Zubin Kanga is far from the standard pianist you see in classical music recitals. His performances often integrate elements of multimedia – including electronics, film, live video and interactive technologies – and often explores this relationship between the live musician and technology. Ahead of his Victoria performance with us on 22 May, we sat down with Zubin to chat more about what to expect from tomorrow’s programme, including premieres from Neil Luck and Laurence Osborn and a new performance of Alexander Schubert’s WIKI-PIANO.NET
Tell us more about your programme on 22 May and what we can expect from it.
This is my first programme without any piano. I’ll be playing on electric pianos, piano samplers and analogue synths, combined with electronics and video.
I’ve commissioned works from two of the most exciting young composers in London, Neil Luck and Laurence Osborn, and have written a work myself that uses all the keyboards at my disposal. I’m also playing two modern classics by Stefan Prins (using the keyboard as a video sampler) and Simon Løffler (a wild and violent work for distorted electric piano) as well as a new performance of Alexander Schubert’s WIKI-PIANO.NET
How do you explore the relationship between live musicians and new technologies in your practice? Why does it interest you?
There’s huge scope for expanding what a live musician can do when they’re extended using these technologies. They can become hyper-virtuosos, or there can be a virtual duet onstage between the musician and the electronics or video. And the technology has evolved so that a composer or performer doesn’t need access to huge and expensive equipment or access to a specialist institution in order to produce really groundbreaking work of this type – it’s a mode of music making that has become widely accessible.
And most importantly, works of this type allow contemporary music to explore the way digital technology, screen cultures and the internet are integrated into every aspect of our lives.
On 22 May you’re performing new works from Laurence Osborn and Neil Luck. Can you tell us more about that?
Neil Luck and I have a long working relationship, starting from playing in some of the same concerts 8 or 9 years ago, to performing on his show for Resonance FM, to commissioning him to write 2018, which explored pianists of the future getting engineered to have extremely specialised limbs. His new work, Modern Times and Forms of Love grew out of a workshop version at the Tate Modern last year, immerses the audience in many different layers of sound, theatre and context with speech, video, acting and an ever-changing palette of sounds from the keyboard. It starts as a marketing pitch about my keyboard, but becomes something deeper, about our deep intimate relationships with our technology.
Laurence Osborn has been a composer I’ve been following for some time, with some really impressive and ambitious work (including part of the Concerto for Drum Machine and Orchestra presented by nonclassical last year). His work for me combines an electric piano and a sampler, featuring vintage 80s samples. But this is then combined with virtuosic double-manual approach to the two keyboards, like that found in Bach or Couperin. At this gig, I’ll be premiering the first two movements of the work, featuring choir pads and a Fender Rhodes sound.
You're also performing Alexander Schubert's WIKI-PIANO.NET, an interactive audio-visual work that invites audience members to add/edit content to the piece. What sort of content have people submitted in the past?
There’s been so much great content on this site. People have written their names in the notation, I’ve had to play along with pop songs, from Burt Bacharach to The Knife, and movie/TV music from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Stranger Things, there’s been a very sweary video review of the Sibelius software, there’s been semi-pornographic ASMR videos, there’s bad Will Smith memes, there was a Brian Ferneyhough disco remix, someone writing ‘unless' in front of every sentence and lots of local memes and in-jokes (especially about Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival for that performance).
And most interesting of all have been the meta-videos, where I either play along with another concert film from an earlier performance, or taking lots of other people’s content and making a psychedelic compilation.
What are you looking forward to the most on 22 May?
The nonclassical gigs always have a special vibe with a really enthusiastic and relaxed audience. It’s really great to get out of stuffy concert halls and into a band venue like The Victoria. I’m really looking forward to premiering these very different new works and getting this audience’s reactions, bringing to life a new version of WIKI-PIANO.NET made by this audience, as well as rocking out with my own piece (full of delays/loops and throbbing synth sounds) and Løffler’s heavy-metal wildness. I've been a fan of nonclassical's work since moving to London more than a decade ago so I'm stoked to be invited to headline their gig.
You can see Zubin perform at our next nonclassical night at The Victoria, Dalston on 22 May. You can book tickets on the event page.