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Last update: June 20, 2010, at 03:50 PM

Piano Pataphysics

a musical evening of transcendence and irony

Hildegard Kleeb, Piano

Pre-Event Lecture:, Prof. Andrew Hugill
Date & Time: Thursday, July 1st, 4:30 pm
Location: Xi'an Conservatory of Music → more info

Date & Time: Thursday, July 1st, 8:00pm
Project Host: Prof. Andrew Hugill
Location: Jade Valley (MADA Spam) → more info
Project Partner: Xi'an Academy of Fine Arts / Xi'an Conservatory of Music & XCOMA, Xi'an

About the Event

The Piano Concert
This concert presents a collection of pieces that are concerned with musical transcendence. Some of these relate to a spiritual transcendence, some to a physical transcendence and some to an ironical (or meta-ironical) transcendence. The programme mixes works for piano and electroacoustic sound alone with works for combined piano and electroacoustic sound. There is an historical dimension to the programme, tracing an ironical historical path from Satie and Duchamp to the contemporary composers Neil Salley, Peter Hansen, Simon Atkinson, John Richards and Andrew Hugill.

Snacks O' Night
This is an after concert event that includes wines from Jade Valley and light foods. Guests are welcome to experience local traditional cuisine while enjoying some of the upcoming wines of China. Late entertainment will be provided by Tom Kuo (DJ, laptop) and Steve Gibson (synth, vocoder) in a completely spontaneous performance of live electronic music for the Chinese countryside.

Introductory Talk
"Pataphysics is to Metaphysics as Metaphysics is to Physics": a brief history of pataphysics in music. Andrew Hugill.

'Pataphysics was a word coined by the writer Alfred Jarry (1873-1907), which he defined as 'the science of imaginary solutions' and 'the science of the laws governing exceptions'. There have been several aspects of its influence on subsequent culture, from the stories of Jorge-Luis Borges and Raymond Queneau to the 'conceptual' art of Marcel Duchamp or the films of the Marx Brothers. Pataphysics is also an influence on music, and has achieved a particular resonance in the digital age, with a large number of composers and bands citing the word as significant. This talk surveys some of the key features of this history and includes music by Boris Vian, Harpo Marx, Luc Etienne, Gavin Bryars, The Beatles and Soft Machine, amongst many others.


Prélude d’Eginhard, Erik Satie (3 mins)
Avebury, Peter Hansen (8 mins)
interiorities III, Simon Atkinson (10 mins)
Erratum Musical, Marcel Duchamp (4 mins approx)
Interior/Interior, Neil Salley (5.5 mins)
Pianolith, Andrew Hugill (10 mins)


Prélude de la Porte Héroïque du Ciel, Erik Satie (4.5 mins)
Suite for Piano and Electronics, John Richards (12 mins)
Vexation for a Burger, Peter Hansen (8 mins)
Catalogue de Grenouilles, Andrew Hugill (15 mins approx)

Programme & Notes

Prélude d’Eginhard (1892), Erik Satie

The two Préludes by Erik Satie on this programme were composed for the esoteric Salon de la Rose+Croix, headed by the self-styled Sar Péladan, a mystic and writer. Satie became a member of Péladan's quasi-religious order and composed several collections of works using a similar restrained style that seems to echo music from a much earlier tradition. Although these pieces lack the 'humorous' touches of Satie's better-known pieces, there is in fact a deep level of irony here, as Satie toys with notions of alchemy and mysticism. In the end, he broke with Péladan to form his own 'Metropolitan Church of Jesus Christ, Conductor', of which he appears to have been the only member.

