Friday, May 1, 2015

PIE's The Magnetic Resonator Piano 4/19/15

On April 19, I went to the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church of Pasadena to see People Inside Electronics' presentation of Andrew McPherson's Magnetic Resonator Piano.

Like all great ideas, the MRP is the sort of thing that seems both far-fetched and so obvious that it is a surprise it doesn't already exist. It would be reductive to call the MRP merely the ultimate e-bow, though it works on a far more advanced version of the same concept. Strings can sustain endlessly through electromagnetic induction, but it can also bend pitches and alter the timbre of the sustained pitch by highlighting various partials. The resulting sounds are surprisingly similar to the CMC-ish timbres that riddle the history of electronic music, and I suspect that comes from a similar ADSR approach to sound. The retro-futurism that the MRP lends to the familiar sounds of the grand piano gives it a surreal flair. That it does so acoustically hints at exciting possibilities.

The concert featured a hockey line of fantastic pianists, including Genevieve LeeNic GerpeSteven VanhauwaertRichard Valitutto, and Aron Kallay. To my ears, all the pianists sounded great at the helm of the augmented piano, especially considering that they probably didn't have a lot of hands-on time with the MRP. The first half of the concert featured works written previously for the instrument by east coast composers. It was opened by McPherson's own Secrets of Antikythera, which was a nice and gentle brain palate cleanser to start the concert off. The second movement of Daniel Shapiro's Kirchengesang had a delightful sheen of processing that reminded me of a tonal, pastoral echo of Stockhausen's Mantra. Daniel Fox's Intermezzo remained astutely pianistic, and Tony Solitro's Spectra of Morning had some moments that reminded me of an Aeolian harp.

The second half of the concert featured works by local LA composers commissioned for this concert. Of these pieces, Elise Roy's Sonatine seemed to integrate the device the best. Pianist Richard Valitutto performed the piece, extending the ADSR approach to included vocal sounds and soloistic explorations of the string's partials. Julia Adophe's Magnetic Etudes was a great way to start the second half, and Jeremy Cavaterra's Gegenshein had some nice moments using the sustain of the MRP. Alexander Elliot Miller's 88MPH ended the concert with a playful fantasy on the theme to Back to the Future.

Contemporary western music has something of a love/hate relationship with the piano and all it symbolizes. The MRP is a productive contribution to that conversation, and it is probably best that device was gently introduced rather than prominently featured. Much of the music heard on Saturday only scratched the surface of the MRP's capabilities, and I found myself wondering how each piece would sound were the MRP not present. Really, most of the music would have sounded roughly the same. Each piece had a few key moments that integrated the device into the music, but the majority of it would have fit into a perfectly pleasant late 20th century piano recital (or sometimes a Vangelis concert). They weren't roaming freely in the greener pastures of a timbrally expanded piano, but rather building a solid bridge to get there.

Tonight, May 1, People Inside Electronics teams up with the Hear Now Music Festival to present electroacoustic works by local LA composers. I won't be able to make it, but it sounds like a great concert!

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