This CD from the widely acclaimed, leading-edge pianist Kathleen Supové features electronics, theatrics, extended techniques, Yamaha Disklavier, and vocals ranging from humor to horror. “Eye to Ivory” presents the premiere recordings of highly varied works by Mary Ellen Childs, Guy Barash, Nick Didkovsky, Randall Woolf, and Dafna Naphtali.
For decades, Supové has continually redefined the role of a new music pianist in today’s multi-stylistic world of blurred genres. “What Ms. Supové is really exploding is the piano recital as we have known it, a mission more radical and arguably more needed” (New York Times). “This was classical music played like the best rock’n’roll. It was passionate, earnest, loud and more complex than the gatekeepers of high culture would like to think. Brava” (New York Press). She has received the John Cage Award from ASCAP for “the artistry and passion with which she performs, commissions, records, and champions the music of our time.”
The CD opens with Mary Ellen Childs’ readily engaging Eye to Ivory (2005). The composer comments, “I put my attention toward textures and densities of the piano, from the growling build-up of bass to the airy upper reaches of the instrument’s range, but I also had an eye on how the performer needs to move when performing the piece [and] the physical movement qualities are reflected in the sound.” In the CD’s Introduction, Joan La Barbara remarks that the piece moves from “the ponderous, purposeful opening at the nether end of the keyboard [to] insistent rhythms and jazzy chords [to] a slow, romantic, pensive, lyrical section [ending with] delicate patterns, strums, and plucks on high strings.”
Nick Didkovsky’s dispassionately shocking Rama Broom (2000), for solo piano and voice, was composed for Kathleen Supové and uses a “homicidal fantasy” text she provided. The piece unfolds slowly and soothingly, gradually introducing the syllables of the text out of sequence, in a process that music reviewer Greg Sandow described as “a delight for the mind, like a crossword puzzle that solves itself while you watch.” La Barbara comments, “A nightmare unfolds slowly, relentlessly, and, as in Poe, we cannot turn from the eventual horrific event. Didkovsky’s work compels our fascination.”
Randall Woolf’s laugh-fest In The Privacy Of My Own Home (2000) focuses on Supové’s many distinctive ways of laughing. He captured her laughs by recording her voice while she listened for the first time to the classic Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?” routine. In addition to presenting her laughs as humorous, Woolf’s transformations can sound serious and threatening, sexual and intimate, ridiculous and quirky, maniacal and disturbing. The title reflects the intimacy of the sounds, as well as their relationship (they are married).
Guy Barash’s technically sophisticated Talkback IV (2010/12), for piano and computer, is the fourth in his series of compositions for solo instruments and real-time digital signal processing. In the Talkback series, he explores extended techniques, enhanced timbre, and other sonic features that are characteristic of the instrument. “Unwinding like a tightly coiled spring, soothed by exquisitely executed arpeggios” writes La Barbara, we hear “rapid high-energy fragments, sudden bursts, hammered-on repetitions … sudden sforzando clusters … a quirky melody [and] Supové’s formidable pianistic skills are well demonstrated in this expertly crafted tour de force.”
The CD ends with Dafna Naphtali’s interactive human-machine duo Landmine (1999-2017), composed for Supové playing a Yamaha Disklavier Grand. For decades, Naphtali has developed ways to use an effects processor as an instrument, and in this live recording of Landmine, Supové’s acoustic performance was combined with Naphtali’s real-time processing of the piano. All the basic harmonic and rhythmic materials for the piano part were generated by a “toy” algorithm, created by the composer and inspired by music of Nancarrow and Xenakis. In addition, this trickster “toy” algorithm also disruptively plays the Disklavier on its own in the last two sections, forcing Supové to improvise like a lion tamer in the cage with and against this same assertive algorithm, which inserts materials in unexpected places that could potentially overwhelm her; hence the title Landmine. La Barbara notes, “From the high energy, insistent beginning of Landmine, Dafna Naphtali coaxes fascinating gurgles, rattles, snaps, swoops, echoing swirls, sequences, pitch shifts, capture-and-repeat fragments, and even crowd sounds from the piano with her real-time effects processing.”
La Barbara concludes, “Kathleen Supové has built an extraordinary career as a solo artist performing almost exclusively contemporary works, many of them composed for her and often commissioned by her. For this courageous choice she has been showered with an impressive array of awards, prizes, and well-deserved recognition. This collection should certainly garner her more.” This recording was mastered by Grammy-winner Silas Brown and has been funded in part through a grant from the Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University.
