- Ear-Walking Woman
Pianist Lois Svard has devoted her career to the performance of contemporary and avant-garde music. Her most recent recording showcases Ear-Walking Woman (1996), a piece for prepared piano she commissioned from New Zealand-born composer Annea Lockwood (b. 1939). Lockwood is perhaps best known for her early conceptual work, including Piano Transplants (1969–72), a series of happenings in which she burned, buried, and drowned several pianos in a series of conceptual pieces. Ear-Walking Woman, a homage to John Cage's prepared piano works, employs many of the preparations that he developed during the 1940s: coins to simulate the sounds of the gamelan, screws to create sympathetic vibrations, and electrical sheathing to deaden the strings. Moreover, Lockwood notes in an interview included on this DVD that she drew inspiration from Richard Bunger's seminal prepared piano method The Well-Prepared Piano (1981) and from experimentation with a wide variety of found objects in her own home. Lockwood intends for listeners and performers alike to delight in the subtle changes of timbre and the unpredictability of each performance; the title, as she describes in an interview included on this DVD, "describes the process of walking with one's ears and discovering sonic details, a little like walking slowly in a woods and really scrutinizing the ground closely."
This DVD will be of great interest to performers, composers, scholars, and enthusiasts of avant-garde piano music for several reasons. First, performers and composers will be interested to view the "Preparation Demos," in which Svard and Lockwood offer step-by-step demonstrations showing how to prepare a piano, discuss some of the specific problems associated with such an endeavor, and show various ways to perform using these modifications. Second, scholars will appreciate the "Conversations" section, in which Lockwood offers her anecdotes about the genesis and performance of some of her earlier works, including Glass Concert (1966–72) and Piano Transplants (1969–72). While most viewers will wish that this interview were longer (this DVD includes only fifteen minutes of footage), these brief accounts, which also feature several photographs from Lockwood's private collection, offer an interesting glimpse into the world of avant-garde music and performance art in the late 1960s and 1970s. Finally, enthusiasts of avant-garde piano music will appreciate the inclusion of two different performances of Ear-Walking Woman on this DVD, a film of an April 2004 performance and an audio recording of a performance from May 2000. Careful listeners can discern significant differences between the two performances, and many instructors may find this feature useful in encouraging students to engage more deeply with this music. Furthermore, because this repertory is performed so infrequently and multiple recordings of this music rarely issued, the inclusion of two different performances on this package is remarkable.
Lois Svard's recordings of Annea Lockwood's Ear-Walking Woman represent a significant contribution to the performance, composition, and study of contemporary avant-garde piano music. Moreover, they are only the most recent example of Svard's long-standing commitment to this repertory. She has collaborated with, commissioned works from, and recorded the music of several American composers, including Alvin Lucier, Kyle Gann, "Blue" Gene Tyranny, William Duckworth, and Jerry Hunt. Furthermore, Svard has established Innovera Studios, the company that released this DVD, to help disseminate this music to a wider audience. Svard's dedication [End Page 134] to and knowledge of avant-garde music is evident in Ear-Walking Woman; it is a carefully constructed and informative DVD that encourages engaged listening and facilitates the continued performance and composition of works for prepared piano.