News & Notes Nov/Dec 2017: Falling pianos and Extreme Minimalism
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the annual "Piano Drop" has been a celebrated event for more than forty years.
According to Steve Annear of The Boston Globe, "It's a celebration that not only rallies the community together to participate in something unusually destructive… but also marks the last day they can officially "drop" a spring semester class from their busy course schedules."1
Once a year, students gather at the Baker House dormitory to watch as a non-functioning piano is thrown from the sixth story to the ground below. Occasionally, the junk piano is packed with confetti. After it hits the ground, students and other bystanders race to collect keepsakes. The event is used to raise money for the Steppingstone Foundation for underserved schoolchildren.
The tradition started in 1972, when students used a special camera to capture the event for a course on high-speed photography. For that project, they received an A.
1S. Annear, "MIT students bring back tradition of tossing piano off building." The Boston Globe 26 Apr. 2017. https://goo.gl/E6bo1X
Randy Gibson's The Four Pillars Appearing from the Equal D under Resonating Apparitions of the Eternal Process in the Midwinter Starfield for equal tempered piano and harmonic resonators (2014) takes three and a half hours to perform, and features only a single pitch, D. It was commissioned by pianist R. Andrew Lee, who just released a recording of it on the Irritable Hedgehog label.
Although The Four Pillars contains only a single pitch distributed over multiple octaves, the use of harmonic resonators highlights the natural overtones of the D strings, creating a competing perception of just intonation. As the seven-movement work unfolds over 210 minutes, the listener's attention is drawn to the ever-increasing harmonics above and below the pitches of the piano.
Lee is known for performing extremely long minimalistic works such as Dennis Johnson's November (1959), which requires five hours to perform.