Zubin Kanga


"Groundbreaking or cutting-edge … on this debut NMC solo disc by Australian pianist and composer Zubin Kanga, those adjectives are warranted."

Liam Cagney, Gramophone

"not afraid to explore conceptual and expressive horizons well beyond the boundaries of a traditional piano recital"

Ben Wilkie, Limelight Magazine

"It would be difficult to imagine a more skillful advocate, patron and practitioner of this repertoire than Kanga"

Max Erwin, TEMPO

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Zubin Kanga is a pianist, composer, and technologist. For over a decade, he has been at the forefront of curating and creating interdisciplinary musical programmes that seek to explore and redefine what it means to be a performer through interactions with new technologies.

In 2020, following his appointment as Lecturer in Musical Performance and Digital Arts at Royal Holloway University, Kanga was awarded a £1.4 million UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellowship to fund his latest multi-year project Cyborg Soloists, which is unlocking new possibilities in composition and performance through interactions with AI and machine learning, interactive visuals and VR, motion and biosensors, and new hybrid instruments. His Cyborg Soloists work was recently featured in The New York Times, The Wire and Limelight Magazine.

Zubin has premiered more than 150 works and performed at many international festivals including the BBC Proms, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, London Contemporary Music Festival (UK) Melbourne Festival (Australia), Modulus (Canada), Musica Strasbourg, Festival Présences and Festival d’Automne Paris (France), Flagey Piano Days (Belgium), Time of Music (Finland), Klang (Denmark), PODIUM (Germany), Gaudeamus and November Music (Netherlands).

Recent collaborations include Philip Venables’ Answer Machine Tape, 1987, which explores the AIDS crisis through a crucial week in the life of New York artist David Wojnarowicz, using a KeyScanner to allow the piano to type text onto the screen like a typewriter; Neil Luck’s Whatever Weighs You Down, using MiMU sensor gloves to interact with Deaf performance artist Chisato Minamimura; and Alexander Schubert’s internet-based score WIKI-PIANO.NET (performed 30 times across 9 countries as well as the BBC World Service) as well as a new collaboration with Schubert, Steady State, that will use EEG brain sensors to control sound and light.

In April 2023, Zubin released Machine Dreams on nonclassical, which focused new works written for electronic instruments. His second album release of the year followed in September, with Cyborg Pianist on NMC, placing the acoustic piano at the heart of the recording, challenging composers to incorporate cutting-edge technology to work with and against the piano.

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Cyborg Pianist (CD)

NMC (September 2023)

It's not uncommon these days for new releases to be saddled with adjectives like groundbreaking or cutting-edge. But from time to time, as on this debut NMC solo disc by Australian pianist and composer Zubin Kanga, those adjectives are warranted. 'Cyborg Pianist' is a result of Kanga's multi-year music research project Cyborg Soloists, hosted at Royal Holloway, exploring technological extensions of the piano. The double-disc release features associated music by a cohort of exciting British composers, and my overall impression is of a new wave of experimentalism, very much modern British in character, influenced by the likes of Jennifer Walshe and Matthew Shlomowitz and having little to do with traditional musical Britishness.

Take Oliver Leith's outstanding Vicentino, love you - studies for keyboard ... It's like Dowland mixed with Aphex Twin, with the wry humour of Satie, and, as with much else on the album, it's refreshing and youthful. ... Kanga's darting runs up the keyboard [in Osborn’s Counterfeits (Siminică] are compelling. ... On the British-Iranian composer Shiva Feshareki's Whirling Dervishes, Kanga is joined by the composer on turntable and electronics ... the electronics make the piano resplendent as Kanga moves up and down the keyboard in chromatic runs and shimmering harmonic series. ... Kanga uses MiMU sensor gloves to generate sounds through hand gestures. The gloves come on again for Kanga's composition Hypnagogia (after Bach) ... A wonderfully psychedelic synthesiser workout, it gives us a sense of the potential the synthesiser ... has for generating luscious, complex sounds in a concert-hall context.

Liam Cagney, Gramophone

The Australian born pianist and composer Zubin Kanga's current research project, Cyborg Soloists, explores technology-driven keyboard music. A stunning piano virtuoso, he uses multiple types of keyboards, capable of playing microtones and seamless glissandi, plus new forms of interaction, including wearables. His Sept. 30 concert at Kings Place, in London, launched his new album and featured four world premieres and two pieces he premiered last year; most are based on reimagining standard piano figuration or music of the past. ...

