New Album

Music for Detuned Pianos with Kit Downes

out 20th March 2020

on Village Green Recordings

The music on this album was recorded on various acoustic pianos over the last two years, and aside from the Yamaha Disklavier of Color Cry, played by Kit Downes (ECM). The majority of the pianos have been detuned in variety of ways, a process done by Laurence Fischer who was able to be present for the entire time of the recording so that the adjustments would remain stable. A few of the pieces have been kept in  standard equal temperament,  and hopefully provide a familiar perspective from which to hear those that are detuned.

Whilst most of the pieces were recorded as a single solo take, an overdubbing process sometimes took place to make the music bigger, or to superimpose different tunings on top of an existing one. I had planned not to use any other sounds other than the acoustic pianos,  but in a few instances I added some electronics. I thought this  helped push the otherworldly  aspect of the recordings I had originally set out to achieve with  Kit’s improvising seeming to expand this feeling further. 

Aside from the normality of the equal temperament pieces, the pianos were detuned in four differing ways, all inspired by American 20th century composers. This ranged from two separate  harmonic series tunings inspired by James Tenney’s  pianola music, an attempt to replicate the symmetries of Harry Partch’s diamond marimba as well as a version of La Monte Young take on just intonation. 

The artwork for the album was taken from Penelope Umbrico’s book Moving Mountains. In her work she employs smartphone camera apps to make new degraded photographs of images of the oldest, most stable object that appears in canonical photography - the mountain. I felt both our work, by undermining and warping what is familiar, seeks to challenge the iconic and monumental aspects of both piano in music and the mountain in visual art.

Some technical notes on tunings used:

All the music here was recorded acoustically on pianos tuned to a variety of specifications: 
The Sky Has A Film, Spell (background) and Foxtrot all use a version of La Monte Young’s tuning system in seven-limit just intonation. 
The piano in Blueshift is tuned to selected partials from the harmonic series (on F). Likewise, Color Cry, written for the Yamaha Disklavier and named after the 1953 Len Lye film, uses a variety of overtones from three interlocking harmonic series on C,G and D. 
Landscape and Doppelgänger utilise two separate overdubbed tunings in an attempt to create the symmetries of Harry Partch’s Diamond Marimba. 
The pianos in Bismuth Dream, Redshift, Star Song and Spell (foreground) are in equal temperament.