Five Chilling Mammoths – Maya Dunietz

Pianos are solitary creatures, usually found standing alone in living rooms, rehearsal halls, studios, and on auditorium stages. These massive, wondrous, yet tamed beasts can be controlled with the tip of a finger. However, as they age and their bodies expand and crack, their screws loosen and their strings fall out of tune, they become feral. What would happen if they were set free in the wild? What other sounds do they hold within, beyond the measured, familiar gestures which have come to define them?

Sound artist Maya Dunietz, saviour and saint of retired pianos, decided to explore their feral sounds. She established a family of five retired pianos, gathered from different corners of the world. Each family member is an individual of unique characteristics within the collective. These large, broken, and damaged beasts have already shed their function and identity. As their voice no longerdepends on a hammer striking a string, they distance themselves from what is standard and favour the potential in change. 

Curious to find out what sounds they would make, Dunietz hybridized the pianos with low-frequency transducers. These transducers, or “buttkickers”, are essentially large magnets drilled into the pianos, pushing and pulling their heavy bodies, thus inspiring them to roar, hum, and tremble. The magnets receive digital signals composed by Dunietz through a unique algorithmic system programmed by sound artist Daniel Meir, her project partner. These signals, amplified through the transducers, interact with the pianos and become audible, while spreading outward from the pianos into the room, reverberating between the walls and other objects, continually adding sound layers. Within this process, previously unheard sounds arise, sounds one would never have expected from a piano.

The algorithm that ignites the sounds of the pianos was influenced by the number √2. Historically, √2 was discovered by Pythagoras to be the length of a diagonal of a 1x1 square. This discovery undermined the fundamental mathematical-philosophical principle of antiquity by demonstrating that positive real numbers did not govern the universe. Incommensurable as the ratio of integers, the very existence of unmentioned, surd, or irrational numbers – as they were called through the ages – has been debated for millennia. Dealing with these numbers meant messing with the dark forces of nature. Fascinated by the qualities and history of irrational numbers, Dunietz and Meir wanted to incorporate them into the work. 

 To construct their algorithmic system, Dunietz and Meir selected number pairs: x and 2x, expressing low and high frequencies one octave apart. They calculated two possible middle points for each pair: their arithmetic mean (a + c2) and their geometric mean (ac), for a total of four related frequencies. They transmitted these frequencies to groups of three pianos: the first piano received the basic, low frequency; the second piano received the high frequency; the third piano received a frequency oscillating between the arithmetic and geometric means of the first two, thus creating a relationship between the three pianos. Each piano of the original family of five served as a member in multiple trios: the middle, oscillating frequency of one trio became the low frequency of another trio. This process generated a continuous increase in movement. 

The entire group of pianos shifts from unity to complexity, from organization to anarchy. The usual rules can no longer contain them, and they have sloughed off the system of power that created them for its own use. The power of reason cannot withstand a tidal wave of passion. Emancipated from the constraints of the Equal Temperament’s regime and normative order, the pianos are also released from the tyranny of the normal. They are unusual, deviant, fluid, unpopular. They are stray weeds outside the system. Their flaws are no longer a dead end, but rather constitute raw material. They are instruments that can be used to pave a new path.

The sounds produced by the pianos are free of standard tonal ranges. The notes seem to cry out without hierarchy or fixed focus. With no comforting familiar framework to provide a foothold, the music throbs through large, weary wooden bodies. The pianos growl, roar, purr, squeak, and whistle. Their song resonates the relationships between them. They shift in and out in a futile effort to reach some impossible middle ground. The song has no major or minor but rather embodies their infinite search for a point of equilibrium. In this universe of beats,Five Chilling Mammothsreminds us that sound is the movement of matter, be it string, wood, flesh, or air.

The first encounter with the piano's song may seem threatening to someone unaccustomed to being freed from twelve regimented half-tones. An uncontrolled tremor may be produced in the body. However, if we let go, as the pianos have, we too could be swept away by their dynamics, regulate our pulses with theirs, becoming part of their movement. This movement is vibration, a force of nature that we hear, feel, and touch with our bodies. As our body reacts to this tangible vibration, it creates music of powerful nuance and frequency.   

- Ran Kasmy Ilan, 2020


Built by Maya Dunietz and David Lemoine

Composed by Maya Dunietz and Daniel Meir 


Recorded at Frac Paca byRudy Romeur

Mixed by Daniel Meir

Mastering by Joe Talia

Photographs by Hadas Satt

Recording was made possible with the kind help of GMEM & FRAC PACA. 

Record produced by The Artists’ Residence Herzliya for the exhibitionSlightly Alive(2021)

and The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts for Maya Dunietz’s solo exhibition (2022)

Special thanks to: Adi Nachman, Shual studio, Sergio Edelstein, Dr. Noa Shuval, Dr. Liat Even-Dar Mandel, Assaf Talmudi, Yoav Beirach, Sergio Edelsztein, Kibudunitz.

1 - Mamutaz Marker 6 [10:07]
2 - Mamutaz Marker 14 [07:27]
3 - Mamutaz Marker 15 [04:39]
4 - Mamutaz Marker 7 [06:57]
5 - Mamutaz Marker 10 [07:32]
6 - Mamutaz Marker 3 [08:57]

Maya Dunietz

Maya Dunietz (1981) is a pianist, composer, creator of sculptures, installations and performances, combining singing, instrumentation and recording techniques with digital technologies and a varied array of materials. She merges different art fields into a single malleable mass. Her works are influenced by their spatial context; Dunietz has performed as soloist, composer and ensemble member with Meitar Ensemble, Saar Berger (Ensemble Modern), Bat Kol Choir, Hyperion Ensemble, Solistensemble Kaleidoskop, and others. Her works have been shown in institutions such as Centre Pompidou, Palais de Tokyo, Bemis Center of Contemporary Art, Fondation Cartier, Arnolfini Gallery, Reykjavik Arts Festival and many more.