Nancarrow was a quirky American composer who had fought with the Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War and took up reclusive residence in Mexico City, creating astonishingly complex music hand-punched into player piano rolls because he was displeased with the performances that his compositions received at the hands of musicians. He lived until 1997 and was “discovered” late in his life by composers Charles Amirkhanian and Peter Garland. This resulted in a series of recordings of his studies for player piano, which explored a variety of wild tempos run against one another all at the same time. Many involved jazz rhythms and were often based on mathematical designs. The original recordings for 1750 Arch st. Records were reissued on the Wergo label. They did not complete all of the composer’s work, but this disc is an attempt by Amirkhanian to move in that direction. The last track of the disc is a half-hour interview he did in Mexico City with Nancarrow, for his former programs on the Pacifica Foundation radio station in Berkeley, CA – KPFA – where he was Music Director.
The various Nancarrow explorations include a Blues for Piano, a Sonatina, a string quartet (but played by a player piano roll), and even a musique concrete Piece for Tape. Six of the 13 music tracks feature the German engineer-composer who goes by the single name Trimpin. He created machines to translate Nancarrow’s piano rolls into MIDI information to allow playing on synthesizers. He also built a wild musical sculpture-instrument called the “Conloninpurple,” which was a sort of computerized marimba with each key suspended individually from the ceiling over the audience.
The CD’s last musical track is the final work Nancarrow composed – for another Trimpin computerized instrument he called The Contraption IPP. Fascinating stuff from a highly individual musical mind.
– John Sunier