Original Instrument Movement Meets Avant-Garde

Curtis MacDonald has made a piece with samples of Conlon Nancarrow’s player pianos, which don’t sound like normal pianos. On one of them Conlon covered the hammers with steel straps, on the other he put leather straps capped with a metal tack. Like Lou Harrison’s tack piano, they sound harsh and kind of honky-tonk, almost like harpsichords, and Conlon clearly came to rely on the extra clarity they gave his thick polyphony; I once heard Study No. 48 on a regular big Disklavier grand, and it sounded like mush. MacDonald’s piece makes me realize that someone needs to go to Basel and sample the original Nancarrow player pianos, as Mikel Rouse did for the prepared piano of Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes: partly so we can make our own true realizations of Nancarrow’s pieces, and partly to compose with those wonderfully wacky tones ourselves.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. mclaren says

    So when is somebody gonna release samples of the Partch instruments? Especially the cloud chamber bells…
    KG replies: Ooooh, good point. I’d gladly write a virtual piece for the Partch instruments if I could get the samples. They must have them at that American Mavericks web site I wrote the script for, because you can “play” the instruments online.
    Jesus H. Fucking Christ, I’d write a double concerto for the Cage prepared piano, the Nancarrow player pianos, and the Partch orchestra. It would be the pinnacle of my career, and I would promise to self-immolate afterward in a blaze of glory.

  2. David DeMaris says

    In case nobody else has called your attention to it, the remarkable Pianoteq physical modeling piano (now on version 3) would probably be a welcome addition to your sound pallet and especially for these kinds of reconstructive, retrofuturist efforts; you can tweak the physics endlessly to get pianistic variety. (Though not individual note preparations … probably some combination of multiple instances and a fancy midi note to channel switch could do that).
    It has some support for microtonal tunings (imports scala files) as well. Polyphony is pretty high (256) if your CPU can handle it, somehow pieces like Grieg’s Piano Concerto manage to use 226.
    KG replies: I’m really curious what *some* microtonal support means. Version 2 allowed no user tunings at all, though I think it came with Werckmeister or something. Seems if it allowed Scala (which I’ve found difficult to use) it would allow LMSO. I’ve wanted to get it except for that.

  3. says

    @Paul – I love those virtual Partch instruments!! Thanks for sharing!

    here’s a sequel track to the one Kyle mentions in this post:

    ps) Re: Scala – I’ve found that to avoid the “unfriendliness” of Scala’s interface, it’s quite simple to simple code your your .scl file in a text editor to program in you cents values and/or interval ratios. I also wrote a some instructions for installing it on a Mac in case anyone finds it useful. Keyboard mappings (.kbm files) can be tweaked easily in text as well.