“who says piano keys have to be just black and white?”
— Maggie Malloy, Second Inversion
Like the prepared piano, the prepared digital piano feels just like a piano under the hands and often sounds like one, but it is full of surprises; instead of bolts and screws stuck between the piano strings, virtual machines of various sorts adorn the virtual strings of the digital piano, transforming it into an instrument that pushes back, sometimes like a metronome, other times like a recording played backwards. The virtual strings also tighten and loosen on the fly, dynamically tuning in response to what is played. Nostalgic Synchronic is a set of eight etudes I composed to explore the prepared digital piano, inspired by John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes, György Ligeti’s Études and Musica Ricercata, Nancarrow’s Studies, and Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.
I have long been interested in the differences between mechanical time and how we actually feel and articulate time as biological creatures. This goes back to my experiences—shared by many!—practicing with a metronome, and has continued through my recent piece neither Anvil nor Pulley, commissioned by So Percussion. Directly inspired by an instrument created for neither Anvil nor Pulley, the prepared digital piano is driven by bitKlavier, the most recent software instrument I have built to explore these ideas. One thing I am particularly excited about here is how accessible the technology is; in the past, I’ve made pieces and software that are a pain to setup and use, but in this case, all the player needs is a standard 88-key MIDI keyboard and a laptop. So, in a real practical way, this is the first technologically-grounded piece I’ve made that can be easily put in the hands—literally—of lots of people, both amateur and professional.
I am thrilled that Adam Sliwinski, who I have worked with for years as part of So Percussion, has taken such a shine to these pieces. While it may seem odd to have a percussionist play these piano pieces, it actually makes great sense, as is apparent in the recordings we have made. He has also played a crucial role in the development of these pieces—I showed him the first couple while they were in progress, and I really had him in mind when I was working on the rest of them.