Avebury (1988), Peter Hansen

Avebury was written in 1988 after a trip to the British Isles, revised in 1991. The idea, which was borrowed from a Minuet that Friedrich Kuhlau wrote to Beethoven, is a numerical canon structure in five parts. The pitch material has been completely exchanged. The result is a slowly progressing, modal chorale for piano. The title, as well as the number of chords, finds its origin in the small English village Avebury, renowned for its ancient stone circles with in all 107 bigger stones. Not at all as monumental as the contemporary Stonehenge, but just as beautiful and just as evocative for the imagination.

interiorities III (2008), Simon Atkinson

The interiorities cycle began with an extended composition for feedback instrument with ‘found object’ controllers (candle flames and resistors, pewter Victorian teapots etc.) and 8-channel electroacoustic sound which was premiered at a concert at Fylkingen, Stockholm in 2007 with John Richards. (The music was commissioned by the Society for Electroacoustic Music in Sweden.) The origins of the cycle are arguably somewhat ‘pataphysical in that I attempted to ‘inscribe’ with the inherently ‘unstable’ and moreover composed for a musical ‘instrument’ whose actual earthly existence I frequently queried! I have produced a subsequent series of pieces that explore different types of feedback material in different ways, and investigate the seemingly unlikely meeting and contradictions of acousmatic and post-punk 'dirty electronics' aesthetic traditions. This simple, meditative ‘deep listening’ piece attempts to strike a balance between sculptural intervention and allowing electronic circuits freedom to ‘sing’ in their own idiosyncratic ways.

Erratum Musical (1913), Marcel Duchamp

There is music and sound throughout Marcel Duchamp's work, even if much of it is imaginary. The Large Glass has a soundtrack that is described in some detail in the Green Box, which also contains the observation: "One can look at seeing, one cannot hear hearing". 'Erratum Musical' consists of the 88 notes on a piano keyboard played in a random order without repetition or undue emphasis given to any one note. For Duchamp, 'pataphysics included 'canned chance' and the 'inutilious' machine. Inspired by the work of Raymond Roussel, he created four-dimensional machinery which engages in futile erotic activity, along with the celebrated 'readymades' which include "With Hidden Noise" (1916), another sound-based work. Duchamp's output thus epitomises 'pataphysics: hidden yet playful, intellectual yet absurd.

Interior/Interior (2005), Neil Salley

"My nervous system cannot tell me anything because it is 'me': I am the activity of my nervous system; all my nervous system talks about is its own state of sensory-motor activity." -Heinz von Foerster

This audio track is one component of an installation piece titled; Interior/interior. This work grew from research into the world of 19th century scientist; John Keely and his inquiry into vibratory forces. He called his science "Sympathetic Vibratory Physics". Interior/interior is a quantum bio-resonance amplifier that allows the bio-organism (a human body) to induce condensed phase vibratory energy into his/her nervous tissues.

The device is comprised of a 7' diameter x 6' tall cylindrical chamber that the user enters. Upon activation, this sound track is played through channels 1 and 2 on a set of headphones located inside the chamber while channels 3 and 4 supply separate base frequencies to 7 individual 120 watt transducers that are mounted directly below the drum shaped floor of the chamber. From within the chamber, the body interfaces the vibrations in total darkness while lying on top of this drum; the drum design of the interface is such that the body is immersed in visceral (vibratory), neurophonic and auditory resonance, a coherent and embodied relationship with the data is thus formed.

Pianolith (2003), Andrew Hugill

Pianolith comprises ten ritualistic rock grinds with piano, separated by lengthy silences. The piano material owes something to Skrjabin and is bound mysteriously to the rocks.

Prélude de la Porte Héroïque du Ciel (1894), Erik Satie

Suite (2002), John Richards

Having heard for many years the sound of the piano in the Great Hall at Dartington Hall in the UK, I have always wanted to write a piece that would capture the essence of these experiences. The composition began as a series of discussions with the pianist Evgenia Chudinovich (GéNIA) at Dartington Summer School in 2001 and an agreement to write an electroacoustic piece she could perform as part of her repertoire. The idea for the composition was to treat the piano as a giant sound box and to get the effect of the whole instrument vibrating, and to produce a meditative state, where the listener gradually gets drawn into the textures and starts imagining and hearing sounds out of the ‘aural mist’ that emanates from the inside of the piano. A recording of the piece, Suite for Piano and Electronics was released on Nonclassical Records in 2007, along with remixes of the original composition by Gabriel Prokofiev, Vex’d and Max De Wardener amongst others.

Vexation for a Burger (1991), Peter Hansen

'Vexation for a Burger' is a modest request in comparison to Mr. Satie's 840.

