Working with Conlon Nancarrow's Music

I began working with Nancarrow's music in 1986 while working as a research assistant at UCSD's Computer Audio Research Laboratory. I had written to the composer asking about his interest in multi-channel realizations of his player piano Studies and he suggested making an arrangement of Study No. 37  for Player Piano. I was lucky to meet the composer on his trip to San Diego for the Pacific Rim Festival (along with John Cage) and to spend some time with him and get his approval of the result.

In 2011 I organized conlonnancarrow.org and sponsored an online symposium in honor of Nancarrow's centennial. In the process I became friends with Trimpin and got access to his archive of MIDI files and began doing some of the editing necessary to make them ready for performance on Disklavier. Nancarrow added metal strips or buttons to the hammers of his player pianos to make their attacks more precise, and I thought that one solution to imitating this definition of Disklavier would be to double the piano's notes on its accompanying GM synthesizer module.

In the process of organizing the symposium I came in contact with a number of people who knew Nancarrow and/or work with his music, including Jürgen Hocker, Monika Fürst-Heidtmann, Carlos Sandoval, Julio EstradaHelena Bugallo and Amy Williams, David Nancarrow, Yoko Sugiura, Eva Soltes, Gordon MummaKyle Gann, Rex Lawson, James Greeson, and Martin Schlumpf, and renewed correspondence with Felix Meyer and Charles Amirkhanian. The bulk of the symposium migrated to a special issue of Music Theory Online.

One of the highlights of the centennial year was attending Amirkhanian's amazing celebration in Berkeley, California, which is archived with along with his historic KPFA programs at RADIOM. I talked with many of the people I'd worked with on the symposium, including Dominic Murcott who shares my interest in new acoustic realizations of the Studies and who had organized his own event in London.

I've given a few lecture-demos of Nancarrow's music and my arrangements for Disklavier and Synthesizer. I like to lead off with scenes from Greeson's documentary.

I worked with Øyvind Brandtsegg on a series of performances of selected Studies on pipe organs.

I've had a few performances of "Homage to John Cage and Conlon Nancarrow" composed in honor of their centennials. It uses two Max patches, one that triggers "Nancarrow licks" from the ASCII keyboard, another that generates random notes from a "modulating scale" (C D E F G A B C D E F# G A B C# D E F# G# A B C# D# E F# G# A# B...).


Presentation at Ohio State on February 7, 2014.

Presentation at Ball State on March 18, 2015.