Many instrument builders and music technologists have explored ways of expanding the capabilities of the piano, but their ideas have been forgotten, or at best confined to a museum display, because no repertoire was created. Without composers writing for new technology, it will not survive. By collaborating with many composers of our time, Kanga is doing everything possible to create exciting repertoire for himself, and a lasting legacy for his research. 

Caroline Potter, If Care If You Listen (ICIYL)

Machine Dreams (CD)

nonclassical, April 2023

Machine Dreams is Kanga's most comprehensive work to date ... In a sense, it's a showcase of all the ways in which contemporary tehcnology can exist in a symbiotic relationship with art, from physical interfaces like MiMU sensor gloves to, yes, AI-generated sound sequences. But beyond the oft fascinating technical aspects and compositional ingenuity of the ten pieces on the record, it's their inherent humanity that renders them successful, while sparks of whimsy and authentic emotion give them an endearing sheen. ...

Listening to the music and reading about the instruments employed, one can easily imagine the sheer physicality required to perform the pieces. As a pianist, Kanga naturally relies on his whole body while playing, but his works using MiMU motion tracking gloves and similar digital and mechanical paraphernalia elevate the performative, corporeal dimension into a crucial aspect of his art. ...

As the final, scratchy notes of the cut fade out, another significance of Machine Dreams emerges. While the music could not have been realised without these specific technologies, it's a spark of the intangible, of human creativity, that brings it to life. As Holly Herndon recently remarked on Twitter, truly innovative art based on AI will not be found in repetition and echoes of past works but in "approaches we don't have words for yet". The music of Zubin Kanga has been heading there for a while.

Antonio Poscic, The Quietus

With a growing fascination bordering on mild hysteria over the disruptive intrusion of AI into our daily life, there is no better time for an album like this to be released to the general public. ...

Most pertinently, Kanga provides a rare opportunity for a diverse range of composers to test their abilities and see if they can make these tools exciting, which is an added bonus to the purely sonic realm of this album. By exploring these technologies in the hands of talented composers, we can gain a better understanding of what they have to offer. Hopefully, Kanga's Cyborg Soloist project will inspire more experimentation and creativity with these tools, but, for now, we can simply enjoy the music of Machine Dreams without worrying too much about what the machines themselves are dreaming of.

Marat Ingeldeev, All About Jazz ****

With his characteristically sophisticated, striking and uniquely oneiric performance, Kanga's Machine Dreams pushes the boundaries of what is possible with just a piano, and redefines what it means to be a performer through interactions with new technologies.

London Daily News

Neil Luck / Whatever Weighs You Down (UK Premiere)

Cafe Oto (October 2022)

Zubin Kanga carries himself with style, charisma and quiet confidence. ...

The show commenced with composer Nina Whiteman's Cybird Cybird ... It made for a fabulous and chaotic proof-of-concept that engaged in effortless conversation withe the crowd, prompting laughter and closing in joyous applause. ...

The elements laid bare in the first half found focus during the UK premiere of Whatever Weighs You Down in collaboration with Neil Luck. Poetry, keys, multi-monitor video recordings ... and cyber-soloist kit worked together in a fantastic tour-de-force which filled the meaning of the term 'multi modal' to its very brim.

... I walked away from the two-part performance inspired by the depth of imagination in Kanga's collaboration. ... The show convinced me that strategic arts funding can kindle communities, new media and opportunities for performers to recontextualise their talent, with artists like Zubin Kanga putting co-creators at the heart of their work. Immersive, intense and excitingly novel, Kanga's art-form inspired curiosity and gave me faith in the future of performance capability.

Peter Page, The Cusp

Selected Reviews

But it was impossible not to be gripped and fascinated by Zubin Kanga’s Steel on Bone, featuring the adventurous composer-pianist all wired up with electronics, poking around in his piano’s innards wearing expensive multi-sensor gloves that transfer hand movements into sound. Henry Cowell, the pioneering American piano basher famous for his cluster chords played with the forearms, would surely have loved the bravura and madness of Steel on Bone. I know I did

Geoff Brown, The Times

More rewarding musically was the set from pianist Zubin Kanga, in which spacey, clangorous sounds obtained by electronically distorting a piano were often laid alongside familiar musical gestures, including (in Laurence Osborn's Absorber) processions of guileless common chords, sullied gradually by foreign notes - a fascinating effect.

