|Crystal Magnets, the piano duo from two masters of contemporary improvisation, reunites Canadian Andy Milne and Frenchman Benoît Delbecq. They became friends in 1990 while studying with saxophonist Steve Coleman at The Banff Centre Jazz Workshop. Both keyboardists took Coleman’s teachings to heart, exploring distinctly different approaches to expressing their experiences through music. In 2007, they received The French-America Jazz Exchange and were commissioned by Chamber Music America to develop and record “Where is Pannonica?” [Songlines – 2009]. Milne and Delbecq returned to The Banff Centre in January 2008 to undertake this project. The scope of it grew to include extensive collaboration with Banff Centre audio engineers throughout the compositional, recording and mixing phases. Using the sonic landscape of the 5.0 surround sound format for inspiration, the music was composed in part to exploit the unique potential for placing specific compositional elements in distinct regions of the mix. The engineers created an acoustic array within each piano and analyzed the natural acoustics to define a larger array within the room, enabling Milne and Delbecq to compose for the medium and perform in harmony with their environment. The New York Times lauded the recording as a “strangely beautiful new album” from two “resourcefully contemporary pianists, both drawn to quixotic interrogations of harmony and timbre.”
Although Milne and Delbecq have both created music for electronic and computer-based instruments, Crystal Magnets is primarily an acoustic piano duo, equally influenced by both pianists’ ever-expanding experiences and passions. As an innovator in improvised prepared-piano performance, Delbecq has synthesized sounds and concepts from Ligeti and Steve Lacy to Aka Pygmy music. Milne’s long association with Steve Coleman inspired his unique integration of rhythmic concepts from Cuba, Ghana, American jazz, funk and hip-hop.
Their shared respect and understanding for each other’s approach to the piano and to improvisation, helped connect them in a profound, almost seamless thought process throughout their collaboration. While interpreting each other’s compositions and collaboratively developing pieces, Milne and Delbecq discovered this synchronicity and used it with great care to develop complex rhythmic, melodic and harmonic relationships involving timbre and texture, room acoustics, space, and time. In doing so, they have extended the scope of the piano duo within the jazz world.
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