COMPOSERS IN PLAY: The piano turned imaginary percussion instrument with Taylor Brook

Taylor BrookCOMPOSERS IN PLAY offers an up-to-date snapshot, particularly in conjunction with a premiere or new artistic collaboration.  Ahead of the upcoming performance June 5, 2019 in Toronto – The Canadian Left Hand Commissioning Project –  Taylor Brook  discusses his new piece for composer/performer Adam Scime: Shaekout.  Taylor sat down with us to offer some thoughts about the piano and a compelling new compositional approach he dubs: Piano as Imaginary Percussion Instrument.)  🎹  Ten Supersonic questions follow.


What are your current thoughts about solo piano music?

It’s hard to eke out something original and stand against the great repertoire for me. There’s the additional issue where my music is quite microtonal, so I cannot rely on the harmonic tools that I’ve developed. For the left-hand piece, my approach was to treat the piano as a kind of imaginary percussion instrument.

I wrote a solo piano piece back in 2009, (it’s alright.)  At the time, I found it very challenging to write for the piano; today, I think I find it even more challenging to do so.  I will often enhance my writing for the piano in an ensemble context with re-tuned piano samples, mixed to give the illusion that the instrument is microtonally tuned.  I have also written some digital piano pieces (re-tuned).

My dream is to write for a piano that I myself can retune.  Microtonality has been such a constant throughout my work: my whole harmonic language is based on it.  I almost feel like I am a beginner again when I write for the piano.  This is the reason I took the particular approach I did in the new piece Shakeout (ie. without any kind of baggage!)

 

What pianistic effects or concepts were you after in your new left-handed piano piece, Shakeout?

As mentioned before, I tried to think about the piano as an imaginary percussion instrument.  To this end, I severely limited what could be played in terms of pitches and harmonies, instead focusing on rhythmic ideas.

Another thought I’ve had in context of this project: after looking at the list of composers involved in the project, it occurred to me what a beautiful group of works would be created from the cohort.  I thought I’d like to offer something that will contrast and generate interest within the group.

So I wrote a rather “ugly” piece.

It’s not repulsive, just brutal. Of course, it could be a fun little piece in isolation, however not knowing what the other composers wrote, (just knowing their music in a general sense), I thought it might be interesting to produce music that stand outs as well as fitting well within the group.

 

What might you identity as your favourite or most compelling piano technique, extended or otherwise?

Anything can be compelling in context.

 

Tell us more about your approach dubbed, “piano as an imaginary percussion.”

This is something that I do often in my work: not necessarily conceiving of a new imaginary instrument, I prefer to frame things in terms of an invented tradition; an alternative reality.
I have written pieces that are vaguely modelled after folk songs but from a folk song “tradition” that does not really exist.  Likewise, with Shakeout, I was proposing: what if the piano was an imaginary percussion instrument, with its own performance history and its own set of idiomatic techniques?   With this as the rubric, I limited myself in a rather extreme way.
Ecstatic Music, a piece I wrote for violin and percussion adapts this approach.  For the violin part, I imagined that the instrument was from some other tradition where the lowest three strings were basically percussive strings.  The only melodies should be played on the high E-string.

 

TEN SUPERSONIC QUESTIONS

1. ​What instrument do you most dislike the sound of?

None really – Marimba can be tough, but I can’t say I really dislike it.

 

​2. ​What music are you writing at the moment?

Solo for bassoon and electronics for Dana Jessen. Electronic music. And a piece for TAK ensemble (soprano, flute, clarinet, violin, and percussion) with electronics.

 

3. ​Name three other composers you’d share a drink with.

Adam Scime!

 

4. Favourite performing artist alive and active today?

Not sure – I need to get out more!

 

​5. ​What did you want to be when you grew up?

Too late.

 

​6. ​What was the last piece of new music that really blew you away?

Mouthpiece by Erin Gee.

 

​7. ​Name your favourite key, chord, tonality, cluster or extra musical noise.

11/8 with 6/5 (ie. the 11th overtone mixed with the just minor 3rd).

 

8. ​ What book are you reading at the moment?

Music in the 17th and 18th Centuries by Richard Taruskin (brushing up for my teaching).

 

​9. ​ Favourite breakfast food?

A Croissant.

