Interview: Lynda Arnold & Daniel Berkman – Hammer Inventions

by Elizabeth Maskasky

Magazine     >    Features

Written by Elizabeth Maskasky for THE ARTISTS FORUM, MAGAZINE
Edited by Amos White V for THE ARTISTS FORUM, Inc
Photos: Jessika Vermette


SAN FRANCISCO, CA (September 29, 2011) Hammer Inventions is an experimental piano album by two San Francisco Bay Area musicians: The Artists Forum Artist of the Month – April 2008 and The Artists Forum Electronic Music Grand Prize winner Lynda Arnold (aka Divasonic) and Daniel Berkman (who sometimes performs under the moniker ‘Colfax’).

Both artists have very unique backgrounds in terms of musical training and experimentation. While Arnold is best known as a flutist, vocalist, and electronic artist, Berkman received international training in playing the kora, an ancient West African string instrument.

Hammer Inventions, as an album that is part acoustic piano and part a push against the traditional boundaries of the instrument, reflects the diverse backgrounds of its creators. Implicitly referencing artists like John Cage and George Winston, Arnold and Berkman call our attention to the nuances and possibilities of an instrument that often seems so familiar and so deceptively simple as to be taken for granted. Hammer Inventions obviously takes great pleasure in deeply scrutinizing all of the piano’s capabilities, and for that reason it is a truly enjoyable take on that classic genre, the piano duo.


Elizabeth Maskasky: Can you talk a little about the timeline for the album? When it’s going to be released and where you are now in the process?
Lynda Arnold: The album comes out October 15, 2011, and there will be a CD release party in San Francisco. We’d love to travel and go to New York, as well as play in the Bay Area. Yoshi’s Jazz Club would be the ultimate local place to perform.

EM: Can you both talk about how long you’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and what impact that’s had on your musical development, either in terms of style or in terms of audience reception?
Daniel Berkman: I’ve lived in San Francisco for fifteen years now. I feel like it’s very receptive to eclectic types of music and experimentation. Having been brought up in LA and then lived in Connecticut, San Francisco seemed like the place where I could put everything in the melting pot because I wasn’t completely defined as a musician yet. I came here to discover new things and think the Bay Area is especially great for musicians who are just starting out.

LA: I’m actually from Long Island but went to music school in Indiana. I’ve been out here for twelve years and also feel that it’s a great place to define yourself as an artist. I started programming and producing music here and have been able to throw my own events. I started playing flute with DJs in the local clubs and one thing led to another. In some ways it’s hard to break through out here but there’s also an experimental community where you can put things together in a neat way. For example, with Hammer Inventions, we started out wanting to do a concept album using only piano sounds — what we ended up with was a record that plays with piano notes electronically. It’s influenced by Philip Glass, as well as our own experiences with programming.

EM: From what I’ve heard of the album so far, it seems to have a very minimalistic feel. Also, Lynda, you’re known in part for being a talented vocalist and I noticed an absence of vocals.
LA: The album is all sounds generated from the piano; we wanted to stick with that pretty strictly. That being said, sticking to only sounds generated from the piano actually opened a lot of doors and allowed us to experiment in new ways. We took John Cage and his experiments with prepared piano (putting objects like nuts and bolts in the piano strings to alter the sounds) as an inspiration, doing some prepared piano ourselves. We also used sounds from Daniel’s toy piano (pictured here) and electronically modified piano notes to create the illusion of having percussion and so on.

EM: Both of you have pretty diverse backgrounds as far as the instruments and styles you’ve experimented with. What motivates you to, for example, decide to put down the flute or the kora and create a piano album? Is that something that just happens through the right collaboration coming along?
DB: Something I really enjoy is being able to play around with my identity as an artist. People define me as a kora player but when Lynda and I started working together, I began defining myself as a pianist. Which was interesting for me because my father is a pianist and so the piano has always been a part of my life. He’s 82 years old and still playing the piano.

LA: Piano was the major instrument I studied in college. The first CD I created was Grace Notes, a piano CD. I was actually envisioning something like Grace Notes with two people when Daniel and I began working together- but because of our electronic influence it turned into a much more experimental CD. Piano for me is a very reflective instrument. I also make my living as a piano teacher.

DB: Lynda is the ‘real’ piano player of the group!

LA: (laughing) I’ve tried helping him with his technique but he’s too long gone.

EM: I know this album is self-funded and I was wondering what role that played in its development?
LA: Every time you fund a project, you get smarter about it. The biggest expense has been the studio time. We recorded all of the acoustic piano parts at Broken Radio Recording Studios, where we were able to use George Winston’s piano. Winston is another major influence on the album and we felt it was worth the cost to get to use his piano. It took us three sessions and since then he’s actually moved the piano out of there so we were some of the last people to get to use it!

EM: Do either of you have in mind what your next project will be after this? Do you see another collaboration happening in the future?
DB: After this, I’m working on a follow up to my next Colfax CD; it’s going to be a retro sci-fi electronic record. But I would love to do another collaboration with Lynda in the future.

LA: Getting married! We’ll probably do a remix of Hammer Interventions at some point as well. As we’ve been finishing the record, I’ve been finding other piano sounds I’d like to work with.

The pair is currently in the process of scheduling a regional tour of piano stores across Northern California, so look for upcoming events in your local area. You can also purchase the album starting Oct. 1, 2011 directly from the artists at Bandcamp and Reverbnation at the links below.

For more information about Hammer Inventions, visit the following weblinks:

Enjoy an exclusive from The Artists Forum Magazine!
A free single from the Hammer Inventions CD, entitled Vortex

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