Meditation, Hania Rani style

The Shaman of Sounds series presents gifted Berlin-based Polish pianist

Hania Rani (photo credit: ALFHEIDUR GUDMUNDSDOTTIR)
Hania Rani
Live Piano Meditations sounds something like a no-brainer. Surely, when you go to a concert your thoughts and emotions are automatically triggered. Hence, the meditative element of the event title should be something of a given.
Then again, the program devised as part of the Shamans of Sound series at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art tomorrow (doors open 8:30 p.m.) seems to incorporate some added cerebral and emotional benefits to the regular onstage concert format.
For starters, the lineup is particularly intriguing, with stellar Israeli pianist-vocalist Shlomi Shaban featured along with Berlin-based Polish pianist Hania Rani. Then there is Yehezkel Raz, who will get up to all kinds of tricks, on piano, samplers and a motley collection of electronic devices, while Shir Sofer will lay on a very different sonic and spiritual zeitgeist as he works his magic on Tibetan bowls, gongs and other instruments he has collected through years of traveling the world and exploring ancient cultures.
The audience experience will also be impacted by the individual performance spaces, and the creations housed in one of them. While Shaban and Rani will play, separately, in the Asia Hall conventional concert auditorium, Raz and Sofer will bounce their offerings off the works currently on display in the A New Age: The Spiritual in Art exhibition gallery with listeners spread around them sitting or, if they wish, lying down.
Rani should bring a different breath of air to the proceedings. The 29-year-old Polish pianist and composer talks about Mother Nature’s influence and the environmental elements that work their way into her creative mind and, hence, into her keyboard work. “I think it is about my travels. I haven’t done very big travels. I haven’t been to South America or India yet,” she laughs.
Lack of geographic scope notwithstanding, Rani says being in verdant open surroundings lifts her spirits. “I don’t get a lot of opportunity to be in nature, because I live in quite a big city.” Luckily, her profession helps her get out and about and one particular gig brought her to the region of the Bieszczady Mountains in southeast Poland. It proved to be an epiphanic juncture in her personal and artistic development. “I had never been there before and it was an important moment for my music because I felt it was the right place for me to be. I look around and, somehow, I felt it was the right way to learn how to see things, how to listen.”
That was in 2016, and more recently, those sentiments found their way into Rani’s debut release Esja which is described as “a series of beautiful melodic vignettes, inspired by, Berlin, Iceland and the wild mountains in Bieszczady, as well as a love of art and architecture.” The jaunt to the mountainous region also spawned a cut off the album, called “Biesy.”
That is a rich disciplinary and sensorial palette off which to feed, and Rani felt primed and ready to roll. “That was the moment that I started to record my first album,” she says. Another inspiring foray was about to unfold. “That was the time I went to Iceland,” Rani continues. “Many important things happened to me at the same time, and Iceland became an important place for my recordings, because I think after about a year and a half I was invited to record half my album there.”
The wide open spaces of Iceland and, possibly to a lesser extent, the Polish countryside, appear to have imbued Rani’s creative output with an expensive trajectory. Esja is replete with eddying lines that seem to set off energy ripples that undulate toward and beyond the horizon. “Being in Reykjavik and Iceland, was very important to me, not only because I like it as a space and nature but also because I recorded and composed there, and I was thinking what the new album would be sounding like.”
One of the most fascinating aspects of listening to jazz musicians who hail from different parts of the world is discerning how their cultural baggage, and geographic milieu, colors their work. That, for example, comes across clearly in the work of Norwegian jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek who, to me, always sounds like he is playing from the top of a mountain or possibly, overlooking a fjord. Rani gets that. “I am not lucky enough to live in the countryside, and I am not a fan of the big city. I seek this space, in art.”
Indeed, immersing ourselves in art can enable us be transported to other vistas and into other energy, emotional fields and planes of consciousness. “That is what I hope to achieve in the concert in Tel Aviv, to somehow make people focus for some time and forget about their troubles and things they have to do. Maybe people in the audience can be transported to another place.”
Rani’s listeners, and those who opt for the other shows during the evening too, should be ready to set off for a cerebral trip through imagined domains. I noted to the pianist that the event moniker seems like a good choice. She informed me the program is designed to get the public in the right state of mind to go with the thematic flow. “I only found out a few days ago, from the event artistic director, that before the concert there will be a meditation session.
I heard that [Serbian performance artist] Marina Abramovic does something like that before her exhibitions.” That sounds spot on, as Abramovic is one of the contributing artists to the The Spiritual in Art exhibition. “She prepared people to see her exhibition, beforehand. Some people actually got annoyed because they said they don’t have so much time,” Rani laughs. “But, in the end, it was the only possible way to really experience it, her exhibition.”
Rani has been experiencing a wide range of musical forms since the word go. “I had a really long classical education. I started when I was 7. I studied classical music for over 20 years – first in Gdansk, in north Poland, then in Warsaw and then in Berlin.” Rani’s interest was sparked by her domestic backdrop. “Nobody in my family is a musician but music was always a very important part of everyday life. We sang a lot, we played instruments. Music was important.”
By that she means music in general. “I listened to pop and rock and all kinds of things. There were periods of time when I would explore every kind of music. I become fascinated with jazz when I was 13, and then there was electronic music and more experimental. Maybe metal was not there yet,” she jokes. But, let’s see. I can’t see it will never be another part of my musical education. And I went to concerts, and I liked to be around people who were doing very interesting things in the arts.” All of which, to varying degrees, informs what she does today.
She says she is keeping her options open. “Music is music. When I travel I hear and see other artists, or I hear music on the streets, or on the radio when I’m in a car. It is so interesting for me. But it is about quality not quantity.”
Still, it is one thing taking sounds on board, and it can be an entirely different thing fusing them into one’s own work. In jazz, artists talk about how, when one is starting out, you tend to listen to the greats of the art form, and learn how they did what they do so well. But, at some stage, it’s time to grow up and strike out on your own. The term used in jazz is “finding your own voice.”
While Rani has a singular fluid sound she says she is very much still a work in progress. “I think I am still look for my own voice. I started to learn from the masters, to mix what I know from classical music, from other things I listened to, and from one of my first inspirations [German musician, composer and record producer] Nils Frahm.” It is not difficult to see how Frahm’s oeuvre impacts on her evolving output.
But Rani is very much her own person. “I listened to the masters and then I started to explore my own voice. I am trying to follow my own intuition. I think music is very intuitive.”
For tickets and more information: