Stavros Gasparatos: Expanded Piano
In an arresting departure from its usual fare, Ad Noiseam presents a work of contemporary classical piano music by Greek composer Stavros Gasparatos. It's hardly a conventional collection of acoustic piano etudes, though; instead, Expanded Piano re-contextualizes the instrument within the modern electronic music field; specifically, Gasparatos extends Cage-styled radicalism by striking the piano's body, hammering and strumming its strings, and re-processing the sounds digitally in real-time. Consequently, the listener is presented with an elaborate soundworld that pushes liberally beyond the sounds typically associated with the eighty-eight keys. Bolstering the recording's visceral impact is the fact that it was recorded by Gasparatos live, alone and on stage at the EMPAC hall in Troy, New York on November 7th, 2014.
In this forty-seven-minute performance, Gasparatos presents the piano in unadorned manner during the sombre opener “Vincent,” the composer content to allow the purity of the instrument to come through on the ponderous, somewhat minimalistic setting. Immediately thereafter, “First Hit” replaces the stately sparseness of “Vincent” with an explorative array of piano phrases and aggressive manipulations; hammer blows and high-pitched, string-like effects add an eerie quality to the material, which now assumes the unsettling character of nachtmusik (the later “The Orphan” accomplishes much the same thing with its own string-like textures and bass throbs). A vocal chorus softly intones in the background of “Tchaikovsky,” while scrapes of the piano's insides and rumblings intermingle with notes played by its keys at the forefront.
Throughout the presentation, Gasparatos wisely varies the programme in shifting his focus between the acoustic properties of the piano and the electronic treatments produced by the instrument and computer. When the second scenario comes into play, the music takes on an ensemble-like character, with the piano augmented seemingly by a percussionist and other players. During “3C,” for instance, a strong rhythmic underpinning creates the impression of Gasparatos playing alongside a drummer, as does “Tok” in its dreamy, slow-motion lilt. The latter, in fact, might be the album's most fully realized piece in the way it satisfyingly blends the playing of the acoustic piano with the atmospheric sound world generated by re-processing. It's certainly not the only effective setting on this strong recording, however, which holds the listener's attention throughout.