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.

  1. […] 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 […]