|Mark Gasser performing Cat Hope's Chunk, The Mechanical Piano|
photo courtesy the artists
The concert featured a range of approaches to writing for this unique instrument. The most basic of these was the direct playback of a MIDI file by the Disklavier as evidenced in program opener Annie Gosfield’s Bottom of the Barrelhouse. Inspired by barrelhouse pianists, the piece combines dense layers of barrelhouse and boogie-woogie riffs. Collage pieces such as this always prove engaging as the listener tries to identify the component motifs. While the overall dynamic range of the piece was perhaps one-dimensional, it suited the thematic context of the composition.
Mark Gasser took to the stage to add a human element to the proceedings, performing Lindsay Vickery’s Reconstruction of a Shifting Path, premiered at Piano Tapestries as part of the Totally Huge New Music Festival in September last year (see review).In this piece the Disklavier reacts to music performed by the pianist with certain key presses triggering a variety of musical motifs that effectively give the performer extra limbs. The interplay between man and machine results in cascades of notes rippling across the piano keyboard and high speed trills running up the keys in strange arpeggiated patterns. It effectively creates a fascinating visual aesthetic to accompany some beautiful music.
Roland Adeney contributed an audio-visual composition entitled Rat Run. Projecting onto the floor from a ladder, Adeney triggers various video ‘modules’ eliciting a reaction in the Disklavier based on shape and probability-based randomness. The music itself was enjoyable with its one-dimensional language, but the 8-bit visuals were possibly distracting.
Lindsay Vickery’s second contribution to the program, Questions Written on Sheets of Glass, was an improvisation between bass clarinet and piano. Using live computer processing Vickery is able to extract harmonic material from his bass clarinet performance and arrange this as notes on the Disklavier keyboard. The resulting performance created a kaleidoscopic texture with bass clarinet and piano in dynamic interplay.
The first half closed with a performance of Lukas Ligeti’s Delta Space, again featuring Mark Gasser competing with the Disklavier for space in a dense musical landscape. Delta Space was the closest thing to a pop song on the program, featuring a discernible melody amid contemporary urban rhythms disguising the underlying complexity of the music.
Dafna Naphtali’s Landmine set the tone for a noisier second half. Here the piano material was created with the aid of the composer’s own algorithmic programs in a performance that fused acoustic piano with electro-acoustic sampling and manipulation. Despite some initial struggles balancing the sound of laptop processing with the Disklavier, the result was a busy fusion of rich textures that made this one of the most inspired pieces on the program.
Petro Vouris, a student at WAAPA, has recently been investigating ways of using Markov chain probabilities [a mathematical system regarding transitions from one state to another] to rework the relationships between pitch intervals, rhythmic duration and dynamics of a given composition. For this performance Vouris reworked Annie Gosfield’s Bottom of the Barrelhouse creating a new work entitled Bottoms Up. As with the earlier Gosfield work the Disklavier was used to play back a pre-existing MIDI file, but there was no clearly discernible relationship between Vouris’s work and the original. Nonetheless it was an interesting example of how to create a new work utilising an original compositional approach.
The final piece on the program was the premiere of Cat Hope’s Chunk for Disklavier and pianist. Hope utilises the laptop to create a literal translation of her graphic score as piano notes on the Disklavier while pianist Mark Gasser interprets from his own score on a separate piano. The result was one of the loudest acoustic pieces I’ve heard in recent times and effectively pushed both man and machine to their limits, bringing the evening to a close in true rock and roll spirit.
The Mechanical Piano: curator/bass clarinet/laptop Lindsay Vickery, piano Mark Gasser, laptop Roland Adeney; Music Auditorium, West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Oct 27, 2011
This article first appeared as part of RT's online e-dition jan 31, 2012
RealTime issue #107 Feb-March 2012 pg. 40
© Sam Gillies; for permission to reproduce apply to email@example.com