WRHC’s “New and Dangerous Music” program will be airing Tod Machover’s ‘Bounce’ and ‘Vinyl Cello’ Tuesday, July 12, at 10-11PM CST.
We invited Tod to comment about these two pieces. Here’s what he wrote:
My compositions Bounce (1992) and VinylCello (2007) were written 15 years apart, so they have some obvious differences between them, but also some similarities. Both pieces explore the potential of a solo instrument – although VinylCello adds a second player, a DJ, to the mix – and its extensions through interactive technology, and both create a single, uninterrupted musical journey – each about 15 minutes long – that starts simple and ends up somewhere pretty unexpected.
Bounce was commissioned by the Yamaha Corporation – a long-time collaborator – as a showcase for its then-new Disklavier Grand piano, a technologically-enhanced acoustic piano with a mechanism under each key that can sense the way that key is played and can also physically play or “actuate” the key (and pedals too) without a performer. This capability suggested to me a new kind of duo between a live pianist and the piano itself. I was thinking a lot about Thelonius Monk’s music while working on Bounce, and the jagged, spicy opening is a kind of homage to that great composer/pianist. Using our Hyperinstrument software, the Disklavier starts adding extra little flourishes when a particular note or rhythm is played.
The terrific pianist, Robert Shannon, was pretty alarmed when he started rehearsing Bounce, since all kinds of extra “ghost” notes were played on the keyboard in addition to the keys his fingers were actually touching – a very intimate duet indeed. He quickly got used to this, and to the cascades of extra notes that accumulate as the piece develops to a pulsating and – I must say – rather crazy finale. It’s almost as if the “extra” notes take over from the human pianist, to create a kind of techno-symphonic music that surpasses what we expect from the piano.
If Bounce plays mostly with Monk (and Machover)-ish harmonies and jagged, asymmetrical rhythms, VinylCello is more about melody and texture, both of which grow out of the sonority of the cello. I grew up playing the cello, and it is the instrument I go back to whenever I want to break my musical habits and try out new ideas. I did just this when starting work on VinylCello, composed for the great cellist and close personal friend, Matt Haimovitz. I was looking for a way of phrasing on the cello that was in between music and speech. I started to say sentences and phrases while I was playing, and tried to imitate the exact sound of my voice on the cello. This led to a sound which I liked very much, with very rapid, very small twists and turns, always different but not random – something like our speaking voice. From these “talking cello” phrases, I built a musical language that allowed the cello line to wander between delicate noise and singing melodies, often switching several times per second. Little wisps of sound lead to echoes and overlays, to throbbing sonorities that start low and rise to the highest notes, to a long, soulful song, and finally to a giddy counterpoint.
The cello sound is extended both through Hyperinstrument techniques and also through interplay with a live DJ, in this case the brilliant DJ Olive, who captures the live cello playing and literally “spins” it digitally into ever-changing variations. The cello part is all written out, but much of the DJ transformations are improvised according to my instructions, adding to a kind of freedom and edgy excitement that I’ve always found in this piece.
In many ways, both Bounce and VinylCello grew very much out of the instruments for which they were written, but were also molded by the particular brand of lyricism, color and musical drama that I bring to all my music.