About Kathleen Supové
Kathleen Supové, one of America’s most acclaimed and versatile contemporary music pianists, is known for continually redefining what a pianist/keyboardist/performance artist is in today’s world. “What Ms. Supové is really exploding is the piano recital as we have known it, a mission more radical and arguably more needed” (Anthony Tommasini, New York Times). She has received the John Cage Award from ASCAP for “the artistry and passion with which she performs, commissions, records, and champions the music of our time.” Supové has performed and premiered works by a list of established and emerging composers that’s a “Who’s Who” of contemporary music for piano and has become an integral part of creating a repertory of piano pieces for the modern world. In addition, she has performed with a laptop orchestra (Sideband), robots (Lemur), and XReality (media artist Karina Hisayasu). Supové performs in a wide variety of venues, from concert halls, theaters, and universities to alternative galleries and clubs. In addition to being a solo performer, she is the keyboard player for Dr. Nerve and pianist in the duo Anti-Depressant, with Jennifer Choi, violinist.
Mary Ellen Childs
Mary Ellen Childs has received acclaim for creating both rhythmic, exuberant instrumental works and bold, kinetic compositions that integrate music, dance, and theater. “Childs creates a world where we feel anything could happen – a truly universal world that’s primordial in its understanding of humanity” (Elle Magazine). Her works represent “some of the most original stage artistry since Blue Man Group” (Vital Source), and include Crash for six crash cymbal players moving on various rolling devices, and Click, which the Village Voice deemed “a newly born classic, like Steve Reich’s Clapping Music, only a thousand times more virtuosic.” Childs has been commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Opera America, Dale Warland Singers, and The Kitchen. She has received a United States Artist Friends Fellowship, two Bush Foundation Fellowships, five McKnight Foundation Fellowships, and support from the NEA’s Composer-in-Residence program, Meet The Composer, and the American Composers Forum.
“A fascinating composer” (Time Out) and “a compelling composer/sound artist” (Urban Modes), Guy Barash creates multi-metric environments that explore the perception of time and memory. “A risk-taker, willing to pull ideas from all disciplines as he jumps into the unknown” (icareifyoulisten.com), he commonly applies electronic processing to acoustic instruments, and employs microtonality to create psychologically disorienting atmospheres. His series of compositions for solo instruments and real-time digital signal processing, “Talkback,” was hailed as being “at once divine, serene and haunting” (The Queens Chronicle). Barash’s music has been heard in Belgium, London, Thailand, and Israel, as well as New York’s DiMenna Center, The Stone, La MaMa Theatre, and National Sawdust. Born and raised in Haifa, Israel, Barash has been based in New York City since 2008.
Nick Didkovsky is a guitarist, composer, and music software programmer. He founded the rock band Doctor Nerve in 1983, the grindcore band Vomit Fist in 2013, and the free metal guitar duo CHORD in 2018. Didkovsky has composed for the Bang On A Can All-Stars, Meridian Arts Ensemble, and Ethel, and has performed with the Dither Guitar Quartet, John Zorn, and Billion Dollar Babies; he was also a composing member of the Fred Frith Guitar Quartet for ten years. Didkovsky’s compositions and guitar work appear on over fifty records, including Alice Cooper’s “Paranormal.” He co-created the Java Music Specification Language, as well as MaxScore, which uses JMSL to bring music notation to Max/MSP. Didkovsky studied with composers Christian Wolff, Pauline Oliveros, and Gerald Shapiro, and received a Masters in Computer Music from New York University.
Randall Woolf studied composition privately with David Del Tredici and Joseph Maneri, and at Harvard, where he earned a Ph.D. He is a member of the Common Sense Composers Collective and is the Composer/Mentor for the Brooklyn Philharmonic. Woolf works frequently with John Cale, notably on his score to “American Psycho,” and has arranged over twenty of Cale’s songs for orchestra, including the entire “Paris 1919” album, performed with the Wordless Music Orchestra at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. His works have been performed by Kathleen Supové, Jennifer Choi, Timothy Fain, Cornelius Dufallo, Mary Rowell, Todd Reynolds, Ethel, Present Music, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Seattle Symphony, Bang On A Can/SPIT Orchestra, American Composers Orchestra, and the NakedEye Ensemble. Woolf has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as grants from New York State Council on the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, Meet The Composer, and the Cary Trust.
Dafna Naphtali is a sound-artist, vocalist, electronic musician, and guitarist who composes and performs experimental, interactive electro-acoustic music. Her music has been described as “brilliant and dangerous” (All Music Guide) and “luminary” (Time Out). Naphtali creates customized digital sound-processing of voice and other instruments, music for robots, multi-channel sound projects, and audio-augmented reality soundwalks. Drawing on a wide-ranging musical background in jazz, classical, rock, and Near-Eastern music, and using her unique Max/MSP programming, she has performed in the US, Canada, Europe, India, Russia, and the Middle East. As an acoustic singer, Naphtali has interpreted the music of Cage, Stockhausen, and Eisler/Brecht, along with more contemporary composers such as Joshua Fried, Shelley Hirsch, Kitty Brazelton, Yotam Haber, and Jonathan Bepler. She has received fellowships and awards from the New York Foundation for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, Brooklyn Arts Council, American Composers Forum, and the American Music Center.