Dan Trueman: Nostalgic Synchronic
DAN TRUEMAN: NOSTALGIC SYNCHRONIC
Composer/inventor Dan Trueman is known for his “intriguing juxtaposition of the organic and synthetic,” drawing on “the intimacy and emotive charge of human touch, while exploring electronically-generated colors and textures” (Q2 Music). His latest project, Nostalgic Synchronic, is a set of eight keyboard etudes written for Adam Sliwinski of Sō Percussion. These are played on Trueman’s newest invention: the bitKlavier, which he describes as a “prepared digital piano.”
On Friday, September 25, New Amsterdam Records will release Nostalgic Synchronic, performed by Sliwinski in his solo recording debut. The album will be available in CD, vinyl, and download versions; the sheet music will also go on sale in hard copy and pdf formats.
Simultaneously with the recording, the bitKlavier software will be released via the Apple App Store and the project website, for a nominal fee: $5 for iPad, $25 for the desktop version. With its ease of setup, its simple and elegant interface, and its many user-programmable features, the bitKlavier invites exploration by tech aficionados and Luddites alike.
About the bitKlavier
In describing the bitKlavier as a “prepared digital piano,” Trueman nods to John Cage’s namesake invention, in which various objects are inserted between the strings to alter the sound. Notes Trueman, “We can’t stick a screw between the ‘strings’ of a digital piano, since it doesn’t actually have any strings! But we can do the digital equivalent by sticking a new algorithm (a kind of virtual screw) inside the algorithm (the virtual hammer and string) that drives the digital piano. So just as the screw mucks with the vibrations of the resonating string, these virtual screws muck with the behavior of the virtual hammer and string, causing it to respond in unusual ways, in ways that are impossible with the acoustic piano.”
The setup is quite simple: an ordinary MIDI keyboard connected to a laptop or tablet containing Trueman’s software. Speakers or headphones run from the computer’s audio output. Remarks Trueman, “You just plug the keyboard in, launch the bitKlavier application, and begin to play.”
Even a small two-octave keyboard can be used. Yet the bitKlavier is powerful and sophisticated: under the player’s hands, it “pushes back” in subtle or startling ways, unleashing fresh sounds and opening up new realms in the intimate dynamic between the performer and his/her instrument.
About the Etudes
Says Trueman, “I started writing the Études for myself to explore some of the possibilities of the bitKlavier in a focused manner. I had used versions of similar ‘instruments’ or ‘machines’ in various ad hoc ways in a number of pieces with larger ensembles, but felt that I might find some things by limiting the field a bit. I didn’t imagine that these would become anything more than fodder for other compositions, but they proved much more interesting (to me, anyhow!) than I had anticipated. I think it is likely obvious that the Ligeti Études were on my mind, but I also found an unexpected resonance with much older music.” His notes for the pieces follow.
Étude #1: Prelude
> “This etude [is] all about gradually adding pitches to a long sustained sonority, and then hearing those pitches swell and peak one by one. This didactic quality, along with its focus on a single set of preparations, is one of the reasons I think it functions well to start, as a sort of prelude.”
Étude #2: Undertow
> “I grew up near the Long Island Sound and would regularly spend time there, letting the variable tides push and pull at my ankles, mixing and shaping and sounding constantly and patiently.”
Étude #3: Song
> “This feels like a simple fiddle tune, and who knows, maybe it is and I’ve forgotten where I learned it. It’s also impossible on a conventional piano; the tuning, of the 7th in particular, and how the tuning changes, is part of the tune; these aren’t notes that deviate from some equal-tempered norm—they are their own good notes just as they are thank you very much.”
Étude #4: Marbles
> “The little bits of rubber that racecar tires shed while turning are sometimes called “marbles.” Sonically this seems about right for this etude, but I also like the racecar driving metaphor; the driver is not expending energy directly to drive the car, but is rather virtuosically handling a powerful beast, sometime slowing it down, pushing it one way, using the smallest muscles as well as the largest. We should have more musical instruments that are like racecars.”
Étude #5: Wallumrød
> “This began as an exploration and retuning of a particular pair of sonorities from a record by the wonderful Norwegian “jazz” composer and pianist Christian Wallumrød. It also has a sense of majestic and slow oozing urgency, something I hear in Wallumrød’s music.”
Étude #6: Points among Lines (with Occasional Tantrum)
> “The simplest preparation: a single, very quick metronome strike (well, and some tuning action in addition), perhaps a bit like a paddleball. Perhaps it is the implied neglect of such a lightweight preparation that makes this etude occasionally cranky.”
Étude #7: Systerslått
> “Systerslått is one of a set of Norwegian Hardanger fiddle tunes that are particularly ancient and mysterious, both in terms of tuning (it is usually played in an unusual scordatura with a major-6th between the middle strings) and groove (it is a telespringar, a type of Norwegian dance that feels particularly wobbly and disorienting to the uninitiated but feels great to those who dance it).”
Étude #8: It is Enough!
> “I originally composed a version of this etude for Symphony of W’s, for the Crash Ensemble. More theft here, in this case from a Bach chorale that has been fodder for a number of composers over the years, most notably Berg, in his violin concerto; unlike in the Berg, however, I think the Bach is transformed beyond recognition here, for better or worse.”