The Original Digital Instrument

AE interviews Jeth Odom
January 2, 2007

On Sunday, January 14th, as part of their Binareality Computer Music Concerts, the Tacoma Art Museum in Tacoma, Washinton, will present Conlon Nancarrow's Studies for Player Piano, performed like never before by composer and installation artist Trimpin. Arts Electric asked Jeth Odom, the curator and organizer, a few questions about this event.

AE What are the Binareality Computer Music Concerts?

JO Binareality is an (almost) annual evening of electroacoustic music presented in Seattle, highlighting composers living and working in the Pacific Northwest. With the first two concerts, composers from the University of Washington, Cornish, and Portland State University have all been presented, as well as mavericks in the local scene such as Christopher Delaurenti and Steve Layton.

Instead of presenting a third installment this time around, I decided to ask Trimpin if he was interested in performing the Player Piano Studies of Nancarrow. He was very receptive. Ten months later, and here we are!

AE Why did Nancarrow's player piano pieces come to mind?

JO Nancarrow, like many electronic music composers, was interested in creating music that is beyond the limitations of physical human performance. The player piano itself can be thought as a digital instrument with its own punch card of sorts. A player piano reads holes punched into paper rolls, and the holes trigger notes to be played. Player piano rolls are actually just an old format for the input and playback of discrete data.

AE What is the connection between Trimpin and Nancarrow?

JO Conloninpurple, Trimpin's installation at the Tacoma Art Museum, is an homage to Nancarrow. The concert being on the last day of this exhibit, it is a fitting end and wonderful tribute to both of these artists.

For this performance of Nancarrow's works, Trimpin is using a box equipped with 88 mallets that fits over the keyboard of an upright piano which he will operate using a laptop computer. He created this is conjunction with Nancarrow in the late eighties.


Trimpin & Nancarrow

In addition, a rare 1989 interview with Nancarrow will also be screened, a fragment of one of the original piano rolls will be displayed, and independent curator Beth Sellars will present a brief overview of the two-year survey of exhibitions in the Northwest honoring Trimpin. A reception will follow with Trimpin in attendance.

© 2007