Author Topic: Nancarrow's Nexus  (Read 11818 times)

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Offline James

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Nancarrow's Nexus
« on: February 12, 2008, 11:04:11 AM »
"Let's hear it for another great Italian, Conlon Nancarrow, ladies and gentlemen" - Frank Zappa ('Peaches III' from Tinseltown Rebellion)

"And then my admiration for Conlon Nancarrow! From his Studies For Player Piano I learned rhythmic and metric complexity. He showed that there were entire worlds of rhythmic-melodic subtleties that lay far beyond the limits that we had recognized in "modern music" until then." - Gyorgy Ligeti

"Nancarrow's magnificant music for mechanical pianos prodded me to think up ways in which living intrepreters could manage such complex polyrhythms.... " - Gyorgy Ligeti [the influence of Nancarrow on his Etudes for Piano]

"This [Nancarrow's] music is the greatest discovery since Webern and Ives... something great and important for all music history! His music is so utterly original, enjoyable, perfectly constructed but at the same time emotional...for me it's the best of any composer living today." - Gyorgy Ligeti

Approaching Nancarrow

Conlon Nancarrow was born in 1912 in U.S.A., but has more recently lived in Mexico. For many years no-one paid much attention to this bright old man who will be considered one of the most important composers of the late twentieth century, and who has already been praised by Boulez, Ligeti, Cage and Zappa, although he nearly got brushed under the carpet of history.

It was a strange turn of events, helped by support from Charles Amirkhanian and Cage, as well as Zappa's frequent references to him in interviews in relation to 'Uncle Meat' or 'Envelopes'. He also mentions him on stage ('Peaches III'). Nancarrow was also present at the Pierre Boulez IRCAM concert.

What is so interesting about Nancarrow's 'Studies for Mechanical Piano'? Firstly, it is an exhaustive investigation of new possibilities in rhythm, tempo, musical texture & polyphony.

On one hand, there is enough going on in these pieces to satisfy even the most abstract Constructivist, while on the other, there is enough freedom and lyricism to warm the heart of the most romantic listener.

At some moments the music is hard, austere, cold as ice, at others it has a hot, explosive exuberance. Zappa says "Some of it sounds like ragtime that's totally bionic!" Now that he has decided to compose more with his Barking Pumpkin Digital Gratification Consort, a computer & synclavier, it looks as if Nancarrow's work will come to acquire an importance for Zappa similar to that of Varese's.

[taken from Viva Zappa! by Dominique Chevalier, pg. 26, Omnibus Press - 1985]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conlon_Nancarrow
« Last Edit: February 12, 2008, 11:06:16 AM by James »
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karlhenning

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Re: Nancarrow's Nexus
« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2008, 11:06:27 AM »
"Bionic ragtime": perfect!

Offline Brewski

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Re: Nancarrow's Nexus
« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2008, 11:16:54 AM »
What is so interesting about Nancarrow's 'Studies for Mechanical Piano'? Firstly, it is an exhaustive investigation of new possibilities in rhythm, tempo, musical texture & polyphony.

On one hand, there is enough going on in these pieces to satisfy even the most abstract Constructivist, while on the other, there is enough freedom and lyricism to warm the heart of the most romantic listener.

At some moments the music is hard, austere, cold as ice, at others it has a hot, explosive exuberance. Zappa says "Some of it sounds like ragtime that's totally bionic!"

Yes, I like "bionic ragtime" too, as well as the rest of the above.  Nancarrow was to me one of the most important composers of the 20th century, given that his explorations opened up so many paths for other composers (as the excerpt notes, most prominently Ligeti). 

I was very lucky to be in the audience in April 1986 at Alice Tully Hall, when Nancarrow returned to New York for the first time in 40 years.  The occasion was one of Continuum's retrospective concerts, with an all-Nancarrow program focusing on his works for live musicians, although a couple of the piano pieces were played on tape.  At intermission Nancarrow was interviewed, and although it was great to see him, I recall him being very shy, answering questions with the briefest of responses. 

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Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Nancarrow's Nexus
« Reply #3 on: September 28, 2009, 08:54:44 PM »
A great & unusual figure, one of the classic American eccentric geniuses  :)

I recall a fun Nancarrow experience in Prague in 2001, hearing a scruffy local modernist orchestra play transcriptions of some of his player piano works.

Interestingly, I've heard Nancarrow couldn't play the (real) piano at all!
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snyprrr

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Re: Nancarrow's Nexus
« Reply #4 on: September 29, 2009, 06:46:13 AM »
His technique translates interestingly to string quartets, also, as evidenced by the Arditti's performances. Talk about Grosse Fuge!

