San Francisco (May 15, 2007)–At a recent performance at the Koret Auditorium of the DeYoung Museum of San Francisco, avant-garde Italian pianist, Marino Formenti, performed American composer Alvin Lucier’s “Music for Piano and Amplified Sonorous Vessels” using Neumannn KM microphones inserted into the necks of various shaped vessels.
A Neumann KM mic used in a sonorous vessel.”The composer was inspired by the fact that the human head is a resonant cavity with openings, much like a bottle or other vessels,” explained Christine Lim, director of education and artistic administration with San Francisco Performances, the presenter that organized Formenti’s visit. “He wanted to get a sense of how the piano would sound if you could, in a way, get outside your head and hear those resonances anew.”
With Lim’s help, Formenti collected seven “belly-shaped vessels” of various sizes, from less than one gallon to several gallons, all with small, one to two-inch, openings. They arranged the vessels on pedestals around one of the performance’s pianos, a seven-foot German Steinway. With the composition’s score, a piano, and sonorous vessels all accounted for, only the “amplified” portion of the piece’s title was wanting.
“Marino had worked with an engineer in Vienna who stressed that only Neumann KM 140 and KM 184 cardioid condensers, and, depending on the vessel, KM 150 hypercardioid condensers would properly capture the resonances that the composer had envisioned,” said Jamie “Gadget” Kahn, sound engineer for the event. “I had to agree!”
Prior to the performances, which included an evening concert for adults and two afternoon shows for children, Gadget and Formenti inserted the small Neumann microphones into the various vessels and listened carefully to match the sonic characteristics of each vessel with the proper microphone and placement. Gadget recalled, “We ended up using a KM 184 to mic the teapot (for another Lucier piece called “Nothing is Real (Strawberry Fields Forever)” featuring a playback of the Beatles song via a teapot outfitted with a speaker inside, which was perfect, and a second KM 184 in another of the smaller vessels. We used the hypercardioid KM 150s on the medium-sized vessels. The cardioid KM 140s sounded best on the very largest vessels.” The microphones were affixed to the lips of each vessel to prevent them from touching the sides. With his remaining two KM 184s, Gadget mic’d the Steinway using a standard X-Y configuration.
With all the proper tools in place, Formenti’s intuitive performance permitted the resonances and overtones to meld, grow, and decline beautifully. At times, the resonances were so strong that the ringing took on the mysterious aesthetic of deliberate, but restrained feedback, although Gadget ensured it was in fact the purity of the vessels themselves. “The KM 100 and KM 184 series mics are bright, open, and crystal clear,” said Gadget. “They are exactly what we needed to capture those same qualities in the vessels themselves.”