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Free improv duo Audrey Chen and Frederic Blondy perform at Pitt

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Back in my eighth-grade music class, we all did presentations on an instrument, and one kid brought in his bass to show us his skills. Our teacher was impressed that he played correctly -- notes, not chords. As she pointed out, the bass was made to be played one note at a time. It was a scrupulousness befitting a middle-school teacher, but even at that tender age it struck me that perhaps there was something more to music than what Mrs. Hamill was willing to let pass.

Audrey Chen and Frederic Blondy are two musicians whose work flies in the face of anyone who's ever insisted that there's a right and wrong way to play an instrument. Both combine traditional playing with what's commonly called "extended technique" -- ways of using an instrument to make sounds that it wasn't originally intended to produce.

Chen is an active member of Baltimore's High Zero Collective, which produces a yearly festival of free improv music, and the associated weekly Red Room series. She's made a name for herself, both in Baltimore and internationally, as a passionate improviser, combining more traditional cello work with extended techniques and vocal work. During performances, she can range from intense quiet to a nearly frightful caterwauling.

Frederic Blondy, a French pianist, has a long list of past collaborations with other improv artists. His modus operandi generally involves "prepared piano" -- toying with the insides of the piano and placing objects inside it to create different sounds. It's a method made popular by many of the great 20th-century minimalists, most notably John Cage.

Chen and Blondy have collaborated in the past, and bring their chemistry to the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium, on Pitt's campus, April 2. They appear with a couple local musicians who might also have gotten on Mrs. Hamill's bad side -- circuit-benders Margaret Cox and Michael Johnsen. Middle-school teachers, beware.


Audrey Chen and Frederic Blondy, with Margaret Cox and Michael Johnsen. 8 p.m. Wed., April 2. Frick Fine Arts Auditorium, University of Pittsburgh campus, Oakland. $10. All ages. 412-361-2262

Intense quiet: Audrey Chen
  • Intense quiet: Audrey Chen

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