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Kyle Gann: Nude Rolling Down An Escalator / Gann


Release Date: 06/28/2005 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80633   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Kyle Gann
Performer:  Kyle Gann
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 1 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews





Longtime readers of Fanfare will recognize the name of Kyle Gann (b. 1955), who was a reviewer for this publication years ago. For two decades now, he?s also been the new music critic for the Village Voice , covering the downtown experimental scene and being one of the most forceful advocates for a ?maximalist? aesthetic (more on that in a moment).


I only mention the above because it?s the first impression that Gann?s career profile projects. But he was trained as a composer and has always composed. (Indeed, unlike Virgil Read more Thomson in an earlier era, his critical work has probably impeded his compositional career, as too many fear conflicts of interest in collaborating with a prominent reviewer). Several years ago, I reviewed his magisterial Desert Sonata for piano on Lovely Music 3052, a work that still profoundly impresses me. His Custer and Sitting Bull (Monroe Street 60104), a one-man music theater piece in just intonation that he performs, is compelling and wacky at once, a great all-American monodrama.


Gann?s compositional aesthetic draws its roots from that remarkable period early in the 20th century when American experimental composers were at their most adventurous and radical, the ?ultramodernists.? Charles Ives is the godfather to the group, which included (a partial list) Carl Ruggles, Henry Cowell, Ruth Crawford, Dane Rudhyar, Leo Ornstein, John Becker, and Edgard Varèse. All these composers were strong individualists, but common attributes of their music included a taste for invention of new techniques; a fearless mixing of idioms, both modernist and popular; a pleasure in dissonance; and a belief that American values and music sources offered a route toward original expression independent of European models.


Gann could be said to be a contemporary advocate of all the above. In both his critical writings and his own creative work he has advocated and pursued music which packs a vast range of information and experience into its rubric (like modernism), but which does so using process and clearly audible structures (like minimalism). As an example, it?s not surprising that he?s one of the masters of contemporary composition using just intonation, the tuning system of Harry Partch, which uses mathematics in a way that?s highly sophisticated, yet far more acoustically ?grounded? than serialism?s contortions.


Another composer on whom Gann has literally ?written the book? (Cambridge University Press) is Conlon Nancarrow (1912?97), the legendary hermit of Mexico City who wrote almost all his music for player piano, so as to accurately render his groundbreaking rhythmic experiments. Gann has taken this technological tradition to its logical next step, as embodied in this album. All the works herein are studies for Disklavier, the computer-controlled Yamaha grand piano that interprets MIDI data (Musical Instrument Digital Interface, which has been the standard code of controlling outboard devices from a computing source). With its resonance and action identical to that of a ?real? piano, the Disklavier allows for a greater degree of musical ?verisimilitude? than almost any computer-controlled instrument, even when performing works (such as these) that are technically impossible for any single human.


Like Nancarrow, Gann explores extremely complex rhythmic relations. But they are always placed in a context where they support a larger musical idea that?s clearly audible. Despotic Waltz is one such example, where a little neo-Chopin etude has an absolutely strict 32nd-note line rippling in the ?right hand,? while the left is constantly indulging in rubato. Or the Sonata da chiesa , where several different layers of tango move in parallel polytempic layers.


These works also deal with a vast range of styles and artistic paths that Gann has met and mastered; in some ways one can see the whole set of etudes as a series of homages. In addition to the two above (referencing Chopin and Virgil Thomson), Texarkana conjures a meeting between Nancarrow and a Joplin rag. Bud Ran Back Out is a neo-bebop essay. Cosmic Boogie-Woogie is a perpetual motion machine related to Terry Riley?s keyboard studies. The Waiting is a still space suggesting Morton Feldman?s multiple piano works. Folk Dance for Henry Cowell is obvious in its provenance, and Petty Larceny pulls off the neat trick of every note being an excerpt from Beethoven sonatas, pasted into a collage that?s simultaneously familiar and disorienting.


Two works are a little more abstract. Nude Rolling Down an Escalator presents a rollercoaster of clusters and glissandos in inhuman textures that is both Duchamp and Mondrian. And The Unquiet , written in memory of the recently (and much too young) deceased composer and theorist Jonathan Kramer, is a ravishing work. To a degree, it?s a sequel to Gann?s 1981 Long Night for three pianos (which gives me an opportunity to plug another recent release, a CD single on Cold Blue 19, which presents this piece, about twice as long as Unquiet Night at 25 minutes, in a multitrack performance by Sarah Cahill.) It has the same spaciousness, gorgeous, impressionistic/jazzy harmonies, and richness of texture. It continues the Feldmanesque tradition, but with a greater pleasure in overt, sensual beauty.


