Conlon Nancarrow: Studies for player Piano

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Conlon Nancarrow's Studies for Player Piano is a cycle of work unique in many respects, not the least being its seeming indivisibility from itself. As the primary text of the music is a hand-punched piano roll intended to be played on specific, Ampico model player pianos, it does not lead to a wide range of options in terms of interpretation. While instrumental versions of some Nancarrow rolls have been recorded by live players, the high level of rhythmic complexity employed in much of this music rather restricts it to within the realm of the rolls on which they were written, or conceivably also through realization on computer. Based on such parameters, one might think that all compact disc representations of Nancarrow's player piano music are created equal, but they are not so. This one, Other Minds' Conlon Nancarrow: Studies for Player Piano, stems from master tapes made in Mexico City for release on the 1750 Arch label in the 1970s and '80s, with Nancarrow's own specially retrofitted pianos, in Nancarrow's studio, and with the composer himself picking tempos and working with producer Charles Amirkhanian to achieve ideal results. These recordings were considered state of the art at the time and still sound great, and can certainly be considered definitive; CDs drawing from sources made later represent the music as played back by other machines and operators. While the differences might be slight, they are still significant, particularly in regard to tempo choices, which can either make or break this music, and breaking it isn't hard to do at all. Hearing them played back on Nancarrow's pianos also affords an additional layer of articulation missing from many reproductions; one of Nancarrow's pianos was fitted with metal hammers, resulting a clattery sense of attack, whereas the other had hammers covered with leather strips for a more mellow sound. Make no mistake about it: the Other Minds set truly represents what Nancarrow himself wanted you to hear when it came to his player piano music, and he did have very specific ideas about that.

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