Iron Orchid, David Bird’s collaborative electro-acoustic work for pianist Ning Yu, is the audio component of a larger multi-media sculpture project with sculptor Mark Reigelman, Echo Chamber. Consisting of 56 metal tubes, all containing an audio speaker, Echo Chamber is the physical and experiential embodiment of the sound sculpture. Exploring a wide range of techniques on and inside the piano over a pillow of swirling sine tones, the recording of Iron Orchid is a powerful sonic journey in its own right.
The realm of sound installation can trigger a lot of associations — static forms, ambient textures, ethereal timbres. Iron Orchid, the sibling musical work associated with the interactive multi-media sculpture Echo Chamber, defies these assumptions, covering a vast range of expressive and textural territory over its 34 minutes of music. Composer David Bird and pianist Ning Yu have cultivated a work that mines the material of the piano for its sonic potential (metal, wood, wire). The piece establishes immersive sound environments that are momentarily passive and active, while always evolving to create a larger expressive trajectory. The result is a piece that stands alone and independent as a powerful sonic document.
“Garden” opens the recording with a rolling tumult of microtonal tremolos in the low register of the piano, interwoven with apocalyptic, foreboding electronics. Later in the movement, chime-like harmonics activated with objects inside the piano toll in the accumulating winds of the electronics. “Iron” focuses on the variegated sound vocabulary of scrapes on the piano strings over an accumulating pillow of sine tones. As the electronics come alive into a percolating organism, we hear a solemn composite melody emerging from lone microtonal pitches.
“Interlude” begins a series of four short movements that make up the middle of the work, and which introduce a more conventional pianism, initially accompanied by dynamic electronics that respond with timed synchronicity. Over the course of “Prism,” we hear piano and electronics bubbling over as the line ascends in register, leaving only the twitching detritus of the musical exoskeleton of the movement as it ends. “A Thin War of Metal” settles into a deep groove allowing the piano to articulate angular, syncopated runs. Once again, an electronic doppelgänger replaces the acoustic image towards the end of the movement, providing a disconcerting mirror image. In “Between Walls,” the stunted sound of muted harmonics in the low register punctuates an unsettling undulation in the electronics.
The final movement in the piece, “Petals,” opens with haunting, anthropomorphic sounds emerging from a dystopian electronic landscape. Notes articulated with a slide inside the piano provide a plaintive counterpart to disembodied long tones over a background dotted by glitchy sounds of electronic interference. Iron Orchid is persistently dynamic. Electronics that provide context for the protagonist’s voice of the piano become animated while the keyboard role sometimes pivots to provide a layer in a multi-dimensional texture. Iron Orchid balances a character of alienation with an ever-present embedded lyricism that reaches out to the listener, a glint of light in austere expressive surroundings.
– Dan Lippel
Performed by Ning Yu
Produced and composed by David Bird
Engineered by Charles Mueller and Ryan Streber
Recorded at Oktaven Audio, Mt. Vernon, Ny
Mastered by Christopher Botta
Praised for her, “taut and impassioned performance” by the New York Times, pianist Ning Yu performs with vigor and dedication for traditional and repertoire of the 20th and 21st century on stages across the United States, Europe and Asia. Ning brings virtuosity and adventurous spirit to a wide range of music, both in solo performances and in collaborations with some of today’s most distinguished creative artists.
Working at the forefront of the current creative music scene in the US, Ning has given dozens of world premieres by esteemed composers such as Tristan Murail, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, David Lang, Michael Gordon, Enno Poppe, and collaborated with artists from different genres such as Sufjan Stevens, Glenn Kotche, Pete Swanson, and Bryce Dessner. She has performed with ensembles such as Bang on A Can All-Stars, ICE, Talea Ensemble, Signal Ensemble, counter)induction, and she is a member of the highly regarded piano/percussion quartet Yarn/Wire.
Ning appears in concert halls, international festivals, universities, and other non-traditional performance spaces. These venues include Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Museum of Modern Art , Miller Theater, Guggenheim Museum, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Monday Evening Concerts in Los Angeles, Library of Congress, Issue Project Room, Pioneer Works, Contempo Concert Series at University of Chicago, the Kennedy Center, Kimmel Center, Köln Philharmonie in Germany, Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam, Kwe- Tsing Theater in Hong Kong, Spoleto Festival, Rainy Day Festival in Luxembourg, Ultima Festival in Norway, Transit Festival in Belgium, Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, Singapore International Arts Festival, Princeton University, Stanford University, Columbia University, Yale University, Brown University, and Eastman School of Music.
In theater, Ning performed with Mabou Mines’ Dollhouse — a critically acclaimed production directed by Lee Breuer. She can be seen in the production’s feature-film version, produced by ARTE France. Ning has also collaborated with director Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project on the development of the Tony Award–nominated play 33 Variations.
Ning is the winner of the Boucourechliev Prize at the Ninth International Concours de Orléans in France — a competition devoted to piano repertoire from 1900 to today. Together with other members of Yarn/Wire, the first-prize winner of Open Category of the International M-Prize Chamber Music Competition, and the prestigious “40 under 40 award” of the Stony Brook University for outstanding alumni.
Ning is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music (B.M. And M.M.A) and Stony Brook University (D.M.A.). She is assistant professor of piano and chamber music at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Ning currently resides in New York City with her husband and daughter. She is a Yamaha Artist.
David Bird is a composer and multi-media artist based in New York City. His work explores the dramatic potential of electroacoustic and mixed media environments, often highlighting the relationships between technology and the individual. His work has been performed internationally, at venues and festivals such as the MATA festival in New York City; the Gaudeamus Festival in Utrecht, Netherlands; the Wien Modern Festival in Vienna, Austria; the SPOR festival in Aarhus, Denmark; the IRCAM Manifeste Festival in Paris, France; the Festival Mixtur in Barcelona, Spain. He has composed and collaborated with groups like the Ensemble Intercontemporain, the Jack Quartet, the Bozzini Quartet, Yarn/Wire, the Talea Ensemble, Mantra Percussion, the Mivos Quartet, the Austrian Ensemble for Contemporary Music (OENM), AUDITIVVOKAL Dresden, Ensemble Proton Bern, Loadbang, the TAK Ensemble, andPlay, and the Nouveau Classical Project. He is a founding member of the New York-based chamber ensemble TAK, and an artistic-director with Qubit New Music, a non-profit group that curates and produces experimental music events in New York City.
Pianist Ning Yu (Yarn/Wire) and composer David Bird originally created this music to be used as part of an interactive sound sculpture by Mark Reigelman in 2019, so it’s remarkable that it not only holds up on its own, but thrives as a piece of music. As the title suggests, the work revolves around the idea of metal, and in this context it sparkles, crashes, decays, and clangs. Bird’s electronics alternately seem to emanate from the acoustic patterns played by Yu, whether she’s playing dark left-handed clusters or scraping the strings inside of her instrument. Some of the electronic elements are objects inside of the piano, which generate odd harmonies with the keyboard. A series of shorter pieces reveal Yu’s artistry as a pianist, with electronic responses that alternate between shadowing and abstracting her playing, fighting against it, or finding harmony within it. Bird never settles for a single approach in his writing or in the application of electronics, yet the music never lacks cogency.
— Peter Margasak, 9.01.2021