Carson COOMAN (b. 1982)
Revolutionary Earthworks: Music for Mechanical Piano: Three Canons for Mechanical Piano (2009) [3:57]; The Better Part of Forever (2009) [11:13]; A Little Dance for Bill (2009) [5:12]; Triadic Legends (2009) [10:53]
rec. Euphony Sound Studios, Phoenix AZ, USA. DDD
ZIMBEL ZR120 [31:10]

This disc of music for mechanical piano was recorded on a Yamaha C7 Disklavier Pro Mark IV. It opens with the delightful Three Canons for Mechanical Piano; these three short movements each take on their own identity using a range of rhythmic devices and textures. Some of the more complex moments can be hard to unravel, but the movements are short enough to have a dramatic effect.

The Better Part of Forever is more melodic, hinting at nostalgia, and certainly more American in style. The music is unusually expressive for a mechanical instrument, and the multiple lines - more than could be played by a single player - make good use of the medium. There is something symphonic in this approach, and it is highly effective.

A Little Dance for Bill is a tango-style work, with an ostinato accompaniment which plays in the background under a melody line which develops throughout the work. A change in the ostinato in the middle section provides variety, before the return of the opening material.

The final piece in this short collection of works is the Triadic Legends, a suite of three movements which are based on triads, the basic building blocks of Western tonal harmony. The explosive first movement, Truest Horse takes its title from a Shakespearean quote, and uses toccata-style driving note patterns. The central movement, entitled The Strangeness of Kindling is more modal in its harmonic language and contrapuntal lines are heard over a simple chordal accompaniment, giving a sense of multiple layers. The final movement is a dramatic burst of rhythmically dynamic scurrying pitches, over a slow moving pattern of chords. This is highly virtuosic and displays the capabilities of the system well.

It is an interesting experience hearing mechanical piano music. Perhaps in some ways similar in concept to organ music, the instrument is effectively percussive with a wide range of pitch possibilities, and Cooman has used the enhanced rhythmic and textural possibilities of a mechanical instrument to good effect. The piano sound itself has a hint of sounding digital, but this is entirely acceptable in the world we live in, where good quality digital pianos are commonplace. My main concern with this music is the question of complexity; the instrument is undoubtedly more than able to cope with multiple layers of sound at any time, but Coomanís music often relies on a sense of foreground/background, with accompanying ostinati heard behind more complex foreground material. This in itself is no bad thing, but perhaps greater variety of approach would give more of a sense of the capabilities of the system. Similarly, I found myself wanting a change of sonority, and perhaps so many lines in a single instrumental sound is too much. These are, however, points for discussion. Although I didnít love Coomanís music, it is certainly interesting, at times beautiful and at other times acerbic, and it is fascinating to hear his work for this instrument.

Carla Rees