Ivan Hewitt, The Telegraph ****

Kanga’s Piano Ex Machina is a rewarding experience, rich in possibility, infused with curiosity and playfulness, and not afraid to explore conceptual and expressive horizons well beyond the boundaries of a traditional piano recital

Ben Wilkie, Limelight Magazine

It would be difficult to imagine a more skillful advocate, patron and practitioner of this repertoire than Kanga – from the frenetic flailing of Rose’s contraption to the neo-Gnostic delicacy of McLaughlin’s metastable assemblage, he is always in complete, charming command of the performance situation – a debonair cyborg emcee

Max Erwin, TEMPO

Zubin Kanga lifted his hands off the piano and over his shoulders, slow-motion, Matrix-style, the fading resonance of the instrument twisting and morphing through electronics... Overall Cyborg Pianist was slick and incredibly fun. Kanga is a dynamic and versatile pianist, bringing both virtuosity and a sense of play to his performances, deftly juggling the technical and dramatic requirements of the diverse works... From the sepulchral beauty of Ricketson’s The Day After Drowning to the delightful B-movie antics of Transplant the Movie!, Zubin Kanga’s Cyborg Pianist was a fascinating exploration of piano, theatre and technology

Angus McPherson, Limelight Magazine

Kanga's interpretation was engrossing, the work's mutable rhythmic steadiness and continuous juxtaposition of pointillism with colour-washes accomplished splendidly, the performance reaching a serenely illuminating climax across the last two sonatas, where the gentle clangour generated by this gifted pianist invested the festival with a blaze of retrospective creative brilliance

Clive O'Connell, The Age

An exciting program of new works that were conceptually united by the idea of extension and expansion through various forms of electronically generated mirroring. Kanga is an equally exciting pianist, effortlessly virtuosic and in complete command of this (quite literally) electrifying modern repertoire

Lisa MacKinney, Limelight Magazine

For Kanga, electronics are clearly not an addition, but a fundamental part of working with his instrument, and the physicality of his performance a keystone rather than an afterthought.... It is because of Kanga’s assuredness not just as a pianist but as a performer of sound and action that this programme worked so well as a whole

Ann Murray, The Journal of Music

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Answer Machine Tape, 1987

A major new work for piano and multimedia by Philip Venables, created in collaboration with Zubin Kanga and dramatist Ted Huffman, focussing on new York visual artist David Wojnarowicz and the turbulent period leading up to the death of close friend and fellow artist Peter Hujar from an AIDS-related illness in 1987.

It uses a transcription of Wojnarowicz's answering machine tape in the days leading up to Hujar's death, featuring calls from Hujar, other artists, friends and lovers, to explore not just his life, but that period of the New York art scene, queer history and the AIDS crisis.

Using new technology, the piano will function not just as an acoustic instrument, but as a typewriter to transcribe sections of the tape onto screen, as well as a controller to add electronic sound and light.

This will be Philip Venables' first major work for solo piano.


Earth of the Slumbering and Liquid Trees

Composer Benjamin Tassie has worked with pianist Zubin Kanga to create a new large-scale musical work as part of Royal Holloway’s UKRI-funded research project, ‘Cyborg Soloists’. To make the piece, Benjamin has visited and recorded some of the world’s most important historical organs including the 1479 Van Straten pipe organ held in the collection at Orgelpark, Amsterdam, a 1680 chamber organ in the collection at St Cecelia’s Hall, Edinburgh, and a late 16th Century cabinet organ (thought to be the oldest organ in England) in the private collection at Knole House, Kent. In the piece, Earth of the Slumbering and Liquid Trees, these ancient instruments will be transformed using the latest technology; performed using the innovative ‘4D’ ROLI keyboards, combined with analogue synthesisers, and presented in 360-degree multi-speaker surround-sound.

