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CD Review

Stephen Scott

New Music for Bowed Piano

  • Rainbows I
  • Rainbows II
  • Music One for Bowed Strings
  • Music Three for Bowed Strings
  • Resonant Resources
  • Arcs
The Colorado College New Music Ensemble
New Albion NA107 DDD 51:06
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You have to look inside the booklet to discover this, but it appears that the material on this CD is about 17 years old. Stephen Scott's prior New Albion CDs (Minerva's Web and Tears of Niobe on NA026, Vikings of the Sunrise on NA084) must have found an audience and created demand for new material faster than the composer could supply it. I have no problem with this, but I think New Albion could have been more forthcoming with this information. The title of this disc certainly implies something else.

Stephen Scott's interest in bowed piano dates from 1976 when he heard the striking effect created by drawing a nylon fishing line across piano strings. He quickly began to imagine what the effect might be if several players did this at the same time. Within a year, he had completed Music One for Bowed Strings, which appears on this CD.

Ten players perform each piece. They bend over the instrument's exposed innards like surgeons performing open-heart surgery. They use small "bows" made from Popsicle sticks and rosined horsehair and draw them back and forth across the piano's strings to produce melodies, drones, and staccato rhythmic figures. The keyboard itself is infrequently struck. The resulting tone is pleasantly metallic, not unlike that produced by certain organ pipes. The number of performers makes it possible for Scott to include effects such as hocketing, in which a single melodic line in divided between more than one musician. The spatial interruptions create an effect which at times resembles hiccuping.

Resonant Resources is the exception. The composer performs it as a solo work from the keyboard. The piano has already been prepared with bowing devices and electromagnets. This produces a smoother sound and allows for the manipulable sympathetic vibration of multiple strings within the same harmonic structure.

The music on this CD is relatively simple, once one understands the basic concepts. The other two New Albion CDs are more sophisticated and less minimalistic. Think of New Music for Bowed Piano as a disc of ethereal études, or as a support to meditation, and you'll be fine. The performances recreate the inspiration and excitement of the moment, and the engineering is good.

Copyright © 2000, Raymond Tuttle