GORDON MONAHAN - SPEAKER SWINGING & PIANO MECHANICS
Released September 6th, 2005
This release is the first of three discs that C3R is slated to release by Gordon Monahan, and represents his first release in fourteen years. This CD is a re-release of two of Monahan's best-known early works: 'Piano Mechanics' (which won first prize at the 1984 CBC Young Composers Competition), and 'Speaker Swinging' (his universally acclaimed, manually-operated sound installation). Both of these remastered pieces are awe-inspiring sound experimentations, possessing a visceral quality that is often lacking in more straight-forward tonal experiments. These are beautiful and moving pieces of new music.
"It's absolutely astonishing... Without anything electronic he produces, infact, what one associates with electronics - with actually the magic of electronics. What happens is the piano, under Gordon Monahan's performance of it, produces sounds we haven't heard before- John Cage, interview, Houston Public News, April 10, 1986
Much of Gordon Monahan's recent work has been enormous and elaborate, featuring large machines, complex MIDI sequencing, and overwhelmingly intricate connections between disparate components. What sets Monahan's work apart, however, is the fact that underneath these mammoth structures and elaborate interfaces is a highly developed mechanical clarity and a stark simplicity. That simplicity and clarity has been a hallmark of Monahan's creative output, and is strikingly featured in combination with a rigorous and imaginative ear on this, his first recorded release in fourteen years. [...]
Ultimately, this disc serves as a refreshing and exciting reminder of the conceptual genesis of Gordon Monahan's creative output. As the first of three slated releases of Monahan's work, it is a testament to his early work that builds an exciting foundation for the forthcoming discs.
- David Cecchetto, Musicworks -Full Review
Speaker Swinging is a performance for three or more spinging loudspeakers and nine sine wave/sawtooth oscillators. It is inspired by hearing the Doppler Effect produced by such things as moving vehiclies with broadcasting sound systems, airplanes, Leslie speakers, and other moving sound sources. The subsequent acoustical processes of phasing, vibrato, and tremolo are fundamental to the work, as are the elements of sweat, struggle, fear, and seduction. The idea for the piece grew out of a desire to animate the typical electronic music concert and in effect, to realise the loudspeaker as a valid electronic instrument in itself.
The primary focus of the piece is physical - the physical struggle to produce sound that is acoustically sculpted by motion. The Doppler modulations are not actually being broadcast through the speakers themselves, but are formed through continuous sound source movement in space. As the Doppler-modulatedd waves reflect off of the surfaces in the space, an aural sculpture is delineated by architecture.
The sound material broadcast through the speakers is intentionally minimal so that, on one hand, the Doppler Effect is most noticeable, and on the other hand, the use of basic sound material denotes the feeling of a simple science experiment. The nine oscillators are played live during the performance, where a progressive layering of tones and tunings is explored through various frequency registers, from less than 1 Hz. up to 8000 Hz.
The first performance of Speaker Swinging took place in July 1982, at Mercer Union gallery in Toronto. Several hundred performances have been presented worldwide since.
In this work, the piano is not treated so much as a traditional concert instrument, but rather as a mechanical machine for the acoustic synthesis of sound. An un-pianistic keyboard technique is used to 'excavate' acoustical sounds that are not normally associated with the piano.
Basic compositional concerns such as pitch or rhythmic relationships are simplified to the point where compositional forms are developed from the acoustical and phenomenological properties of direct piano string excitation. These forms arise from an harmonic resolution of chaotic resonance, as the piano strings, holding approximately 10,000 kg. of tension, are excited by extreme body gestures applied to the piano mechanism.
Harmonic string theory explains that multiple tones or pitches can be excited simultaneously in a single vibrating string. If one listens to sustained, pitch-static (non-melodic) attacks at the piano, one hears an harmonic order governed by the physics of string movement that is dominated, curiously enough, by melodic contour. This is particularly evident in the lower, thicker, copper-wound bass strings. The low-register movements of Piano Mechanics are structured on methods to extract these pitches in sequence, thus creating melodic-harmonic structures and, by implication, musical form, arising from the repeated striking of a single piano key, or from repeated tone clusters. Also notable, are the difference tones produced in High Trills Becoming Difference Tones, where semitone combinations of the four highest notes on the piano produce additional low register combination tones in acoustical space.
These unexpected timbral effects created at the piano mimic electronically-synthesized sounds. The perceptual and aesthetic framework is post-electronic. This piece may also cause the listener to draw timbral associations between these unexpected piano sonorities and other sounds inherent in our environment, whether inside or outside the concert hall. My main concern has been to integrate these timbral phenomena into a piece of music in order to trigger a psychoacoustic association between technology, soundscape and musical aesthetics.
- Gordon Monahan, 1986
The First performance of Piano Mechanics was at the Music Gallery, Toronto, in 1983.
piano score available for download at www.gordonmonahan.com
©C3R Records 2004-2007