“I feel that sounds are autonomous – they have a sort of lifespan. That's at the bottom of a lot of my work.” – Annea Lockwood in The Quietus.
Rewire proudly presents a focus programme around the groundbreaking and ever-blossoming work of composer, educator, sound artist, and musician Annea Lockwood. Born in New Zealand in 1939, Lockwood has had a lifelong fascination with the ways in which one’s environment affects the sounds around them and vice versa. Her music has a focus on healing, nature, and human connection, always tugging at the boundaries between human and other-than-human sound worlds. In this article we’ll touch on a few of the wonderful, curious, ever-innovative works made by Lockwood across her prolific, enduring career: from demolished pianos and insectoid soundscapes to riverside field recordings and tender sound-collage love-letters.
Emerging out of classical music training with a desire to skew its conventions, one of Lockwood’s earliest works, Piano Transplants (1967–1982), led her to take the piano from the concert hall to the bonfire, to the water’s edge, and to the muddy soil of a garden.
“It started with something I called Piano Transplant #1, a permanently prepared piano I did for fun because [John] Cage had never been able to permanently prepare one, for obvious reasons. I was able to insert all sorts of things into a little upright [piano], including bamboo slippers which worked like a thumb piano in the soundboard, a little train that ran up and down a few of the bass strings and a whole lot of other things. One of the things I liked most about it was that when you pressed the soft pedal, bubbles came out of a mouth that I carved into the side. It was a lot of fun.” - Red Bull Music Academy
Perhaps the most iconic of these Piano Transplants is Piano Burning (1968). Originally performed in order to make a good recording of fire for a dance work which never materialised, Piano Burning is characterised by the crackling of wood and the snapping of piano wire. Due to crowd noises bleeding into the original recording, Lockwood deemed the piece “useless” for its intended purpose, “but funny. And beautiful to look at.” Its score reads simply: “Set upright piano (not a grand) in an open space with the lid closed. Spill a little lighter fluid on a twist of paper and place inside, near the pedals. Light it. Balloons may be stapled to the piano. Play whatever pleases you for as long as you can.” The piece asks what kind of sonic rebirth might happen amidst engulfing flames and billowing smoke. A special performance of Piano Burning opens the festival on Thursday 4 April.
“My fascination with environmental sounds just continues to get stronger and stronger, and goes back a long way. My work with rivers for instance, I remember starting a river archive in about 1967 and I started getting friends who were travelling to record the rivers and creeks that they came across if they wanted to. Pauline [Oliveros] did, and Carolee [Schneemann] did, and various other people did, so I started to make an archive of the world’s rivers and streams, which was obviously impossible, but that was part of the point.” - Orlando
A gushing fount of playfulness floods Lockwood’s work, soaked as it is by her fascination with the sonic character of different bodies of water and those who work on them, such as in World Rhythms (1977) and A Sound Map of the Hudson River (1982). Throughout her career, Lockwood has continually returned to record these fluent bodies and the sounds that they, their inhabitants, and their visitors make. Recorded across Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania, A Sound Map of the Danube (2005) is a beautiful collection of diverse sounds of nature and humanity intermingling: one moment there are distant church bells leaking into ethereal, watery, ambient soundscapes, and the next the joyful chatter of passersby drowns out the sounds of aquatic life.
While weaving into the areas of deep listening and field-recording, Lockwood’s fascination with prepared piano has never been far from view. This can be heard prominently in her 1996 composition Ear-Walking Woman. In Ear-Walking Woman, the prepared piano takes centre stage, with every part of its splayed-open interior being intervened upon, massaged, plucked, and played with during the piece. It is filled with minimal, melodic, and dissonant character. Yarn/Wire – a music quartet made up of musicians Laura Barger and Julia Den Boeron on piano, and Russell Greenberg and Sae Hashimoto on percussion – will perform Ear-Walking Woman at the festival, as well as Into The Vanishing Point (2019) – a piece made in collaboration between Lockwood and Yarn/Wire. In the latter piece, prepared piano forms the sonic foundation that allows the other percussive and instrumental elements to build upon it with strident, growing tones.
Lockwood herself takes to the stage at Rewire 2024 alongside MAZE Ensemble – an Amsterdam-based collective of electroacoustic musicians made up of Dario Calderone on double bass, Wiek Hijmans on electric guitar, Yannis Kyriakides on electronics, Gareth Davis on bass clarinet, Reinier van Houdt on piano, and Anne La Berge on flute and electronics. Together they will perform two works by Lockwood, the first of which is Jitterbug (2007), a piece brimming with insectoid murmurs and overflowing with buoyant, watery sounds. The music is formed by the musicians’ interpretation of graphic scores: photographs of rocks taken for the project by Gwen Deely.
The second piece that Lockwood and MAZE Ensemble will perform is Bayou-borne, For Pauline (2016) – the tribute Lockwood made to her friend, the composer Pauline Oliveros. The piece invites musicians to take the roles of different bayou tributaries – White Oak, Buffalo, Brays, Greens, and Sims – that all converge in Texas, where Oliveros was native to. The flowing, playful, inquisitive energy that pulses through Lockwood’s music is on full display here in a piece that is as haunting as it is hopeful.
“Our first meetings were sort of intoxicating because we fell for each other very fast. Initially, we used to say it took us about three days, but towards the end of her life, she got it down to three minutes.” - Bandcamp Daily
The tributaries of Lockwood’s bountiful career reach in all kinds of interesting directions – sonically, thematically, and compositionally. Although their destinations are sometimes far flung, they all come from the same source: Lockwood’s inventive mind and attentive ears. Always working with sound in a non-anthropocentric way that celebrates the diversity of sounds in the natural environment, Lockwood’s music is ever-important in a world where changing ecological realities are of increasing concern. As much as Lockwood’s music draws its water from the real world, it too splashes in the speculative and the imaginary: building worlds that are familiar, deep, and bursting with life.