Posts Tagged “Disklavier”

Jocelyn Robert CD cover

immobile 

music for Disklavier 

Merles Recordings

  • bolerun 1
  • für louisa
  • für eli
  • bolerun 2
  • la pluie

Jocelyn Robert’s approach towards the Disklavier is quite different than what I usually encounter. Typically, I find the Disklavier used in a hyper-kinetic way, a way that simply overpowers conventional fleshy pianists with a flashy and thick stream of harmonies and rhythms at semi-ludicrous tempi. Robert’s approach is refreshing in its sparseness, using the Disklavier to evoke an almost piano-as-wind-chimes aesthetic. What Robert embraces in his  music is an underlying nature and humanity. The textures get thick at times and while portions of each piece might be playable by a human many portions are not. The fact that my ear loses the exact moment when that possible/impossible shift occurs makes me like this disc even more.

The two bolerun works assemble grander textures from extremely simple repeated figures. Robert is quite adept at filling in the blank spaces with new material while simultaneously expanding the original looping material. As usually happens in a work of interlocking ostinati, my ear drifts from layer to layer in an almost hypnotic fashion. bolerun 1 is shorter and a bit less forceful than bolerun 2 but the overt use of looping material seems to be what binds these works together (as well as the loudest activity happening in the mid/low range of the piano).

The two für pieces are significantly different from each other. für louisa is a staccato and spritely monophonic work which arpeggiates through fairly conventional harmonies. The work abruptly cuts off at the end, keeping it just under 60 seconds but I could have easily listened to his melody for a while. für eli is a 26 minute work which slowly unfolds while maintaining a lot of open space between gestures. A rich harmonic progression seems to be the glue which binds this piece together and an almost random articulation of the tones in the progression make the work infinitely listenable to my ears. Tendency tones are well established and the underlying dissonances are resolved in a leisurely yet timely manner. At 26 minutes, I could still listen to more of this piece unfold. Any systemic or mechanical processes are kept invisible to the ear (at least to mine). The final work on the disc, la pluie, delves even deeper into the ideas of resonance and space than für eli and relies less upon a motivated harmonic progression. The attacks are sometimes sharper than in für eli and, while la pluie does more to coalesce its energies, at 17:25 in duration the work is still relatively directionless (in a good way).

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Steve Horowitz  horowitz

Stations of the Breath

music for Disklavier and others

The Code International


  • Connecticut Nocturne, Moon over Mudge Pond
  • Like Powder to the Light
  • The Ceremony of Souls (with Dave Eggar, cello)
  • Stations of the Breath
  • The Ghost of Juniper Ledge (Ned McGowan, contrabass flute)

When I first received this disc of Steve Horowitz’s music for Disklavier, my initial assumption was that the music would be thick and heavy, taking advantage of the complexity that human performers cannot readily achieve but a Disklavier can manage quite easily.  The titles of the tracks, though, seemed in direct conflict with Nancarrow/Gann-style rhythmic shenanigans.  Much to my surprise, the music on the disc is much more meditative, expansive, and considerably less dense than I assumed.  The end result is music that defies its mechanical creation.  The moods, shapes, and gestures sound as if a human being is performing.  The only giveaway, to my ears, is the thinner and slightly tinny quality of the Disklavier’s timbre.

So what, you might ask, is the point?  Why use technology when you don’t have to?  It is a question that I’m sure will keep coming up.  The bottom line, though is that my ears don’t want to hear technology.  They want to hear music.  This disc is certainly far more concerned with making music than flexing any technological muscles.  Unplayable passages may be few and far between but effective and enjoyable music abounds.

The opening track is a glimmering nocturne that evokes its mood in gentle swaths of harmonies and gestures.  The music is filled with tonal inflections which are far from derivative harmonies but still coherent and leading.  Like Powder to the Light is a jagged and playful toccata reminiscent at times to Bartok rhythms with hints of Nancarrow’s boogie-woogie or Crawford-Seeger’s mixed accents.

The Ceremony of Souls, cowritten by cellist Dave Eggar, again draws on gestures and colors rather than straight ahead motives or melodies.  A long, solemn cello line exists in spite of the spastic and punchy piano chords.  As the piece unfolds, a relationship between the two instruments emerges.  The piano punches start to lock in with the cellist’s line and gradually the two morph into one with the cello ending up in the piano’s original hectic and wild realm.

Stations of Breath is a slow, expansive work that seems as if it could go on forever.  The harmonies and timing sound natural and fluid, as if the work was always playing somewhere and this CD represents a mere slice of the eternal.  The Ghost of Juniper Ledge is similar to  Stations of Breath in many ways.  The timeless quality is shared but the harmonic language is thinner and events are much more sparse.  The contrabass flute is not competing with or working at cross purposes with the piano, the two instruments are one.  The music simply hangs in the air.  I find these last two tracks the most compelling on the disc.  They are the least technological but musically the most affective.  The moods are straightforward, the ideas are right on the surface, and the execution is well worth experiencing.

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