Threading assorted screws, bolts, pieces of plastic, and strips of bamboo between the strings of a concert grand piano sounds like vandalism. In the wrong hands, it could be. Yet done with care and creative intent, the effects are simply astonishing. Bertrand Chamayou perfected the art of transforming his Model D Steinway with craft-store sundries while exploring John Cage’s music for prepared piano, mind-bending miniatures that remain as surprising today as they were when new in the 1940s. CAGE² provides a multicolored snapshot of the French pianist’s homage to the maverick American composer. His enchanting album is filled with mysterious harmonics, uncanny timbres, and otherworldly acoustic delights. “If I had to describe CAGE² to people who are perhaps afraid of contemporary stuff, I think there are two aspects which are very seducing,” Chamayou tells Apple Music Classical. “First, there’s the curiosity of the sound of the same instrument transforming into 12 different percussion orchestras. And then there are the influences from Asia, Africa, and, of course, America. There’s almost a boogie-woogie section in And the Earth Shall Bear Again. It’s a fascinating way to travel around those influences with the transformed sounds of just one piano.” CAGE² began life as a collaborative project with dancer Élodie Sicard. “I’ve always been interested in crossing boundaries with different artists,” Chamayou explains. “I’d known Cage’s music for a long time and found a way to play Bacchanale, his first piece for prepared piano, Primitive, And the Earth Shall Bear Again, and In the Name of the Holocaust on the same instrument in recital.” Because of Cage’s permutations of sound-changing materials and the time needed to set them up, however, it was impossible to program a full concert’s worth of prepared piano pieces on a single instrument. “I was frustrated that I couldn’t go beyond these four pieces and offer something more to draw people into this incredible universe of sound.” Chamayou discussed his dilemma with Sicard, a close friend with a deep knowledge of contemporary music. They knew that Cage created most of his prepared piano pieces for individual dancers, his partner Merce Cunningham, Pearl Primus, and Syvilla Fort among them. Perhaps they could be revived with new choreography. But how could the duo overcome the problem posed by Cage’s multiple piano preparations? Daughters of the Lonesome Isle, for instance, requires 39 notes prepared with diverse materials while Primitive alters 13 notes with only bolts or screws. The answer involved using four pianos. Chamayou positioned each to form the corners of a square, marking the boundaries of Sicard’s dance space and providing their project with its title. When it came to recording CAGE², Chamayou transported his Steinway to Brad Pitt’s Miraval Studios in Provence and prepared it to Cage’s precise specifications. He even retrieved scraps of wood discarded by the isolated venue’s restorers and applied them to his piano’s innards. The finished album, companion to Chamayou’s Letter(s) to Erik Satie, draws listeners deep into Cage’s hypnotic blend of sound and silence. “I spent a lot of time with this album working on each preparation to refine the sound I wanted for each note,” he recalls. “I think that makes a big difference to the outcome.”

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