Saturday, May 19, 2007

Pianola


I ran into Dan Becker last night at a performance of David Conte's opera America Tropical, a tale of very comfortable liberalism set in Los Angeles across the 20th century, centering on the anti-imperalist Olvera street mural of the 30s by David Alfaro Siqueiros and the videotaping of the Rodney King beating. The quality of the performance itself was high and made an effective use of the space - Thick House on Potrero Hill - just down the street from where I'm sitting - and the theater at which my opera Mordake is intended to premiere next year, God willing.

Dan and I got to talking about Kyle Gann's discussion of his beautiful Disklavier works that were recently choreographed by Mark Morris. Having known Kyle's works for a long time I can't help but be very happy for him. Like so many of us, he's underappreciated, and the few that make it out to the wider world blaze a trail for us all and I'm thankful. Dan's been working with the instrument too for a while, and tells me that the new ones still can't play the densest of the Nancarrow studies without a bit of hiccoughing, fuse-blowing, and lights-dimming, and that's sad to me. I had just taken a job with Yamaha Music Technologies back in 1987 when the first models came out and, like a lot of composers, was filled with lust for this device. Unfortunately, that initial New-Relationship-Energy was tempered when I found that one couldn't play more than 16 notes at a time, that there was a sizable delay from input to output and, if even a 10 note chord was played too long, the power supply might blow. The robots have attained more facility over the years, but still haven't quite achieved the raw power of their pianola ancestors with their pneumatic action and rolls punched by the sure hands of Conlon, frail when I once met him over dinner at Shin Shin restaurant just across the bay. I'm afraid I was too in awe to converse with him with much confidence, but - as usual for me - ended up talking with his wife while letting Henry K. and Charles A. take up the slack.
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