Offline petrarch

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Re: Nancarrow's Nexus
« Reply #5 on: April 20, 2010, 03:02:27 PM »


Studies for Player Piano

I bought that set shortly after it came out and unfortunately I never warmed to it. The music is passably interesting but to me sounds pretty much like straitjacket MIDI sequencing (and in a proto way, it actually is) with largely uninteresting timbres. A good document though, to accompany a number of analyses of the pieces I have in a book somewhere.
//p
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Offline Kaiser

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Re: Nancarrow's Nexus
« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2010, 05:08:36 PM »
Count me in as a Nancarrow fan. Somewhere I have a cassette of a vinyl album I borrowed from my local library of some of his player-piano pieces. I haven't heard that in ages, but remember being pretty amazed at what I heard. I wish my library hadn't dumped all the vinyl they had for years - I found so many cool things in the stacks there.
--------- Chris
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Offline petrarch

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Re: Nancarrow's Nexus
« Reply #7 on: April 21, 2010, 04:21:46 PM »
I've encountered a few folks with the same criticism, unable to get around the sound of the instrument ... it's precise, clean, terse ... i've always loved it myself ... ...considering the complexity and density of many of the pieces's textures, i think Nancarrow's instruments sound just right and makes things crystal clear, it's nicely recorded too ... i'm with Ligeti's initial reaction on it, I loved it right off (and the sound) and warmed to the music immediately, I laughed out loud on first listening.. ..the patience (-and-or obsessiveness) Nancarrow must have had to hand punch all those notes on those rolls wow.

The value and admiration for the work is unquestionable. When I was writing my previous reply I was thinking of how much more interesting the whole result is in e.g. Ligeti's Continuum, the harpsichord sound being so much more interesting, yet sharing many of the same limitations as the player piano. Along the same lines, I find Ligeti's Coulée and the adaptations for barrel organ equally engaging, so the factor is not really whether the instrument is timbrally versatile. I guess I just don't like player piano.
« Last Edit: April 21, 2010, 04:25:10 PM by petrArch »
//p
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Offline Daverz

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Re: Nancarrow's Nexus
« Reply #8 on: April 25, 2010, 01:08:27 AM »
To add to the other ones posted, here are the original recordings of the Studies:



I first heard some of these on a radio show that played many of the studies.  I have the Wergo set, but don't care for the sound, so I'm tempted to get this one.
« Last Edit: April 25, 2010, 01:11:02 AM by Daverz »

Offline petrarch

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Re: Nancarrow's Nexus
« Reply #9 on: April 25, 2010, 01:57:29 PM »


Now that one I want to check, thanks for bringing it to attention.
//p
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Offline Kaiser

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Re: Nancarrow's Nexus
« Reply #10 on: April 26, 2010, 02:55:05 PM »
Wow! I've only ever heard Nancarrow's player-piano works. Thanks for the suggestions on the CDs with living musicians performing his music! I really must find these - they look amazing!
------ Chris
"Music is organized sound" - Edgard Varese

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Nancarrow's Nexus
« Reply #11 on: July 31, 2010, 01:36:39 AM »
I was listening last night (for the first time in years) to that Ensemble Modern disc. I'd forgotten how good it is. Makes me wish Nancarrow had written more for people and less for a plinkety-plonk-plonk player piano. But that would sorta defeat the purpose of being Nancarrow, wouldn't it?

It reminded me of one of my favorite concert experiences, at Prague's New Music Marathon in 2001. The Czech avant-garde ensemble Tuning Metronomes (yes, that's their name) played several of these arrangements, along with music by Ligeti and Messiaen. A wonderful experience with a youthful, informal, typically enthusiastic new-music crowd.  :)
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Nancarrow's Nexus
« Reply #12 on: July 21, 2011, 05:38:00 PM »
Ah, the beauty of copy and paste.
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Offline johncarey

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Re: Nancarrow's Nexus
« Reply #13 on: March 04, 2012, 02:54:35 AM »
For those of you who aren't familiar with the group "Bang on a Can," they have performed a few incredible arrangements of Nancarrow's player piano studies. I saw them play a couple in concert once and it completely blew my mind. Here is a recording of one that is available on their website: http://bangonacan.org/audio/unpop

snyprrr

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Re: Nancarrow's Nexus
« Reply #14 on: April 26, 2012, 06:48:32 AM »
I just found Tenney,... anyone? Bueller??

It's a piano piece called Chromatic Canon (1980/83), very noodle-y, lots of notes,... I believe there's a second tape piano, but it sounds like one giant piano... on a great cd called 'The Eleventh Finger', with Vivier, Ligeti, Sharp,... a ridiculously virtuoso piano disc by Jenny Lin on Koch (again!).

snyprrr

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Re: Nancarrow's Nexus
« Reply #15 on: December 11, 2012, 08:36:16 AM »

