I Am Piano

LIQUID ARCHITECTURE - North Melbourne Town Hall © 2006 - photo by Christina Tester

Background

I Am Piano is a live music performance centred around performed reconstructions of piano samples taken from classic modern jazz recordings. The suite of pieces conceptually and performatively extends ideas on the piano and sampling covered in the articles Sonic Occupancy (published in Ojeblikket Vol.10, No.3, Copenhagen, 2000) and Sounding Vs Sampling (published in New Music Articles No.6, Melbourne, 1988). Performed live and un-sequenced on a midi-keyboard, the pieces explore ways in which fragments of piano recordings/performances can be reinterpreted as raw material for a concert-style performance via a keyboard instrument.

Credits

Sampling, keyboard, production & mix - Philip Brophy

2012

EXTREMITIES, Japan tour organized by Jolt Arts:
Super Deluxe, Tokyo
KD Japon, Nagoya
Bears, Osaka
Urban Guild, Kyoto
(full suite presented in stereo at all venues)

2010

SONIC BODY, Jolt Space, Melbourne (3 pieces of the suite presented in stereo)
Monkey Bar, Melbourne (full suite presented in stereo)

2009

STUTTER, Horse Bazaar, Melbourne (4 pieces of the suite presented in quadraphonic audio)
UNDIVIDED, Northcote Social Club, Melbourne (3 pieces of the suite presented in stereo)
CD and DVD-R audio released on Sound Punch Records

2006

LIQUID ARCHITECTURE 7, North Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne (3 pieces of the suite presented in quadraphonic audio)
LIQUID ARCHITECTURE 7, The Wine Bar, Auckland (3 pieces of the suite presented in stereo)
Track "I AM DAVE BRUBECK" included on the LIQUID ARCHITECTURE 7 CD

2005

ARTICULATING SPACE Concert 3, Ignifuge, Melbourne (2 pieces of the suite presented in stereo)
Performance at ARTICULATING SPACE Concert 3 broadcast on ABC Radio

Overview

Far from celebrating the humanist figure of jazz piano improvization - let alone the heroic cliche of the Romantic concert maestro - I Am Piano thrusts an ironic barb into the piano's mythological status and aims to perceive it purely as a sound machine whose melodiousness is but a mirage of musical language. The project posits the piano as strange chimerical beast - capable of expressive language and conducive to displaying masterly control, yet equally capable of generating an abject 'piano-ness' which states nothing more than "I am piano".

For some, the piano is universal, natural, organic, essential. For others, it is problematised by its history - particularly its 'frozen history' which implies that there is such a thing as its inalienable 'acoustic' sound. I Am Piano hears the piano in this latter way - as a noise machine which appears to speak language but which ultimately generates complex sono-musical encodings of time, place, action and activity whose surface is read as music. John Cage discerned the overtones of the piano and 'excavated' them via his prepared-piano processing. I Am Piano discerns those same tones in the phonological documents of piano recordings, and accordingly works with their materiality in the name of composition.

The general 'modern' rubric of 50s/60s small trio/quartet combos fostered a kind of contemplative heroicism through instrumentalists trading in swapped solos, individualised interpretations and idiosyncratic techniques. As with most instruments in these combos, the piano in this realm became a performative tool for the identity of the pianist. Notably, chromaticism (liberated key modulation and progression) and chordal expansion (shimmering clusters of notes) coloured the approach taken to the piano. The vertical density of this harmonic activity is particularly referenced in I Am Piano through the horizontal transposition and 'stretching' of the original recording's characteristics.

Stutter, Melbourne © 2009 - photo by Lara Travis

Technical

Drums

I Am Piano employs the ASR10+ keyboard sampler to sample, edit and perform the samples for the suite of pieces. Each piece is based entirely around a single 3 to 7 second sample (uninterrupted, unprocessed, true-pitched, etc.). Each sample for each piece is stored within the system parameters so that the duration of the wavesample is spread across the the keyboard - from select discrete keys to exapanses of 5 octaves. Depending on which key is struck, a 'time-splice' or sonic sliver of the original sample will be heard as a millisecond looping texture (made variable and effecting numerous other MIDI parameters). The composition and performance of each piece is based around the unique characteristics of sound that arises from each key or each combination of keys (chords), as well as ways in which the keyboard can be performed to generate an active shaping of the resulting sound. The editing and layering of these samples are then configured for quadraphonic spatialization.

Five pieces have been completed:
"I Am Dave Brubeck" - working with a 5 second excerpt from Dave Brubeck's version of "Somewhere (from West Side Story)" (1964)
"I Am Bill Evans" - working with a 7 second excerpt from Bill Evans' version of "Someday My Prince Will Come" (1968)
"I Am Red Garland" - working with a 7 second excerpt from the Miles Davis Quintet's version of "Ah-Leu-Cha" (1955)
"I Am Thelonius Monk" - working with a 5 second excerpt from Thelonius Monk's "Monk's Point" (1965)
"I Am Andrew Hill" - working with a 3 second excerpt from Andrew Hill's "New Monastery" (1964)