The Electroacoustic Piano 2017

Elainie Lillios: new commissioned work

Dan Tramte: Fever Dream (2016)

Per Bloland: new commissioned work

Ryan Carter: On the Lights of a System and Consequences of my Decisions (2016)

Joshua Clausen: Broken Grooves (2015)

Keith Kirchoff: Incomplete Imperfections (2016)


The goal of this program is to demonstrate the extreme variety, innovation, creativity, and cultural relevance of modern piano music. It does not espouse any one aesthetic but aims to educate audiences on the absolute diversity of modern electroacoustic music by sharing some of the most interesting and innovative music of today. To that end,  I cannot think of a more diverse collection of composers: not only are these six very different musical aesthetics, they also represent six unique aspects of computer/piano integration. For example, in Dan Tramte's piece Fever Dream, I read off of an iPad to interpret dynamically materialized notated music inspired by "single seed" video game worlds. In contrast, the program also features Joshua Clausen's poly-stylistic Broken Grooves: a piece which borrows heavily from musical traditions as diverse as modernism, post-bop jazz, and beat based electronica.



Program Notes:

On the Lights of a System and Consequences of my Decisions is an exploration of the piano’s sostenuto (middle) pedal and the sustaining of notes over a long period of time. In the work, the electronics function as a virtual sostenuto pedal, taking over for pitches that were initially held mechanically, then transforming them in ways that cannot be accomplished on an acoustic piano: for example, the gradual warping of pitch and timbre. At the heart of this work is the notion of failure: The sostenuto pedal is frequently temperamental and often sustains unintended pitches or sustains no pitches at all. This is especially true when additional pitches are played loudly. Inspired by Jaron Lanier’s concept of “lock-in,” Carter fully embraces these inherent flaws in the piano’s design, allowing space for their quirks, inconsistencies, and frustrations.

Fever Dream explores the concepts of single-seed music and is inspired by the video games Desert Golfing and No Man’s Sky. Reading off of an iPad or computer screen, the pianist interprets an auto-scrolling score that dynamically materializes notated music in real time via specially designed pseudo-random number generators. What makes this different from typical algorithmic music, however, is that the score and accompanying electronic sounds are all generated using a single seed, so the piece is ‘fixed’ in that it is exactly the same every time. No matter what point in the piece the pianist may jump to, even if it’s hour #2 of day #1,000 of the piece, it will consistently yield the same material for that point in time. Tramte writes: "The fact that a place or a sonic space can be effectively infinite in scope and yet continue to reassemble in a consistent manner may seem like impractical and even insignificant features; however, I find it so inspiring because it means that no matter how vast of a space I experience and no matter how many new and unusual things I discover, I know that there is also a home that I can recall and return to – a place where everything is familiar." Of course, the piece is not technically infinite in length and is limited by the basic limitations of a human performer (namely food, sleep, & body waste disposal) and of a 32-bit system. The double-bar line only occurs when either one gives up or glitches out due to these limitations. The version included in this program has been truncated to roughly ten minutes.

Broken Grooves is the first movement of Joshua Clausen's Pidgin Cycles, the title of which refers to a musical ‘pidgin’ language, a metaphor he uses to describe his aesthetic choices. In linguistic studies, 'pidgin' refers to improvised systems that evolve in border communities when two cultures with different language systems attempt to communicate; they discover and use those overlapping zones of expression that allow for some kind of meaningful exchange. Clausen pursues similar expressive resonances in a musical language: for example, juxtaposing the complex rhythms and phrasing of modernist composition with post-bop jazz or the the aggression, repetition, drive and noise of beat-based electronic music, punk and minimal musics have a resonance. The investigation of these combinations and expressive energies is at the heart of all of Clausen's work, and Pidgin Cycles marks his first sustained creative articulation of this outlook.