Composition Seminar – The Treachery of Sounds – Catherine Laws & Jon Hughes

The Treachery of Sounds

This seminar will focus on a new version of Annea Lockwood’s Ceci n’est pas un piano (originally 2002, for piano, recorded text, electronics and video), reworked by Lockwood with my own text. The title references a famous series of paintings, The Treachery of Images, by Belgian surrealist René Magritte, the most famous being a painstakingly realist painting of a pipe with the caption ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’. Ceci n’est pas un piano presents a piano … or the sounds of a strange combination of wood, metal and felt … or the sounds made by a particular pianist … or the sounds imagined by a composer … or…? In part, the piece creatively explores what it is that we hear in a piece of music.

On one level, I simply want to present some of my recent work. But the project has involved recording as well as performance, and the recording process has thrown up some tricky questions. All of the musical sounds in the piece are produced by the pianist, but some sound electronic. In performance, physical action consolidates the relationship between instrument and sound, contradicting the title (‘this is not a piano’) and inviting further reflection. In the audio recording, this direct relationship is far less apparent. Does this matter? Should the editing process have focused on finding ways to signal these things aurally, or do we accept that the recorded version operates somewhat differently?