for prepared piano

03.07.2021 / ZHdK-Konzertsaal 3, Zürich

Ranko Markovic

video (youtube)

score (pdf)

A piano is extensively prepared so that all the sounds it produces during a performance are contained in a range of less than an octave. Three specific found pieces from the repertoire are then played on the instrument.

Piano reductions is a piece in which I consider the spatiality of the piano. As an intermediary between the composer's sonic imagination and the instrumental ensembles for which his scores were intended, the piano has defined for several centuries the Western musical space as much in its external limits as in its internal division into equally distributed discrete pitches. By excluding a good proportion of possible timbres and nuances of instruments or voices, it offered the possibility of representing music as a map represents its territory.

The ability to create "musical images" resulted in an increased circulation of music in geographical space (as well as in time.) Those who could not attend performances and wanted to relive orchestral or chamber concerts could now hear or play reduced versions (and perhaps fill in what was missing with their imagination).

Abusing the semantic shift from the Latin term digitus (finger) to the English digit, one could even say that the piano reduction was a "digitalization" of music before its time. It has indeed enabled a form of virtualization of the works (as a general condition of all arrangements) via standardized and mass produced interfaces that operate a uniform discretization of continuous phenomena.

Piano Reductions consists of the opposite use of the piano. On the one hand the sonic space of the instrument is somehow folded on itself. The ordered series of equal and equidistant sounds is "reduced" and becomes an interweaving of very close untempered pitches with diverse qualities that ultimately consists of a potential territory within the piano. It is however an unstable and "quasi-"site-specific territory that cannot be unconditionally transmitted from piano to piano, the original preparation not being exactly reproducible due to the materials used or the changing architecture of the various piano brands.

The cartographic capacity of the piano is thus lost and the cardinal points of its interface: left-right / up-down are no longer relevant. In order to witness this change, three pieces from the repertoire proposing a different conception of the "pianistic space" are played. Satie's work is a literal geometric illustration of architectural arches on the staff. Bach's fugue is an example of the historical exploration of the tonal space offered by the tempered piano. And finally, Chopin's prelude highlights the question of the depth of the piano, notably through the specific use of the pedal and the "third hand illusion".

upcoming:       21 - 24.03.2024, Druckereihalle im Ackermannshof, Basel / Contents: exhibition              21.03.2024, Druckereihalle im Ackermannshof, Basel / Contents: performance evening with Frantz Loriot                –