The Mystery of Conlon Nancarrow — Another Shot at Solving Him

This should get you up to speed on who the composer was.

Puttering along with Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future, I was intrigued to find out one of his earliest music heroes was the enigmatic Conlon Nancarrow  (decades ago, Lanier would hitchhike from southern New Mexico to visit Nancarrow’s “bunker-like” studio in Mexico City, where he would hear the player-piano works in their primal setting — so, you know, not a typical experience). Nancarrow emerged from deep obscurity in the ’80s, but by the time I got around to digging for him in the ’90s, he was damned hard to find. I’m not at all surprised he isn’t better known. The biggest puzzle to me is why his sole album on Columbia (from 1969, back when major labels still threw everything off-beat against the wall to see what might stick) has not been reissued along with the torrents of lesser obscurities. The 1750 Arch LPs were done on the original player pianos with Nancarrow’s supervision, then all but vanished within a year or two of being released. Lanier notes that “the digital recordings that are around somehow miss the power of the music.” They are on Wergo, I checked out a couple volumes, and I’m with Lanier — I didn’t like ’em. They sounded arid and harsh, sometimes thick with ideas and reflections, but never the least overwhelming. The reason, however, is obvious — one of Nancarrow’s player pianos was damaged beyond repair, so the Wergo versions were made by double-tracking the piano that remained (i.e., not at all the way the composer intended). There’s a German set of recordings done on regular pianos and various and diverse human-played interpretations around, but I think Lanier is on to something when he says mechanical reproduction is essential to hearing the true Nancarrow Studies. He’s a bit out of touch, though, since you don’t have to scrounge through used-LP bins anymore for the 1750 Arch material. The CD set is reasonably priced and though the Studies are sadly not in sequence and only the works up through No. 41 are included, looks to me like the only existing chance to hear them close to the optimal way. Miles To Go will report back on the results.


(c. 1955)


Still Jumbletown

Office computer problems not fixed yet.

Worthy stuff coming up, though. Considerations of Jaron Lanier (fascinating, though both on-target and all over the map), Uncle Charlie Manson (explains everything and nothing, but has convinced me it’s worth posting something about the guru-mad years and the ominous strains in certain thought systems), a captivating and worthwhile blog I discovered called “Wait But Why” (please don’t wait for me to be up and functional — Gooble the title if you are curious), andlinks to review of Tennis, Earth, and new comments on Death Vessel, Duane Eddy, maybe more (or maybe less if subjects get lost in the flow).


Sorry about all the stagnation.

The Phantom of Justice for Alan Turing

A very worthwhile read:

I love checking out Jaron Lanier because he every so often fully articulates an idea that’s floated around the edges of my imagination and insights. In this case, that the famed Turing Test echoes in an eerie way the creator’s own yearning to be perceived as first and foremost a human being.