In avant garde music of the late 20th century, there is extensive exploration of alternate methods for playing traditional instruments. Although electronic instruments were established and used regularly for performance during the time, the effect and tonality of an existing instrument remains a unique and novel experience, especially when used in the context of a performance.
The piano, with its ubiquity and history of public performance, is one of the instruments that has withstood the greatest influence regarding alternate playing techniques. Its complexity and tonal range almost beg for the exploration of the gamut of sounds that could be available.
In the late 1930’s John Cage created the prepared piano, which is a piano that has its sound altered by placing objects on or between the strings. These objects include screws, bolts, erasers, wooden pegs and pieces of rubber tubing. Anything that alters the sound of the instrument is acceptable. Cage found his modified piano to be perfect for the subsequent dance pieces he composed during the following decade. Today, there is a free iPhone app.
George Crumb, with his interest in exploring unusual timbres, has written many piano works which include amplification and effects. His use of the subtle nuances of the piano body and resonant features helps to create a soft and engaging sound that shows off the talents of the performer. His Makrokosmos series of piano pieces explore mysterious realms of tone and color.
The playing of the actual piano strings using bows, picks, hammers and fingertips has been mastered by Stephen Scott and his Bowed Piano Ensemble. For his unique compositions, a grand piano is played by an ensemble of ten musicians utilizing lengths of horsehair, nylon filament and other utensils creating an orchestra-like sound. His work uses a minimal, modal style lending an ancient feeling to his pieces.
Bowing of instruments, specifically percussion, finds a rich history in avant garde music. Cymbals, wood blocks, gongs, chimes and frame drums have all been bowed and recorded and can still be heard in many film scores today. The bowing of metal bars, however, is one of the clearest and ethereal sounds, resembling a glass harmonica or electronic tone.
Today, I present my own work, Music for Metallophone and Piano, composed in 2015 and performed by myself for the first time in 2017. Each section honors one of the composers mentioned above, and is split up into the following parts:
Part One: In the style of John Cage
Part Two: In the style of George Crumb
Part Three: In the style of Stephen Scott