Program note

subject / object is a work about the piano for ensemble. To me, the piano is an elusive object of contradictions. There is a degree of abstraction and detachment to the thing; sometimes a piece of furniture, or status-symbol. There is a degree of familiarity, too: before the availability of recorded sound, it was a primary means for many to hear and participate in music. Sometimes called ‘the composer’s instrument’, it is meant to be able to distill a larger world of sound than is its province, as in the familiar idea of the piano reduction, where an orchestral work is transcribed for solo piano.

In 2013 I wrote an acousmatic work examining these ideas, called Objects-Interiors. This work, predominantly derived from piano sounds, is a kind distillation of the piano-as-object: its sounds are played back through speakers inside of a piano (which is never performed), appropriating the musical object as an interior space.

In this new work for ensemble and electronics, that distillation is expanded into a performative interaction in and around the piano. Part of the written material is a transcription of the parent work; and so the sounds produced by the ensemble imitate the piano-as-object-asspace. The work is also a deconstruction of that process - of my own memory of the composition - of attempting to reduce recorded sound into notes on a page. And so, the work also cuts up, transforms, records, and plays back these materials. The piano is again contextualized as a site for resonance and reduction, in homage to Alvin Lucier’s sound art work I am sitting in a room (1969), where in this case the ‘room’ is a piano.

The project of the work is confessedly a kind of navel-gazing, of an intense sort such that I am put in mind of an episode of the cartoon Ren and Stimpy where a character falls into his own belly-button and discovers an entire universe inside. When considering one’s own subjectivity in observation, in this case, of an instrument and of a musical work, subject and object become indistinct from one another.

-James O'Callaghan


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