The Electroacoustic Piano:
Sonic Reflections

Christopher Trebue Moore: praya dubia (2008-09)

Scott Miller: Every Problem is a Nail (2011)

Ann Cleare: I am not a clockmaker either. (2009, rev. 2017)

Keith Kirchoff: Acoustic Shadows (2017)

Per Bloland: Electric Moon (2017)


When sitting down to a solo piano recital, the average listener is immediately confronted with a set of assumptions, essentially a controlled list of finite sonic possibilities. Though massively diverse, the sonic landscape of a piano is – by its nature – fairly monochromatic. It is a wooden case with an iron frame, made up of strings and hammers. Even highly experimental solo piano works will always be limited to producing sound from this wooden case, this iron frame, and these strings.

In contrast, one of the beauties of introducing an electroacoustic element to the traditional setup of a solo piano recital, is the inevitable paradigm shift that takes place. No longer is the sound production limited to a wooden case, iron frame, and strings. Rather, these traditional sounds can be blended in harmony or contrast with an infinite array of electronics. This first-time listener may still bring that same set of assumptions to the recital, but these assumptions may well be turned on their head.

This program focusses on the sonic interaction of the piano and the computer. Each piece – though aesthetically varied – reflects on aspects of the past (the piano), and uses that reflection to inform future possibilities (the electronics). Each element is used is used to reflect its natural strengths: the piano explores the myriad of its timbral possibilities, from simple preparations, to resonant harmonics, to dizzying finger passages. The computer meets the piano, complementing and building upon this natural sound world, thus exploring sonic possibilities impossible by the piano alone.

Program Notes:

Christopher Trebue Moore: praya dubia

One of Trebue Moore's biggest concerns when writing for a live instrument and electronics, is connecting the natural sonic disconnect that occurs when juxtaposing an acoustic instrument controlled by a human being with electronic sounds controlled by a computer. He bridges this gap in two ways. First, Trebue Moore chooses to prepare the piano, favoring preparations that give the piano a distorted, almost electronic sound. Secondly, the pre-recorded piano part included within the electronics does not act in counterpoint to the live piano, but rather joins with the live pianist to create the illusion of a pianist with ten hands.

click here to watch my Score Follwer video of this piece!

Scott Miller: Every Problem is a Nail

Every Problem is a Nail is an exploration of timbre, harmonics, and the overtone series. With the aid of microphones and amplification, Miller strives to call attention to the frequencies between the keys and timbres often masked or ignored. By overlaying digital signal processing, he further amplifies these hidden harmonies, exploring the variety of subtle differences hidden within the replaying of a single note. (adapted from notes by the composer)

click here to watch a live performance of this piece!

Ann Cleare: I am not a clockmaker either.

With a title taken from the writings of Morton Feldman, I am not a clockmaker either. is an investigation of sonic, temporal, and spatial structures, and their continuously shifting priorities as they are reconstructed into alternative sonic morphologies. The piece sets into motion a physical force which dissects the instrument into acute shards or material and reconstitutes it in a completely restructured manner. As if one were to take the pieces of a broken egg and glue them back together in such a way that the original oval shape is hardly recognizable.

Through this forceful dissection also comes disruption: as one sonic particle takes lead, it is interrupted, resulting in a new form or organization emerging: each element of the disorganization being recontextualized within the next disorganization. This deconstructive force creates a motion that breaks, ruptures, diverts, convolutes, and coils up on itself so that fragments of the piano are pulverized together, swirl around one another like clouds, rotate, implode or turn themselves inside out.

The space in which the placing and direction of these objects is continuously reevaluated: as a certain spatial motion evolves, another intervenes, scrambling it and so a spatial direction of a different nature emerges. These perspectival shifts allow one to zoom in and out on certain fragments of the resynthesized instrument. (taken from notes by the composer)

originally written for accordion and electronics, this piece has never been performed in this arrangement.

Keith Kirchoff: Acoustic Shadows

“Acoustic Shadows” is the term given to regions where sound is unable to travel due to absorption, wind direction, and/or temperature inversion. Such shadows have had major impacts upon several wars and battles, with the phenomenon of temperature inversion playing a major role in both the Battle of Seven Pines and the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War. In both examples, due to unusual atmospheric temperature shifts in which the ground was cooler than the air, the sound of battle could not be heard by the nearby generals (thus impacting their choice to not send in troop reinforcements), but could be clearly heard in towns 100 miles away.

The only piece on the program that is contained to the piano, Acoustic Shadows leaves the house-speakers behind and uses the piano as the only sound source. Using contact mics and transducers placed directly inside of the piano, the amplifies hidden qualities of the piano’s sound, creating controlled feedback loops which act as the foundation for a series of complex harmonies. Additionally, the idea of temperature inversion influences the piano’s gestural contours, with each gesture moving towards the bass (where both the transducers and contact mics are placed) to increase audibility.

Per Bloland: Electric Moon

Electric Moon is based on the first novel by Norwegian author Pedr Solis, “The Electric Moon.” The book explores defamiliarization: the technique common in modernist literature that presents the reader with common phrases used in unfamiliar fashion. While Miller’s piece illuminates a series of beautiful harmonies hidden within the harmonic series of a slowly repeating single note, Bloland’s aggressive work explores the noise that is the result of repeating a single note or chord for long stretches of time as fast as possible. Using physical modeling, Bloland describes the work as “a monstrously distorted ‘reflection’ of the piano.”