KLARENZ BARLOW Clavier Works = Ludus regalis – 13 Preludes & Fugues; Pieces for Player Piano: …or a cherish’d bard…, Kuri Suti Bekar, Estudio Siete, Pandora; Cogluotobusisletmesi for four claviers – Herman Kretzchmar, piano/Klarenz Barlow, player piano/Klavierquartett – Cybele Records multichannel SACD 960.308, 71:31 [Distr. by Albany] ** (depending…):
This is a very advanced avantgarde collection of works for piano and at the same time a fascinating aural/surround sound experience that should entice most audiophiles even if they are not fans of avant contemporary German piano music. Clarence Barlow was brought up in the English-speaking minority of Calcutta, India, and later studied electronic music and composition in Cologne, Germany, where Stockhausen and Globokar were among his instructors.
The Ludus regalis came about due to the composer’s noting the similarities between Western classical music and Indian music. He found the the most prevalent scale ini North Indian music corresponds to the major scale of European music. In his 13 preludes and fugues Barlow set out to mix two contemporary classical forms – the European fugue and the Indian raga. The pieces begin quite simply and diatonically, but progress to complex and multi-tonal pieces later in the sequence.
The four shorter pieces for player piano come out of similar thinking to that of Conlon Nancarrow, who found that his uptempo rhythmic ideas were next to impossible to ask live pianists to perform, and punching piano rolls gave him much more precise and accurate control. Barlow’s four pieces are based on complex very-Germanic/avant mathematical theories not dissimilar to many of Stockhausen’s works, and only via piano rolls can the notes be precisely struck according to the overall chart. However, two of them exist in alternative versions for solo pianist… I sympathize with that pianist. The “Studio Study 7” was composed for a film festival to accompany a 1930s Oskar Fischinger abstract animated film (he contributed to Disney’s Fantasia) titled Study No. 6.
The mind-blowing, ear-blowing piece on this SACD is the concluding half-hour-length Cogluotobusisletmesi for four pianos (there are supposed to be four special accent marks in that title but it would take me hours to find them on my Mac). Written in 1978, it has up to four separate sound layers which run parallel to one another in time, often at different speeds. The music varies wildly between consonant and dissonant, tonal and atonal, metric and ametric, dense and spares, loud and soft, and so forth. It sounds like music coming directly out of a computer. In preparation for the composition Barlow studied psychoacoustic research relating to consonance and dissonance, which among other things found that one’s perception of the roughness of a sound originates in the cochlea of the inner ear. Oh, yes, I should explain that all four pianos have been retuned so that the notes B, D, E and F-sharp are tuned a quarter-step flat in each octave. Don’t ask why.
The sounds (I hate to second-guess some readers by calling it music) begin with the piano at front left. After awhile it is joined by the piano at front right, which seems to bear little relationship to the one already playing. In time the two other pianos on the surrounds chime in, and if you have the interest/curiosity/obsession to stay with it to the conclusion, you will have experienced a four piano performance quite unlike anything you have ever heard. My paltry attempt at a description would go something like imagining you’re in the final tuning area of the Steinway piano factory, only instead of each final tuner doing his work in a separate soundproof room, four of them are arrayed around you doing their thing.
– John Sunier