Don’t Shoot the Electronic Piano Player

Awhile back, pianist Aron Kallay performed all of my microtonal electronic keyboard pieces out in Los Angeles. He recently sent me the mp3s, and I’m struck speechless by their quality. He used a tremendously responsive keyboard (a Yamaha Clavinova), and I’m attributing much of the finesse to that – because the alternative is to admit that I’m a really lousy pianist by comparison. Anyway, he did a beautiful job and made me all impressed with my music all over again, and the recordings are here:

New Aunts
Fugitive Objects

He’ll be playing them again on John Schneider’s KPFK radio show Global Village on March 19th at 11am (pacific time), and again on a Microfest concert at Pomona College on May 10th at 8pm. The purpose of his doctoral recital was to prove that there’s a future for serious keyboard music played on electronic keyboards, and I’m convinced. These are all the microtonal pieces I’ve written for solo keyboard with no background CD, and I wrote New Aunts specifically for his concert. He makes me want to write more.
Also, I just found out that my New Music Box podcast on minimalism is now available online, so you can hear me parse musical examples by Jon Gibson, Eliane Radigue, Janice Giteck, Michael Gordon, Mikel Rouse, John Luther Adams, and others. Matthew Guerrieri has a similar show on serialism, Laura Pellegrinelli on post-jazz, and Tom Lopez on acousmatic music.


  1. Fredrik Wallberg says

    Thanks for posting these beautiful pieces! I have the strange impression (especially in “New Aunts”) that the pianist is actually “tuning” the sounds – it seems that the sensitive keyboard really allows the pianist to convey his “touch”. And it´s especially interesting to hear this phenomenon in a microtonal context. It somehow aids (or at least influences) the understanding of the intervals, I think. Thanks.

  2. Richard Mitnick says

    Thanks for saying something good about .mp3’s, at which too many people look askance.
    People say that there is so much sound lost, but my ears (and most people’s ears) cannot hear the difference.
    If one is fortunate enough to have a listening room and one enjoys sitting there, then LP’s, even CD’s might be appropriate. But, today, portability is the leading factor in helping folks decide what they want. Many people, even if they buy the CD, will “rip” it to .mp3, throw it onto their player, take the music on vacation, or on a walk, or to the dentist.
    I am buying all my music these days from Amazon in .mp3, and I am loving it. The bit rates are very good, the prices are very good, the download process is excellent.
    And, in the end, the artist gets money.
    KG replies: Mmmmmm… in the end I’m going to get money?

  3. says

    Lucky you. Beautiful performances, especially New Aunts, which is harmonically gorgeous.
    I’m also surprised the Clavinova sounds so good. I guess I hadn’t heard the latest revs of the Yamaha technology. I’m off to Japan in a couple of weeks and I was going to stop by Hamamatsu to visit some of my old Yamaha friends. It’s really good to hear that they continue to support tuning. An easy thing to do technologically, but also so easily left out.
    KG replies: I can’t swear it, but I believe he was only using the Clavinova as a MIDI controller. The pitches were on the computer.

  4. says

    My 2 pence….I liked the two slow ones quite a bit (New Aunts most), the slow tempo and lack of pulse and repeating gestures allow the ear to deal with the harmony somehow, it seems justified (as microtonal music sometimes doesn’t IMO, seems a bit bolted on so to speak).
    I think it justifies the use of the electronic keyboard too, no other practical way to do it (so as an instrument it isn’t an ‘imitation’ of an acoustic piano, it’s ‘authentic’).
    However, it would be great to hear an acoustic piano tuned to play them too (not sure if that is possible though, don’t know what tuning you used). A quiet closely recorded upright piano would be nice (à la Kurtag perhaps).
    Enjoyed the podcast too (the minimalism and the serialism one, the jazz one missed a lot out IMO, but then it was only about 20 minutes or so, not an easy task).
    KG replies: It would be lovely to hear these pitches on a piano, but since the pieces use 27, 29, and 21 pitches per octave respectively, it would have to be a specially-built piano with a more rectangular frame. Probably not going to happen in my lifetime. But thanks.

  5. mclaren says

    These wonderful xenharmonic JI piano pieces by Kyle should be much better known, but, alas! Kyle’s only all-microtonal CD appears to be out of print.
    Some of us are bugged by the fact that MIDI only allows 128 levels of loudness. That’s really not enough, IMHO. Sadly, MIDI (like the Dvorak typewriter layout) seems so deeply entrenched it’s unlikely to change.
    Julian Carrillo composed a series of piano pieces in the early 20th century for a set of acoustic pianos in divisions of the whole tone from 12 equal up to 72 equal (12, 18, 24, 30, etc.). Specially-built pianos were created for him by a manufacturer in France, called his pianos metamorfoseadores. So it’s not impossible, albeit highly unlikely.
    Short of that, though, you could always wheel 2 or 3 Yamaha Disklaviers together, detune both of ’em, and use 2 or 3 players to get these pieces on a real live piano. The estimable Jacob Barton organized the Seventeen Tone Piano Project to perform a whole buncha 17 equal piano compositions using 2 pianos and 2 performers this way. Naturally, like all the other important composers doing groundbreaking work, Jacob Barton is completely unfamiliar to the commenters here, since like all important composers and performers today, he’s been systematically snubbed and ignored by Sequenza21, NewMusicBox, the Nytimes music review section, Perspectives On New Music, Musical Quarterly, all the major prize committees, etc.
    Or, alternatively, you could perform 12 JI pitches at time on 1 Yamaha Disklavier and use multitrack synchronized overdubs to get the same result in non-real-time. The Diklavier responds to MIDI, which can be sync’d to SMPTE for extremely accurate multitrack overdubs.
    KG replies: Well, Jacob Barton is certainly familiar to me: he’s performed my music and he’s doing really impressive stuff, but he’s only in his early 20s, isn’t he? Anyone can participate in Sequenza 21 and NMBx, Perspectives On New Music and Musical Quarterly can only publish what’s sent to them, and the other entities you name ignore all of us who aren’t getting big orchestral commissions.
    I would love to write for multiple retuned pianos or Disklaviers, but then the infelicities of a phrase bouncing between multiple pianists, or the alleged mechanicalness of MIDI, bring their own complaints, and I kind of figure one complaint’s as good as another. I love the old McGill University recordings of Wyshnegradsky for two and three pianos, but bouncing among pianos does detract from a melody’s lyricism somewhat.