Kui Dong - Hands Like Waves Unfold

Keenly heard improvisations unlock the cage of the prepared piano sound world

Author: 
Philip_Clark

Kui Dong - Hands Like Waves Unfold

  • Magician and Traveller
  • Broken Moon
  • Running Ducklings
  • Temple of the Far East
  • Magician and Traveler
  • Blue Bird and Red Bird
  • In Between
  • Floating Stars
  • Dancing Stars
  • Yao Lan Qiu

The prepared piano was always meant to play another music. Its clattery, drumming sound world is so overwhelmingly associated with John Cage – fair enough, he did invent it – that anybody else using the instrument wanting to remain themselves is challenged to define their own degrees of separation. Beijing-born pianist and composer Kui Dong, now a California resident, rises to that challenge manfully on this disc of keenly heard, beautifully imagined improvisations, recorded over two sessions in 2005. The opening piece, Magician and Traveler: Ensemble, deploys the instrument to evolve a slipstream of rapid-fire rhythmic modules which are juxtaposed with fidgety, unpredictable scratches and slides. This counterpoint between control and freedom recurs throughout the disc and gives Kui Dong’s improvisations a strategic motor; on the track she calls In Between, her sounds fall in between everything – plucked strings morph into random scrapings, as isolated notes and percussive hits accumulate into a hybrid sonic labyrinth. The music hurtles forward with striking velocity, but each sound has been positioned with the care and poise of a ballet dancer.

On Floating Stars, she gradually embellishes her sparse harmonic introduction with opulent chords. That brand of harmonic thinking probably won’t have interested Cage much, and Kui Dong’s liberated, in-the-moment improvisations push the basic language of prepared piano music beyond anything he could have imagined. But I’m sure he would have relished the resourcefulness and peachy freshness of this music – Cage opened the door, and Kui Dong has rearranged the furniture.

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