Sunday, February 8, 2009

Conlon Nancarrow - Player Piano 1 (2006)

Conlon Nancarrow was one of the strangest and most obsessive of the 20th century composers, and that's saying something. Wanting to write music in several different tempos at the same time, but finding no players capable of perforrming pieces of such complexity, he devoted almost his entire to career to composing works for the player piano.

Not only was the player piano precise enough to handle any combinations of tempos Nancarrow could throw at it, it could also play faster and was freed from the limitation of fingers, meaning that it could play dozens of notes simultaneously. Nancarrow spent years as a recluse in the mountains of Mexico, painstakingly punching thousands upon thousands of holes in piano rolls. Not surprisingly, the resulting music is insane.

The early studies on this collection are heavily influenced by jazz, as exemplified in study #3a (known as the "Boogie Woogie Suite") which sounds like Fats Waller in extreme fast motion.
As the disc progresses, the pieces get weirder, less jazzy, more atonal and more rhythmically chaotic. Nancarrow also betrays an admiration for Bach in his love of mathematical canons (although usually based on tempo instead of pitch.)

Despite being half a century old, these studies remain astonishingly unique, and if this disc leaves you hungry for more, never fear! It's only the first of three volumes!

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