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Music For Choking Disklavier

by Hans Tammen



Music For Choking Disklavier
Imagine the Disklavier in the center of the stage, the composer/performer somewhat distant to the side. Several microphones are put into position not over the strings, but at the hammers and keys. Remotely controlled by the composer/performer, the piano produces constantly rumbled and crackled noises, often rhythmically, occasionally ringing strings are added on top, or stopping for a few seconds on a chord.
The piece explores the sonic capabilities of the Disklavier machine. Automatons like the Disklavier are often used to present the "superhuman" capabilities of these machines. However, I myself am more interested in the hidden sonic qualities of those automatons, and there is a lot to discover for the listener.
Technically the Disklavier is fed too much information, and at the lowest possible volume. At this point the hammers do not have enough power to bang the strings anymore, and ideally they only vibrate to produce a low rumbling sound. Occasionally the MIDI brain stops for a few seconds - "chokes" - on a chord due to the data overload, hence the title "Choking Disklavier".
To create the pieces, the playful intervention by the composer/performer to arrange the various possibilities into a musical structure is needed. The software allows me to change several parameters of the data that is fed into the machine (basically the amount of data per second), the keys it is sent to (according to weighted random strategies), and the MIDI-velocity (well, mostly 1, 2 and 3). Certain combinations produce just rumbling sounds, others tend to be very rhythmic because the MIDI brain seems to deliver the data in blocks instead of continuously, others allow certain keys to be hit - although it is hardly controllable which keys.
The last piece focuses solely on the choking moments. I cut all the rumbling out from a long version I recorded, leaving only the moments the machine "choked" on the chords.
The project was premiered as an automated version during Brooklyn College's Open House in April 2006. The installation ran for 6 hours, each 10-minute cycle went through 9 different musical stages. Thanks to Yonatan Niv for inviting me to present at Brooklyn College and making the subsequent recording possible, and Paul Geluso for the mastering.

Hans Tammen creates sounds that have been described as an alien world of bizarre textures and a journey through the land of unending sonic operations. He likes set up self-running systems, having used technology from planetarium projectors and guitar robots to disklavier pianos and chaos-synths.


released November 6, 2015

Compositions by Hans Tammen
Recorded April 2006 at Brooklyn College, New York
Recording engineer Yonatan Niv
Mastered by Paul Geluso
Cover photo by Heim/iStockphoto


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