electronics or electronic improvements were used.

So, leaving aside the means of production, is it any good? Yes, yes, yes! Not only does Fuhler create a fine variety of sounds, he also puts them together in ways that are very listenable and satisfying. Lovers of eai and drones will find plenty here to enjoy. The opening tracks, "North-South and "Ferrous, are slowly paced and meditative, dominated by sounds like resounding gamelan gongs, on the second track metallic vibrations being overlaid. The remainder of the album consists of the ambitious six-part "Stengam. Although each part is fine—at least, engaging, and at best, gripping—there is no obvious overarching unity that makes them into a suite. Maybe that is provided by the methodology, as each employs extensive use of e-bows and magnets, resulting in sustained drones of varying frequencies.

Cor Fuhler has created a series of idiosyncratic and highly individual soundscapes, as convincing a case for prepared piano as you are likely to hear.


Track Listing: North-South; Ferrous; Stengam: part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4; part 5; part 6.

Personnel: Cor Fuhler: acoustic grand piano, preparations.

Title: Stengam | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Potlatch Records

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