Based in Berlin, Magda Mayas doesn't so much play the piano as push it to its utmost limits. Both in her performance and compositions, Mayas jumps as freely between the free jazz and experimental genres as she does record labels. Records described by critics as powerful and breathtaking, Mayas has released solo and group projects on Split, Another Timbre, Creative Resources and more recently Unsounds Records. Having collaborated on various projects with artists like Christine Abdelnour and Anthea Caddy, Mayas enjoys a long term creative relationship with percussionist Tony Buck, whom she feels a kinship to in regards to the boundless exploration of traditional instruments. With a solid classical heritage, Mayas has moved beyond the confines of classical piano music to create a 'mini orchestra' of sound, noise, rhythm and texture. Once solely an acoustic experimenter, Mayas has recently plugged in and now includes the clavinet in her repertoire.
When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions or influences?
I started playing piano when I was about 9 years old. Since my parents are both professional classical musicians, that was my early influence and training. Later, at around 15, I became interested in Improvisation and Jazz music.
What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your artistic work and/or career?
I think the first time I was really blown away was when I heard Cecil Taylor in a live concert when I was about 16, the energy of the whole performance was amazing, something I wanted to do as well.
I then had the chance to take lessons and workshops with, among others, Wilbert de Jode and Misha Mengelberg, which really made me aware of freedom of expression and my own capabilities.
When I lived in Amsterdam I worked in a quartet with Morten Olsen (dr), Koen Nutters (bass), and Carlos Galvez (cl) and that was a big step in developing my own vocabulary and the confidence and speed of using my own language. Another big step was starting to play clavinet additionally to the piano about 3 years ago. A clavinet is an electric keyboard with strings from the '60s and has very different sound worlds, noisier, louder, opening up new possibilities for collaborations.
Keith Rowe once asserted that it is often certain people that "give one permission to do things". How was that for you - in which way did the work of particular artists before you "allow" you to take decisions which were vital for your creative development?
I think the Cecil Taylor concert mentioned above showed me that there are no limits on how to express what you want to say.
What are currently your main artistic challenges?
A few years ago I started to play in another musical context. Tony Buck's band Transmit plays post-rock-related trance songs, that still involve a lot of improvising, where I play clavinet and organ - it's still new for me and a challenge. I think playing different kinds of music feeds all the projects I do.
Other than that I am working on using different kinds of amplification that suit my inside piano playing and I am working on a new solo recording.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
The time frame is different. When you improvise, you compose as well, you are working with all the elements a composition requires. But when I compose a piece, say with a recording, I can decide on the transitions, structure etc and it gives me more possibilities.
How important are practising and instrumental technique for achieving your musical goals?
There is a lot of technique involved in my playing. I spend a lot of time with the techniques and the material I use and develop, to create the sounds I want. For example, getting familiar with the objects I use inside the piano and it needs a lot of practise and trying and failing, so they actually become part of my language, and not just a gimmick.
Having said that, I don’t practice every day, I go through phases where I play a lot and others where I don't. I spend time with music every day, but that can be listening, recording, playing at a concert or just thinking about projects, my music.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance?
Those are always elements that are somehow surprising and work together in a performance - for example a new instrument, a different piano, every time I play a concert, new acoustics, a different audience; they are of course all related to each other.
Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned out to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?
That's very difficult to answer. I work with sounds and noise, so it changes constantly and it's all transformable and stimulating in a way.