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Lost Works, Last Works

Artist: Conlon Nancarrow
Conlon Nancarrow - Lost Works, Last Works CD
Label: Other Minds
Regular Price: $16.95
On Sale For: $14.47 
Year: 2000
Format: CD


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The musical works on this disc fall into two categories: player-piano versions of works originally written for some other medium, and works that have never been recorded before. The latter fall into yet two more categories: abandoned works from early in Nancarrow's career, and the final pieces from the last years of his life. Following these works, There is a tape of excerpts from the 1977 interview with the composer, conducted by Charles Amirkhanian.

Kyle Gann (liner notes author)
Other Minds ' Conlon Nancarrow: Lost Works, Last Works assembles several of the odd bits and leftovers within Nancarrow 's oeuvre that fall outside of the comprehensive five-disc Wergo set that contains 'everything,' Conlon Nancarrow: Studies for Player Piano . It also includes a 30-minute interview with Nancarrow himself, conducted by executive producer Charles Amirkhanian at Nancarrow 's home in Mexico City in 1977. Therefore, the 60-minute Other Minds disc works out to roughly half music, half documentary material, and some may feel this is rather short measure on the musical part of the program. But Lost Works, Last Works is not intended so much as an appendix to the larger set as it sheds some light on projects Nancarrow undertook that are not well-known, such as his never-finished pneumatically controlled percussion orchestra, a few early pieces from the 1930s, and his late collaboration with Seattle-based master instrument builder Trimpin.

Trimpin 's involvement in this project is of particular interest; as a rule, one experiences Trimpin 's work only in gallery installations, and he has never permitted its circulation on commercial recordings. Nevertheless, Trimpin has relaxed this restriction in order to make available Nancarrow works in which he was involved. Although in some cases Trimpin is merely piloting the Pianola on which posthumously punched rolls of Nancarrow 's music is being played, both the Blues for Piano and Contraption No. 1 are heard reproduced on Trimpin 's 'Conloninpurple,' a sort of suspended-in-mid-air marimba played with mechanically controlled mallets. The remaining rolls come from recordings where Nancarrow himself was at the controls, including a fascinating study for prepared player piano from around 1960 for which the roll exists, but not the preparation. Nancarrow 's Piece for Tape is not a European-styled musique concrète piece, but consists entirely of percussive sounds and may have been a simulation of what his pneumatic percussion orchestra would have sounded like, had he ever managed to make it work.

The interview is fun, although it is a little sad in that the inordinately time-intensive nature of his punching piano rolls by hand precluded Nancarrow 's achieving the full range of polyrhythmic and textural concepts he was interested in pursuing. Listeners already devoted to Nancarrow will hardly need convincing that Lost Works, Last Works is a necessary acquisition. Those who are coming to his work for the first time could also benefit through seeking this out, as it is as friendly an introduction to a key avant-gardist as may be found on disc, and has the additional benefit of being illuminated by Nancarrow 's own words.

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