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The Two Best Things I’ve Heard in Weeks

1. Kyle Gann recently posted Carolyn Yarnell’s piano piece The Same Sky on his blog. (Click here and scroll down for the link to the recording) He calls it “one of the most fantastic keyboard works anyone’s written in the last 20 years” and I have to agree.  Kathleen Supové is the pianist, and she tears it up.

2. Swedish electronic rock duo The Knife was commissioned by a Danish performance company called Hotel Pro Forma to write an opera about Charles Darwin. The result, which was premiered in Copenhagen in September 2009, is called Tomorrow in a Year, and based on the material available on the web it looks extraordinary. Here’s The Knife’s Olof Dreijer talking about the project on the band’s website: “At first it was very difficult as we really didn’t know anything about opera. We’d never been to one. I didn’t even know what the word libretto meant. But after some studying, and just getting used to opera’s essence of pretentious and dramatic gestures, I found that there is a lot to learn and play with. In fact, our ignorance gave us a positive respectless approach to making opera. It took me about a year to become emotionally moved by an opera singer and now I really do. I really like the basic theatrical values of opera and the easy way it brings forward a narrative. We’ve approached this before in The Knife but never in such a clear way.”

Here’s “The Coloring of Pigeons:”

Colouring of Pigeons by The Knife

An album of music from the opera is slated for release on March 1st, 2010. I don’t see anything about plans to bring the production to the United States, but a guy can hope.


Comment from Chris Becker
Time: January 25, 2010, 4:37 pm

Galen, I think the Yarnell piece is realized via MIDI sequencing . At least that’s what my ears are telling me. This doesn’t sound at all like a piano – although I really like this piece and Katherine is an excellent musician.

But if I’m wrong, let me know.

Comment from Chris Becker
Time: January 25, 2010, 4:42 pm

Well, hang on. Is it a live performance along with the sequencer?

Comment from Dan Schmidt
Time: January 25, 2010, 7:46 pm

I am also almost positive that this is a MIDI realization (and when I searched around I saw that one has been recorded and published). You can hear a short clip of Supové’s performance here:

Comment from Chris Becker
Time: January 26, 2010, 1:54 pm

I just emailed Kathleen to see if she has a second to clarify for us. She might be too busy of course! Recently I’ve been really enjoying her CD with Eve Beglarian Twisted Tutu which I think a lot of people here might also dig…

Comment from David Brighton-Towne
Time: January 26, 2010, 11:13 pm

Yawn. Nothing particularly daring or impressive in either piece.

Comment from Peter T.
Time: January 27, 2010, 10:09 am

I´ve been folowing S21 for a few years, and this time I simply can´t swallow it: here from Europe it is really difficult to understand why Mr. Kyle Gann enjoys such a reputation there. Really difficult.

Comment from Christian
Time: January 27, 2010, 12:27 pm

Kyle’s a fine composer and writer. You should check out his piece on the latest Mode Minimalism comp: terrific stuff. I’m planning on using his materials as readings and listening assignments in my minimalism course this summer.

Comment from Paula
Time: January 27, 2010, 6:28 pm

Many thanks for the posting. Carolyn Yarnell’s work is stunning. In fact, I liked it so much, I put my money where my mouth is and bought a copy of the actual CD (not downloaded, not ripped off, but actually purchased a hard copy CD).

Comment from Chris Becker
Time: January 31, 2010, 7:32 pm

Kathleen responded to my query about The Same Sky and has given me permission to post her response :)

The short answer to the question is that it is a combination (coordinated by a really complicated click track) of me playing live and a MIDI’d Yamaha SY 77. When Carolyn first showed me the piece, she handed over the full score—not what Kyle scanned, that’s only my part (40 pages of, almost no rests). So you can imagine what the actual score looked like. And I immediately realized it would take about a dozen pianists to play it. So she set about making a part that could be played by one person. HOWEVER, she did not take away or mute the “voice” that she gave to the pianist; instead, she made it quieter, but left it embedded in the mix. You can sort of tell what is the live piano because, for one thing, it is a little out of tune with the Yamaha synth in my recording. My producer/engineer, the amazing Sheldon Steiger, left it that way on purpose to create a little standout there. I think it was also really ingenious to leave the voice embedded, as it makes for something that isn’t “piano plus recording” or piano concerto or quasi-ensemble work exactly. It’s all of those things and none of those things. As I mentioned before, I was thrilled that Kyle printed and made explicit something I’ve known about the piece for about 9 years now—that it is one of the most spectacular pieces of the last 20 years! It is one of the most demanding I have played, too—harder than it sounds.

Final note from Supove: there are TWO different recordings of The Same Sky—one is on Tzadik and IS purely MIDI’d. So someone could have gotten confused about that…

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: February 1, 2010, 12:27 am

Thanks Chris, great info.