The UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) presents Trimpin: Nancarrow Percussion Orchestra / MATRIX 244, a new sculptural sound installation by the Seattle-based artist Trimpin. The work is created in honor of the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the avant-garde expatriate American composer Conlon Nancarrow (1912–97), best known for his rhythmically complex and intensely layered compositions for the player and prepared piano. Trimpin’s performative installation results from several years of study and investigation and incorporates percussive instruments originally designed by Nancarrow, which Trimpin recovered from the composer’s Mexico City home and has carefully restored.
A MacArthur Fellow (1997), Trimpin is recognized for his creative investigations of acoustic music in spatial contexts, often using salvaged and reconfigured instruments and technological equipment to extend the traditional boundaries of instruments and the sounds they produce. Nancarrow’s radical player-piano scores, which he composed from the late 1940s, existed only as unique, individually punched player piano rolls until Trimpin convinced Nancarrow, soon after they met in 1987, to allow him to convert the vulnerable rolls into MIDI files, creating an enduring format for these otherwise fugitive pieces.
For this new installation, commissioned by Other Minds in collaboration with BAM/PFA, Trimpin has drawn on his deep understanding of and admiration for Nancarrow’s music and creative approach. Nancarrow spent several years of his life on a large scale, vacuum-actuated percussion orchestra, capable of performing rhythmically complex compositions on an array of hand-built ceramic and orchestral drums, wood blocks, gongs, and other instruments. With less than desired results, Nancarrow eventually abandoned his dream orchestra. Over sixty years later, Trimpin has reimaged and rebuilt the orchestra using three salvaged upright pianos, which have been broken apart, reconfigured, mechanized as player pianos, and “prepared” to play a variety of Nancarrow’s scores, as well as Nancarrow’s drums, unveiled for the first time in this exhibition. The compositions are rearranged and fragmented across three pianos in short and varied pieces, and include some phrases from original Nancarrow rolls, seemingly punched for use by the percussion orchestra. The motion of visitors in the gallery triggers the acoustic environment, incorporating the audience and spatial environment into the character and performance of this work. The installation performs in real time over the course of the exhibition, with hundreds of feet of player-piano paper spilling out onto the gallery floor, expanding the piece into an evolving spatial performance of acoustic sound.
Nancarrow at 100: A Centennial Celebration
BAM/PFA, Other Minds, and Cal Performance salute Nancarrow with a spate of music, films, and discussions across the UC Berkeley campus from November 2 through November 4, 2012. Nancarrow at 100: A Centennial Celebration kicks off with a conversation between artist Trimpin and BAM/PFA Chief Curator and Director of Programs and Collection Lucinda Barnes about Trimpin’s MATRIX installation and Nancarrow’s legacy. BAM/PFA also hosts Don’t Shoot the Player Piano: The Music of Conlon Nancarrow at the PFA Theater, two evenings of rarely seen films, some biographical, others visual tributes to Nancarrow’s music, including the West Coast premiere of James R. Greeson’s Conlon Nancarrow: Virtuoso of the Player Piano. Cal Performances presents three concerts in Hertz Hall that will display Nancarrow’s diverse body of work, including performances by Trimpin and Rex Lawson, Calder Quartet, and Lawson with Chris Froh, Graeme Jennings, Helena Bugallo and Amy Williams. Lastly, there will be two public panel discussions at Hertz Hall: The Expanding Universe of Conlon Nancarrow and Eyeballs Out! How Performers Learned to “Play” Nancarrow. Guests at these discussions will include Yoko Sugiura-Nancarrow, widow of the composer, music archivist Felix Meyer, and music publisher Peter Garland, biographer Kyle Gann, as well as the festival’s numerous performers. See the schedule below for details for all the events.