Antisonata for piano – the whole 18 hours.

Thursday 7 November 2013

As promised: if you have a MIDI player and a piano soundfont that is halfway tolerable, then the complete Antisonata for piano can now be downloaded and played in the comfort of your own home.

Antisonata for piano (full MIDI file, 4MB). Warning: this file is big and may crash your MIDI player.

Technical note: the file uses channels 1 and 2, with both set to patch 0 i.e. acoustic grand piano.

This Is The New Music: Antisonata

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Update! The MIDI file is now ready – see below.

Domenico Scarlatti wrote 555 keyboard sonatas. Antisonata plays all of Scarlatti’s sonatas simultaneously, but very, very slowly; so slowly that a complete performance takes as long as it would to play them consecutively – about 18 hours. To complicate matters, the pitch range of the source material has been extended to match the range of a modern piano, and new chords have been added throughout. The placement of chords and octave transpositions were determined by chance, according to independently variable probabilities.

I don’t know why, but to me it sounds like it’s always about to break into Chopin’s A-flat Polonaise.

Why did I do this? I wanted to hear what happened when a carefully organised set of materials is meticulously re-organised according to a different, all-encompassing system. The musical relationships within each piece are now presented so infrequently and with so much interference from the other 554 pieces that they disappear. The linear distinction of one piece from the next has been collapsed into one undifferentiated simultaneity.

The title of Antisonata is not intended to present the piece as a destructive work of anti-music or anti-art. The word is used to refer to the impossibility of perceiving the music as a whole. The excessive length pushes the music beyond the listener’s ability to hear it all, and relocates the idea of hearing the entire work partially into the realm of conceptual art. The density and apparent formlessness of the music perpetually reminds the listener of what it once was, and is no longer. In short, I’m not really sure if anyone can hear anything when they listen to this piece.

The good news is that you don’t have to play the whole thing. Any excerpt down to 30 seconds (one page of the score) may be performed at a sitting. I’ve prepared a performance score of the piece, in which the pianist may take liberties as necessary, because on this scale who’s going to notice such minor deviations.

Antisonata for piano (full PDF score: 2056 pages, 7MB).

If you would rather hear it than play it, I’m now preparing a MIDI file of a “correct” interpretation. Unfortunately it’s pretty big and keeps conking out but I’m sure it will be ready for upload soonis ready now!

Antisonata for piano (full MIDI file, 4MB). Warning: this file is big and may crash your MIDI player.

I expect it’s a bit too long to fit an entire recording online, but for now you can enjoy the three excerpts below. They are the first 18 pages, middle 18 pages and last 18 pages. You’ll notice the piece takes a while to wind up at the start, and down again at the end. The middle section is representative of the piece as a whole.


Monday 4 November 2013

I’ve been thinking about Daniel Wolf’s composition 100,000,000,000,000 Pieces for Clarinet and my anxiety over the use of multiples in my own work.

One of the few things I remember about Wittgenstein: “It is questionable if when he died he had ever come to any understanding of the number 2. Two what? Two things would have to be identical, which is absurd if identity has any meaning.”

Something else that sticks in my head: the criticism that the sole distinguishing, even redeeming, feature of the architecture of the World Trade Center towers was that there were two of them. This is where I start to worry about my own stuff. Do I make multiples of things because I think that each individual element is inadequate as a work of art or music in itself?

Write a short, dull, awkward chorale for piano and it’s no big deal. Preface it with the instruction to repeat it 840 times and you become a musical visionary. Make a small, nondescript object and (probably) no-one bothers with a second look. Turn out thousands of identical objects and fill the Turbine Hall and you pull 4.7 million visitors per year.

I will take as a given that I produce substandard music and art. Does this inadequacy at least partly reside in the reliance on duplication, repetition and scale to add the semblance of artistic distinctiveness? I suppose I would rather believe that I am using “the work” as mere material, a vehicle in which to convey the true artistic substance, which somehow emerges from the sense of difference, repetition, scale and duration.

There is a species of art whose meaning and effect is that it is. The use of multiples is one of the clearest ways of making this point: they raise the question of their own existence and leave the speculation to the audience, while the more fundamental dimensions of time and space do the real work on the darker recesses of consciousness.

As for making them, it’s best to plough ahead through the process as something that needs to be done, because the outcome cannot be imagined. This is why I’ve started work on writing out neat versions of 2000 Guitar Solos again.

Further re-reading (for self): Konrad Bayer, “The Mosaic through the Centuries”.