To mark the Australian Art Orchestra’s 25th anniversary, we're presenting the Solo Series: a monthly video release that puts the spotlight on one of the twelve selected members from our pool of incredible AAO collaborators. In August, we feature Australian musician and composer Andrea Keller, on piano, with liner notes by AAO Artistic Director Peter Knight.
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Watching and listening to this solo performance by Andrea Keller feels to me as if I have stumbled upon something intimate and quite private. To listen seems almost like an intrusion. Like I have wandered back stage late at night after a concert, after the audience has gone home, after the lights have been turned out, and happened upon Andrea playing what she didn’t play at the concert but might have wanted to.
It strikes me that she is expressing something from a space of deep meditation focussed on the sonorities that roll through the opening moments of the work, gradually building as gentle alpha waves. Her focus is inward and yet the physicality of the piece, the way she holds her body and the way her hands move are transfixing, as is the music itself. This doesn’t feel like a ‘performance’ but more like something utterly true to the artist. And for the listener - at least for this listener - there is nothing more compelling than this truth.
Andrea tells me that she begins each day with a solo ‘free’ improvisation, which makes total sense in the context of what I have just heard - except that now I am imagining the darkness of the video setting is pre-dawn rather than post concert. This is a space she visits and practises from every day, and for this video recording she has invited us into that quiet, contemplative moment. “Sometimes I empty my mind”, she says, “but of late I’ve mostly been working to concepts that are generally focussed on stripping everything back to a nucleus and exercising patience.”
The opening chords of the piece reflect this focus as they toll, perfectly weighted, moving in slow cadences that gradually rise and fall in the manner of a tone poem. After a time, a melodic phrase splinters from these densely textured chords and slowly gains energy.
Andrea tells me during our conversation that she began this piece with a structural arc to work with instead of beginning with an ‘empty’ mind. “The concept… was to have two ideas, and to begin by giving more weight to the first idea, and end by giving more weight to the second idea.” It made me smile – such a simply expressed concept - such a nuanced and refined outcome.
As the piece progresses the structure she describes is evident but no less satisfying for having its mysteries revealed. The two ideas move slowly around one another and the splinters of melody gradually fragment further into tiny shards before subsiding into silence. I am left imagining the early morning sunshine streaming in through a window at raked angles. Motes of dust caught hovering in the still morning light as if taken by surprise.
Solo Series #8
Performance: Andrea Keller *
Text: Peter Knight
Photo: Sarah Walker
Video producer: Leo Dale
Sound engineer: Jem Savage
* Andrea Keller is a Lecturer in Music (Jazz & Improvisation) at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, the University of Melbourne.