In 1999 Schlumpf was commissioned by the Zurich Musikhochschule to produce computer-sound arrangements of several of Conlon Nancarrow’s “Studies for Player Piano”.
The goal of the project was to take the original Studies, which were limited to the sound of the player piano, and enrich them with a wide range of MIDI timbres to produce a sort of “wordless analysis,” allowing listeners to obtain musical and analytic insights simply by listening.
The resultant CD arose from of a process consisting of several stages, which can be described briefly as follows:
1. Preparing the “raw data”
After obtaining all the printed music in score from Schott International (many pieces still await publication) I made a preliminary selection of some fifteen pieces, focusing exclusively on canonic studies.
In most of the studies I selected, the rhythmic and metric proportions had to be deduced from handwritten “punch masters” preserved at the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basle.
The material thus obtained was fed into the computer as “raw data” (pitches, durations, and the entire rhythmic and metric structure). This was only possible by means of a special program, for the canonic voices consistently run on completely different temporal levels.
2. Arranging the MIDI sound
Based on analytical observations, each study was given its own sound concept to be realized with hardware sound expanders and software samplers.
One special problem at this stage was that practically all the studies exploit the tonal space to the limits of Conlon Nancarrow’s piano. This severely limited the range of sounds in the low and especially the ultra-high registers.
3. Audio mastering
The finished MIDI files were transmitted to hard disk in the form of audio files. Then, in a final stage, they were fine-tuned in their panorama and volume relations.
Finally, after adjusting the reverberation, I normalized and finalized the material for an audio CD.
At the end of 2004 the finished CD, Conlon Nancarrow – Martin Schlumpf: Die Kunst des Tempokanons (“The Art of Tempo Canon”), was issued by Wergo, Schott Music & Media, on the artist.cd label with release number ARTS 8103 2. The CD contains MIDI arrangements of the following fourteen of Nancarrow’s Studies for Player Piano: Nos. 43, 24, 13, 19, 41B, 32, 22, 33, 34, 36, 37, 40A, 31 and 48C.
Besides the information in the CD booklet, a detailed documentation of the arrangements can be downloaded at www.cdartist.de. Here follows the direct link to this comprehensive paper: Nancarrow/WERGO
Below you will find an audio example from the CD. It includes the opening of my arrangement of Study 43.
Dissonanz, the Swiss journal of contemporary music, contains a progress report on my work in issue no. 67 (February 2001) under the title “…Die grösste Entdeckung seit Webern und Ives …” You can download it here.
“…The greatest Discovery since Webern and Ives …”