Saturday, February 5, 2011

Conlon Nancarrow and the Pianola

As a big fan of mechanical devices I got fascinated by the pianola and the studies written for it by Conlon Nancarrow. Impossible to play by any human (possibly by 2) this 2 part canon slowly accelerates the voice of left hand and while doing the opposite on the ultra fast right hand they meet halfway through the piece. It's interesting to hear the rhythms that generates through the temporal dissonance.

A standard roll for the pianola, but can you guess which music piece this is?

The concept of temporal dissonance makes me think of another modern classic - György Ligeti´s "Poeme Symphonique" (for 100 metronomes).


  1. What a great and interesting piece! :) A very simple and clear concept resulting in complex, weird but enjoyable music. Nancarrow was the man. If I understand it correctly, 'temporal dissonance' is the same as polyrhythms / polymetrics, something I love and use quite often in my own works, although not as thoroughly as in Nancarrow's piece. When was it written? It feels like a more elaborate and interesting variation of the early minimal/process music of Reich and Glass from the late 60's/early 70's.

    Mechanical music is an interesting topic, I'd love to get into composing for mechanical instruments but it'd take both lots of time, lots of money (and lots of room space) to get into it properly. I would love it if people would start producing more affordable MIDI-controlled mechanical instruments, such as small music boxes, toy pianos, etc. that can receive MIDI signals. Would add a lot of organic physicality to the realm of electronic music.

    PS. Yes, I can certainly guess the piece on that piano roll. :) Good old Ludwig Van, my droogs.

  2. Oh, just checked it out, this was written before 1960 so it predates the early process music of Glass and Reich by far. Too bad Nancarrow was virtually unknown most of his life, he really deserved much much more attention.

  3. Wow, this is freaky stuff! Humans might not be able to play it, but can they even compose it? Can you hear it in your head and translate it onto the pianoroll? Or is it more or less random after a certain amount of holes in the roll?
    The temporal dissonance reminds me a little bit of the moiré effect you get when, in printing, you put the dots over eachother in the wrong angle. This is funny, but hard to control and use on purpose. How is that with temporal resonance? Can you compose it the way you want, or would it be more like trial & error?
    By the way, a piano playing by itself looks quite spooky. Espacially so fast.