Music by Peter Sculthorpe & Michael Hannan
$23 (Australian dollars)
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|Michael Hannan: piano interior|
Michael Hannan performs the Peter Sculthorpe classics, "Landscape" and "Koto Musics" 1 & 2, as well as eight of his own works, all involving layers of atmospheric improvised textures of sounds from the interior of the piano. Several of these works include additional material from tape and tape 'loops'.
|Michael Hannan||Piano Collage I & II|
Valley of the Winds
Koto Music I & II
|Michael Hannan began working with piano-interior sounds in the early 1970s when he was Peter Sculthorpe’s assistant. Sculthorpe and Hannan built tape loops from interesting piano-interior sounds and used them as backgrounds for structured improvisation. In 1996 Hannan began to use direct-to-disc digital recording technology, which opened up a whole new world for his exploration of the piano. Older works -- his own and Schulthorpe’s -- could be reinvigorated in the digital domain, resulting in cleaner-sounding music (less hiss and tape echo).|
This disc collects three Sculthorpe pieces and eight by Hannan. The latter fall into two groups: those from the 1970s and since 1996, when he started to employ digital techniques. The Sculthorpe items are from the 1970s. We’re very far from Henry Cowell’s casual strumming of the strings (Smithsonian / Folkways SF 40801): The piano interior is treated as if Sculthorpe or Hannan had never sat down in front of a keyboard. Sounds include greatly amplified plucking of the strings, tapping the piano’s metal frame, tapping or rolling glass rods on the higher strings, and using timpani mallets on the lower strings.
Sculthorpe’s Landscape (1971), the work that got Sculthorpe and Hannan going with the piano interior, starts with the gentle thunder of timpani mallets on the lower strings and a low string being scraped with a coin. Then the delicate sounds of glass rods bouncing on the strings and gentle tapping of the interior are gradually introduced. Because of its sparseness and rejection of melody, this is more musique concrète than a piece for piano. Sculthorpe’s other two, Koto Music I (1973) and Koto Music II (1976), are gamelan-like with ostinatos that center around specific sets of pitches, and the piano interior sounds contribute an exotic quality.
Like Sculthorpe’s Landscape, the majority of Hannan’s pieces are delicate in-depth explorations of piano sounds using multi-track recording techniques. Piano Collage I (1978) drops slowly changing groups of plucked pitches (one group sounds like the opening harp notes from Mahler’s Ninth Symphony) over gentle tapping, some bowed pitches, and a rapid strumming sound. Valley of the Winds (1997) is the most cinematic effort (Hannan has done studio and commercial music). On top of an omnipresent wind-like sound ("…created by slowly and firmly rubbing the hand along the lower strings of the piano while the sustaining pedal is up and the strings are not free to resonate…"), a string is intermittently scraped with metal, and very high strings are lightly tapped. The result is ghostly and sinister. In Piano Chant (1997), Hannan has captured the fleeting sound of resonating piano strings just after vowels are sung onto them -- perhaps the best example of today’s technology being put to use. It’s hard to hear the sound of water that has been added to this piece, but there’s occasionally a distinctive bell-like sound (a string lightly touched while its key is struck very loudly) that turns the work into a contemplative ritual.
Most of this disc could easily fall into the electroacoustic category. The source sounds come from inside the piano, but the final mixing of recorded improvisations with tape loops happens in the studio. Regardless of category, these are skillfully and delicately assembled works. Each work explores a minimum of sounds and never outstays its welcome. Well, one work is somewhat grating, but understandably: Hannan's Cicadas (1997) is a six-minute-plus onslaught sounding successively like amplified cicadas on steroids, pneumatic drills, and ringing telephones. The abrasive sounds stick in the ear, even as the next piece starts.
"Terrains" is the right title for this disc: Hannan describes vast spaces that contain a few well-placed objects. It’s admirable that he doesn’t overload his works with all the neat sounds he has discovered. His works are generally brief, and each one explores a small palette of intriguing and consummately recorded sounds. This particular type of restraint is characteristic of a master composer and performer. You have probably never heard a piano sound quite like this, and close listening will enrich your appreciation for the piano.
Grant Chu Covell
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