Let’s say you’re a keyboardist and sick of the same old notes: as Wadada Leo Smith would say, maybe you feel hemmed in by the “tyranny of the key of C.” Maybe you want to voice the kind of in-between notes that a fretless instrument can deliver…or you want to go inside the piano a la George Crumb…or you’ve got a fondness for microtones or weird tunings in general. But as much as you’d like to bring in a real piano that you can play around with and/or torture a little, there’s no way it’s going to fit through your doorframe, or up the five rickety flights of stairs to your place…and you can’t afford a crane and a crew to pop out the window and put it back in again. Not to worry: Dan Trueman‘s new Bitklavier software, compatible with any MIDI keyboard, will empower you many times over. To illustrate its many capabilities, Trueman has a new album, Nostalgic Synchronic, played by So Percussion‘s Adam Sliwinski and streaming at Bandcamp. The album release show features Sliwinski and So Percussion, pianist Cristina Altamura playing Bach, and Trueman airing out his chops on the hardanger fiddle this Tuesday, October 6 at 7:30 PM at le Poisson Rouge. There will also be Bitklavier workstations set up for adventurous keyboardists to have fun with. Advance tix are $15.
To what degree is this album a demo reel – lookit all the wild things my gizmo can do! – and how genuinely musical is it? Obviously, Trueman is having a ball with all the echo and backward-masking and pitch-bending effects, and as much as his eight etudes here seeem obviously designed with those things in mind, the music is more listenable than you might expect – and trippy beyond belief. An apt comparison is Vijay Iyer‘s work on the actual acoustic prepared piano on Hafez Modirzadeh‘s cult classic Postchromadal Out! album from a couple of years ago. The first track is minimalist, steadily rhythmic and staccato, showcasing how subtly and intricately echo can be deployed, along with minute changes in pitch that are all the more prominent considering the tune’s static quality. The slow second piece mimics the almost glacial shifts of tidal motion, with gentle variances in rhythm – an important and useful feature of the software – and the decay of notes. The third takes a simple, folksy melody and quickly disassembles it, with dizzying, rhythmically altered echo: imagine an acid flashback experience of slapback reverb.
Track four has creepy fun with a steady raindroplet tune. The one after that, a homage to Norwegian pianist Christian Wallumrød, wastes no time shifting from what promises to be a Beatlesque psychedelic rock stroll and then offers a look at how the software could be applied to blues or jazz riffage. Etude six is especially tuneful, a jauntily echoing, balletesque number exploring the software’s rhythmic effect on counterpoint: the point seems to be, “see, you can play Bach with this.” The seventh piece, an old Norwegian folk melody transposed from its original strange tuning to an arguably even stranger new one, relates to how neoromantic phrases can be cut, pasted and staggered. The concluding etude, slow and steady, offers a delightfully menacing hint at where David Lynch could go with this. Let’s see – there’s a new Twin Peaks series coming up, isn’t there?