Wayne Laird's Atoll Records can boast an impressive catalogue of 70 or so CDs ranging from Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra playing on the contemporary side to historic recordings by Inia Te Wiata and Richard Farrell.

That two of the three finalists for Best Classical Album in this year's Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards - the Ogen Trio's Ahi and trombonist David Bremner's Gung-Ho - come from the Atoll stable, says it all.

The label's latest, Deconstruction: Tzenka Dianova plays Satie and Cage, may seem to have little to do with this part of the world, but, for some years, the Bulgarian-born pianist was very much part of the local concert scene while studying for her PhD at the University of Auckland.

Her thesis, John Cage's Prepared Piano: The Nuts and Bolts won a Vice-Chancellor's Prize in 2007 and is now available through the pianist's website.

"The University offered a fantastic programme," Dianova tells me from her home in Canada. "Others that I looked at were too theoretically based, not so encouraging of individuality and originality."

Dianova's new CD settles upon two of the most original composers of the 20th century - the Frenchman Erik Satie and the American Cage, with their ever-questioning and distinctly waggish senses of humour.

"Such humour is really necessary," Dianova laughs. "Remember the olden days when the Kings had jesters to keep a control on the flattery.

"It helps to keep people sharp."

The central premise of the CD is Cage's prepared piano - imagine a grand piano in which everything from nuts and bolts to rubber and paper have been wedged between the strings, making the player sound like a one-person band from Bali.

"Yet Cage's music for prepared piano is written so clearly that it feels like you're reading Mozart," Dianova explains. "And he creates all these amazing sounds, sounds that purify your hearing and retune your ears."

Setting up the instrument "took many, many hours at first", she tells me. "Now it's a bit easier. But you have to be really careful not to damage the piano."

As for most bizarre thing that ever nestled amongst the strings, Dianova settles for "that infamous bridge that Cage asks for in his Piano Concerto but never explained what it was".

I'm imagining some wizardry that compresses the Auckland Harbour Bridge into a piano case, but Dianova's solution was a plastic ruler inserted under the strings. "It applied pressure on the strings, just like a bridge on the violin."

The two Cage works on the CD are a magnificently brooding The Perilous Night and the revels-to-end-all-revels of Bacchanale, recast by Dianova as a duet with Sarah Watkins. "Cage wanted it to sound like a big percussion orchestra. I felt it was lacking a bit of bounce with just one player.

"When the piano is prepared the sound becomes much quieter. Adding more bass and a little extra in the top register gets just the right drumming effect."

The final track, the third of three Satie offerings, presents the few bars of the Frenchman's Vexations as a 14-minute chill-out on the bell-toned celesta. "I was playing celesta on Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra," Dianova says. "It was the loveliest sound I had ever heard and just the right one for Vexations.

"It was a tough one to record," she adds. "You can still hear some of the sound of metal plates being struck but then, if this noise exists, it should be there."

And when the dynamic Dianova is not exploring the exotic soundworlds of her new CD, what composers does she turn to?

"Brahms!" is her quick response.

"I feel when I play his music that it's my music. You don't have to do anything or figure out how to do anything; the music just comes out. I love Ravel, too, but I really have to think how to do things. It's not so intuitive."

Deconstruction: Tzenka Dianova plays Satie & Cage (Atoll Records)