Nancarrow’s Third Quartet, described by Rutherford-Johnson as ‘possibly Nancarrow’s most significant statement for live performers’, received an equally thrilling performance. There could be no doubt that this was mature Nancarrow, despite the ‘concessions’, for want of a better word, necessary to render it playable. Once again the primacy of rhythm and canonic writing was audible for the most naïve of first-time listeners. Yet, at a certain point, one could hardly fail also to register the use of other, more obvious ‘string-based’ techniques, and more importantly their expressive content: the harmonics of the second movement, for instance. The music hurtles along, threatening to break down, but never once did it do so in performance from the group for which it was written. Finally, we heard Paul Usher’s transcription for string quartet of Nancarrow’s Study no.33. Its irrational tempo ratio (2:√2) renders, so far as any of us can imagine, ‘straight’ transcription impossible, let alone its performance by ‘live’ musicians. Apparently, a decision was made therefore ‘to work towards a “best fit” rather than complete accuracy’. Perhaps purists would say that defeats the purpose; perhaps it does. I can simply report, as anything but a Nancarrow expert, that the result in live performance was exhilarating. If anything, I found myself still more caught up in the progress of the Ardittis’ performance than I had in the Nancarrow quartets themselves. The variety of texture was certainly as striking as that in the co-ordination – and otherwise! – of the Third Quartet.

Mark Berry[/font]

I got the Wergo disc of the Arditti from the library. I remembered being disappointed at seeing it because, come ON,... must we? I've got the Arditti's previous renderings, so, well, wtf?

Frankly, I have a hard time with most of it, and I wasn't all that impressed with SQ No.1, but, SQ No.3, the one written in the '80s for the Ardittis, well, that is NO DOUBT a masterpiece! The slow movement alone seals the deal for me. And the sound on the Wergo disc really brings out the details. Checking against that old Grammavision cd, the Wergo sound is really wonderful (the slow movement doesn't have the 'sound' in the earlier one). No doubt, if you don't have this piece, get the Wergo just for it. I can't see myself plunking down for it, but I can see you!

Anyhow, SQ No.3?,... AWESOME!!,... especially the slow movement...

Offline torut

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Re: Nancarrow's Nexus
« Reply #16 on: July 05, 2014, 08:59:19 PM »
James Tenney - Spectral Canon for Conlon Nancarrow (1974)
<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/hUrfKBnQ9a4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/hUrfKBnQ9a4</a>

James Tenney - Music for Player Piano (1964)
<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/49mu_d7J4L8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/49mu_d7J4L8</a>

It is more interesting with videos.

Offline torut

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Re: Nancarrow's Nexus
« Reply #17 on: July 06, 2014, 08:18:49 PM »
Nancarrow: Lost Works, Last Works


The disc contains many interesting recordings: arrangements of piano pieces for pianola or Trimpin's computerized marimba called "Conloninpurple," Study for prepared player piano (Nancarrow attended the premiere of Cage's Sonatas and Interludes during his 1947 trip to NY), musique concrete piece, String Quartet No. 1 arranged for player piano, an interview with Nancarrow, etc.

1. Prelude for Piano (1935) Trimpin, for pianola
2. Blues for Piano (1935) Trimpin, for "Conloninpurple"
3. - 5. Sonatina for Piano (1941) Nancarrow, player piano
6. - 7. String Quartet No. 1 (1945) Nancarrow, player piano
8. Piece for Tape (undated) Nancarrow
9. Study No. 30 for Prepared Piano (undated) Nancarrow
10. Para Yoko (1990) Trimpin, pianola
11. Study No. 50 (ca. 1991) Trimpin, pianola
12. Study No. 51 ("3750") (1992) Trimpin, pianola
13. Contraption No. 1 (1993) Trimpin, pianola and "Conloninpurple"
14. - 21. Conlon Nancarrow speaks with Charles Amirkhanian

Trimpin's Conloninpurple

Offline torut

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Re: Nancarrow's Nexus
« Reply #18 on: August 19, 2014, 07:30:55 PM »
For those of you who aren't familiar with the group "Bang on a Can," they have performed a few incredible arrangements of Nancarrow's player piano studies. I saw them play a couple in concert once and it completely blew my mind. Here is a recording of one that is available on their website: http://bangonacan.org/audio/unpop

The link is dead, but I found this clip. It's wonderful.

study 3a, performed by Bang on a Can All-Stars, arranged by Evan Ziporyn
<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/oTlGnhGYXHw" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/oTlGnhGYXHw</a>

snyprrr

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Re: Nancarrow's Nexus
« Reply #19 on: August 20, 2014, 06:34:06 AM »
The link is dead, but I found this clip. It's wonderful.

study 3a, performed by Bang on a Can All-Stars, arranged by Evan Ziporyn
<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/oTlGnhGYXHw" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/oTlGnhGYXHw</a>

Is that what Capt. Beefheart really wanted to sound like? Zappa?

Is one of those cats Ziporyn?


That was kinda fun, but right at the end I said, EnoUGH! exhausting- we WILL have fun we WILL have fun we WILL- but it was fun to watch, and who doesn't like to at least see Electric Guitar?

(is james really listening to a lot of this stuff?  ???)