 

​10. ​(Summer) dream vacation?

Smithers, B.C.

 

Extra question: ​Name your favourite Montreal haunt.

Patati Patata


Visit: taylorbrook.info

Facebook Event: Canadian Left Hand Commissioning Project, here

ADVANCE TICKETS at: Canadian Music Centre

COMPOSERS IN PLAY: From six hands to one with Alex Eddington

Alex Eddington
COMPOSERS IN PLAY offers an up-to-date snapshot, particularly in conjunction with a premiere or new artistic collaboration.  Ahead of the upcoming performance June 5, 2019 in Toronto – The Canadian Left Hand Commissioning Project –  Alex Eddington discusses his new piece for composer/performer Adam Scime: The Opera Game.  Alex wrote to us with his thoughts about the piano genre and its less common iterations: scores for six-hands and left-hand.)  🎹 Ten Supersonic questions follow.

How might you describe your relationship with the piano? Is this the first left-handed work you have written for the instrument?

The Opera Game is the first left-handed work I’ve written, but what’s strange is that I’ve never written for TWO-hand piano as a solo (well, not for 20 years). Only accompaniment to other voices, choirs, instruments.  I have a major SIX-hand piano piece.  Yes.

The piano was the first instrument I learned, and the one I’ve played most, and I’m teaching beginners now.  So perhaps some day I’ll suddenly write a bunch of etudes for young pianists.

 

What were you hoping to convey with this music and was it successful?

I went out on a limb with this one, by making text an integral part of the piece.  The performer talks about the construction of the piece, and the reason it exists, all the while playing it.  I’m a theatre person as well, and this was a theatrical impulse.  It’s the kind of piece you have to be in the room for, to see facial expressions and his left hand struggling to keep up.  It’s meant to be awkward and look/sound like a performer overcoming hurdles, but it could also be charming in the right hand and mouth.  Adam Scime is a charmer, thankfully.

I’m also interested in music that is derived from non-musical things: chess in this case. Converting chess games to music is awkward, arbitrary.  Can it capture the drama and depth of this game?  Not in the music as notated: it has to come from the performer.  I might expand this piece in future, to include video of the chess game, quotes from Bellini’s “Norma” (the opera that this chess game was played during) and maybe right and left hands as opponents.

 

How, if at all, did writing for one hand only inform your compositional process (at the keyboard) and overall aesthetic?

With a different piece I would have looked at how to use the left hand smoothly across the entire keyboard, to create an illusion of space and depth that belies the single hand.  But with THIS piece I wanted it to sound like the performer is being imposed upon, more and more.  Part of the fun (?) will be watching his left hand jump around to specific but arbitrary keys.

 

TEN SUPERSONIC QUESTIONS:

1. ​Where are you from originally?

The Beaches area of Toronto.  Same house I live in now, actually.

 

​2. ​What are you writing at the moment?

A guitar/electronics piece for Daniel Ramjattan, sound design and musical arrangements for three summer theatre productions, and the libretto for an opera-ish piece with Toronto Consort.

 

3. ​Name three other composers you’d share a drink with.

Ann Southam, Benjamin Britten and Anna Magdalena Bach.

 

4. Favourite performing artist alive and active today?

Film/TV: Bryan Cranston or Sandra Oh

Music: Andrew Bird?  Bela Fleck?

This is tough.

 

​5. ​What did you want to be when you grew up?

Firefighter, Magician, Biologist, Composer (in that order!)

 

​6. ​What was the last piece of new music that really blew you away?

Jay Schwartz: “Music for Voices and Orchestra”

 

7. ​Name your favourite key, chord, tonality, cluster or extra musical noise.

The song of the Swainson’s thrush.

 

8.​ What book are you reading at the moment?

Just finished “Night” by Elie Wiesel.  Wow.

Back into the middle of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe.

 

​9. ​ Favourite breakfast food?

Harvest Crunch.  All day.  By the handful.

 

​10. ​(Summer) dream vacation?

Haida Gwaii by kayak.

 

Extra question: ​Name your favourite Toronto haunt.

My canoe, floating just off of the R.C. Harris Filtration Plant.


Visit: alexeddington.com

Facebook Event: Canadian Left Hand Commissioning Project, here

ADVANCE TICKETS at: Canadian Music Centre