Catalogue de Grenouilles (1987), Andrew Hugill

A miniature amphibian opera for massed frog calls and piano. The Catalogue of Frogs was originally written for the ‘George W. Welch’ ensemble and has been performed and broadcast many times around the world. Catalogue de Grenouilles is inspired by the writings of Jean-Pierre Brisset (1837-1919), who theorised that Man is descended from the Frog. His books are enormous catalogues of puns that demonstrate the evolution of language from short phonemic frog cries to fully formed words and phrases (mainly in French). The music comprises a collection of frog calls from around the world, organised into three groupings: background choruses; middle-ground duets and trios; ‘diva’ soloists. These are triggered fairly randomly (there are some loose constraints), so every performance of the piece is different. The piano traces a responsive and meditative path through this miniature amphibian opera, at once accompanying and leading, both soloist and orchestra. The title is an obvious nod to Messiaen’s ‘Catalogue d’Oiseaux’.

About the (living) composers

Music seems to be constantly flowing out of the Swedish composer Peter Hansen. He is not a pronounced miniaturist or minimalist, but one of the offsprings of this constant flow, is a number of small pieces, rather like diary entries. Hansen has written literally hundreds of such pieces. Most of them for unspecified keyboard – piano, organ, celesta. This is music, which in Hansen’s words is dressed in jeans, never intended for neither tails nor tuxedo. It is not music for the concert stage, but rather living room music, or musique d’ameublement, if you like. Hansen (born 1958) spent his teens playing pop and jazz, then studied at Gothenburg College of Music 1981–85, and abroad 1987–89. Among his teachers were Zoltán Jeney and Luigi Nono. In later years his music has developed towards a “very local dialect of minimalism”. Hansen lives on the island of Donsö in the archipelago outside/of Gothenburg on the Swedish west coast.

Simon Atkinson has worked as composer, performer and educator in a diverse range of contexts, and is particularly committed to the composition, performance, and study of electroacoustic music. His recent creative work has included acousmatic composition, interdisciplinary projects, collaborative and community arts projects. He sees as critical the scholarly understanding as well as public appreciation of this music, to which end he co-directs the Electroacoustic Resource Site project (EARS). He is Principal Lecturer and Subject Leader for Music, Technology and Innovation at De Montfort University.

Neil Salley is a media artist and creator of the Musée Patamécanique in Bristol, Rhode Island, USA.

John Richards explores performing with self-made instruments and the creation of interactive environments. He has worked with many leading improvisers and musicians in the field of live electronics, and is a founder member of electro-noise improvisers kREEPA, the post-punk group Sand (Soul Jazz Records), and the composers’ collective nerve8: an experimental electroacoustic diffusion group. Recent concerts have included performances at IRCAM (Paris), Fylkingen (Sweden), the Bent Festival (Los Angeles), Sonar (Barcelona), and the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre (London). He has written numerous articles on hybridity, post-digital theory and dirty electronics: DIY and bricolage approaches to working with sound. John Richards completed a doctorate in electroacoustic composition at the University of York in 2002, and he is currently part of the Music, Technology and Innovation Research Centre at De Montfort University, Leicester. Since 1990, he has also taught improvisation at Dartington International Summer School.

Andrew Hugill is a composer, writer and Director of the Institute Of Creative Technologies (IOCT) at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK, where he founded the Music, Technology and Innovation programme in 1997. He is the author of 'The Digital Musician' (Routledge, 2008) and 'The Origins of Electronic Music' in ‘The Cambridge Companion to Electronic Music’ (Cambridge University Press, 2007). He edited and contributed to an issue of Contemporary Music Review (Routledge, 2006) on ‘Internet Music’, and curated a CD and booklet called ‘Pataphysics (Sonic Arts Network, 2006) which has received rave reviews in almost every European language. He is an Associate Researcher at the Université de la Sorbonne, Paris, and a member of the Comité Scientifique of the IIREFL, France. His internet project with the Philharmonia Orchestra, The Sound Exchange, was nominated for the 2004 BT Digital Music Awards. His compositions have been performed and broadcast worldwide and include concert works for orchestra, choir and chamber music as well as electronic and electroacoustic compositions.

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Page last modified on June 20, 2010, at 03:50 PM