In a sense my headnote doesn?t do full justice, because Gann has programmed all these works, so his ?hand? is actually evident throughout in the musicality of touch and phrasing one hears throughout. In that sense, he really is the performer. The music also has a special sonic ?aura,? due to a 1799 well-tempered tuning (which sounds particularly apropos in Petty Larceny ), a middle ground between the uncompromising purity of just intonation and the complete compromise of our ?standard? equal temperament.


The composer John Luther Adams, who provides the excellent booklet notes, speaks of Gann as a composer who above all prizes sincerity. That?s not a fashionable virtue right now, in an age rife with cynicism and irony. But in his unabashed love for the roots of American experimental music and his willingness to probe the practice of different composers in depth so as to extract techniques which he can then make his own, Kyle Gann is testimony to the continuing vitality of a tradition that?s always been on the outside, yet constantly renews itself?and all the rest of us?with its vigor, freedom, and courage. This isn?t just a wonderful tribute to said tradition; it?s wonderful music in its own right.


FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

1. Studies for Disklavier: no 5, Texarkana by Kyle Gann
Performer:  Kyle Gann (Electric Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2000; USA 
Date of Recording: 04/01/2005 
Venue:  Fisher Arts Center, Bard College, New Yo 
Length: 3 Minutes 48 Secs. 
2. Studies for Disklavier: no 3, Nude Rolling Down an Escalator by Kyle Gann
Performer:  Kyle Gann (Electric Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Date of Recording: 04/01/2005 
Venue:  Fisher Arts Center, Bard College, New Yo 
Length: 5 Minutes 24 Secs. 
Notes: Composition written: USA (1997 - 1999). 
3. Studies for Disklavier: no 9, Petty Larceny by Kyle Gann
Performer:  Kyle Gann (Electric Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2003; USA 
Date of Recording: 04/01/2005 
Venue:  Fisher Arts Center, Bard College, New Yo 
Length: 5 Minutes 43 Secs. 
4. Studies for Disklavier: no 6, Bud Ran Back Out by Kyle Gann
Performer:  Kyle Gann (Electric Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2001; USA 
Date of Recording: 04/01/2005 
Venue:  Fisher Arts Center, Bard College, New Yo 
Length: 3 Minutes 42 Secs. 
5. Studies for Disklavier: no 7, Cosmic Boogie-Woogie by Kyle Gann
Performer:  Kyle Gann (Electric Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Date of Recording: 04/01/2005 
Venue:  Fisher Arts Center, Bard College, New Yo 
Length: 8 Minutes 42 Secs. 
Notes: Composition written: USA (2000 - 2001). 
6. Studies for Disklavier: no 1, Despotic Waltz by Kyle Gann
Performer:  Kyle Gann (Electric Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1997; USA 
Date of Recording: 04/01/2005 
Venue:  Fisher Arts Center, Bard College, New Yo 
Length: 2 Minutes 13 Secs. 
7. Studies for Disklavier: no 4, Folk Dance for Henry Cowell by Kyle Gann
Performer:  Kyle Gann (Electric Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1999; USA 
Date of Recording: 04/01/2005 
Venue:  Fisher Arts Center, Bard College, New Yo 
Length: 2 Minutes 11 Secs. 
8. Studies for Disklavier: no 2, The Waiting by Kyle Gann
Performer:  Kyle Gann (Electric Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1997; USA 
Date of Recording: 04/01/2005 
Venue:  Fisher Arts Center, Bard College, New Yo 
Length: 7 Minutes 21 Secs. 
9. Studies for Disklavier: no 8, Tango da Chiesa by Kyle Gann
Performer:  Kyle Gann (Electric Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2002; USA 
Date of Recording: 04/01/2005 
Venue:  Fisher Arts Center, Bard College, New Yo 
Length: 5 Minutes 54 Secs. 
10. Studies for Disklavier: no 10, Unquiet Night by Kyle Gann
Performer:  Kyle Gann (Electric Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2004; USA 
Date of Recording: 04/01/2005 
Venue:  Fisher Arts Center, Bard College, New Yo 
Length: 16 Minutes 20 Secs. 

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