Bowed Piano Ensemble

Ice & Fire

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Stephen Scott founded the Bowed Piano Ensemble in 1977, and his compositions are designed around the extraordinary skills of this Colorado-based group, which are surprisingly varied. While the idea of bowing the strings inside a piano is not novel, since it goes back to the experiments of Henry Cowell, and was perfected in the 1970s by Curtis Curtis-Smith, how Scott and the Bowed Piano Ensemble have turned it into their expressive medium is actually more important. The ten highly coordinated members of the ensemble play an open grand piano with a combination of techniques, which include bowing with horsehair or nylon filaments, plucking, strumming, scraping, and tapping the strings, or knocking on different areas of the case and soundboard for rhythmic patterns and percussive effects. On this 2013 release, Ice & Fire, Scott's music presents a wide range of sonorities, from simple drones to melodies and elaborate clouds of harmonies that blend with other instruments, such as the Native American flutes in Afternoon of a Fire, and the human voice in Vocalise on "In a Silent Way" and La Guitarra. The Bowed Piano Ensemble offers an astonishing array of tone colors, and there's little wonder why the group is often referred to as an orchestra, perhaps best illustrated in the lavish suite, Baltic Sketches. Even so, there is a kind of loose structure in Scott's compositions that can make the music seem directionless and drifting, and its repetitiousness and the occasional blandness of his chords may remind listeners of minimalist or new age music. Yet this is an enjoyable album that will introduce many to these musicians, and fans of experimental and ambient music will enjoy this disc.

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