Tassie’s new work is monolithic; a 70 minute-long immersion in organ and synthesiser sound. New digital sampler instruments will be performed using ROLI keyboards, allowing Kangato sculpt and transform the sound of these historic organs, manipulating their timbre, pitch, and colour as he plays. By incorporating analogue synthesisers, the performance will make connections across the centuries from Medieval church organs to 1960s synthesiser music, and beyond. Further, reflecting the immensity of church and cathedral organs, the work will be programmed in quadraphonic sound with the audience seated within an enveloping circle of loudspeakers, immersed within a multi-layered generosity of sound. Engaging with ideas of contemplation, ritual, and transformation, Earth of the Slumbering and Liquid Trees will offer a space for reflection and joyful sensory immersion, bringing together ancient and contemporary technologies and instruments to create a unique and truly extraordinary experience.


Piano and Multimedia

The Piano and Multimedia programme explores how an acoustic instrument can be expanded using new technologies:

Shiva Feshareki envelops the piano with immersive electronics created using her virtuosic turntable techniques and ambisonic surround sound, combined with immersive visuals. Zubin Kanga draws together analogue synthesizers and ROLI’s 4D expressive keyboards, creating cascading walls of sound.

Oliver Leith uses a TouchKeys keyboard to mould and bend sounds in this fragile and intimate work. Emily Howard’s work, inspired by Ada Lovelace, combines neuroscience and AI – using brain data collected from participants using ANT Neuro EEG sensors to inform the piano writing and video, as well as electronics derived from machine-learning, exploring multiple connections between music and mind.

Laurence Osborn’s Absorber 2 continues this successful series of virtuosic multi-keyboard works, with hands rapidly switching between manuals and keyboard sounds. Laura Bowler’s work Show Me explores musicians’ complex relationships with social media, from the professional to the toxic. It combines live video and audio (including talking emoji), speech, and movement theatre using MiMU’s sensor gloves to shape sounds in the air.


Machine Dreams

Machine Dreams is a programme for keyboards and multimedia which can be performed in venues which don't have access to an acoustic piano. It uses cutting-edge technology from Cyborg Soloists industry partners and includes new commissions by Mira Calix, Tansy Davies, Jasmin Kent Rodgman, Amble Skuse, Robin Haigh, Cee Haines, Alex Paxton and Zubin Kanga

Technology explored includes biosensors, heat and light sensors. MiMU gloves, ROLI and TouchKeys keyboards, as well as classic analogue and modular synthesizers.


Whirling Dervishes

Whirling Dervishes is a new 40-minute work by British-Iranian composer and turntablist, Shiva Feshareki, inspired by the ancient Sufi tradition where dancers spin until they reach a simultaneously meditative and ecstatic state.

The electronics were created out of Feshareki’s spatial turntable improvisations, edited together and distributed into a 360° sonic space using cutting-edge ambisonic technology. The reinvented sounds of her previous compositions, cathedral choirs, warped pianos and Shiva’s own voice swirl around the audience, infinitely transforming in a constant state of flux. At the eye of the maelstrom, the solo piano starts as a still centre, gradually building into tempestuous whirls of sounds. As an intrinsic element of the composition, there is a bespoke lighting display, linked to the movement of sound around the room, creating an immersive audio-visual experience for the audience.

Whirling Dervishes can also be performed in a duo version of variable length (18-50 minutes), with Shiva Feshareki performing live on turntables and electronics alongside Zubin Kanga on piano.


Whatever Weighs you Down

Composed by Neil Luck, Whatever Weighs you Down is a new 45-minute multimedia work for piano, electronics and movement.

It explores fissures in communication within media environments through the rhetoric of ‘object-based’ broadcasting; techniques for making multimedia environments accessible for audiences with visual and hearing impairments. This flexible approach to the creation of broadcast media allows its individual elements (i.e. audio, video, captioning) to be reconfigured, re-mixed, re-formatted.

Whatever Weighs you Down reframes a live piano performance as ‘object-based’. Kanga’s live performance will be underlined, outlined, and extrapolated out into electronic sound diffusion, video clips, subtitles, textual descriptions and performed gestures. The performance will mix piano performance, theatre, and live and pre-recorded video and electronics sculpted using MiMU’s motion/gesture-sensor glove technology. Central to the piece, Luck and Kanga will also collaborate with Chisato Minamimura, a deaf performance artist who integrates British Sign Language into her practice, who will appear on screen a parallel performer.

Whatever Weighs you Down disorientates and elucidates for the listener/viewer the slipperiness, truths and fallacies of multimedia constructs.