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[Access Contemporary Music] Explore the Inner World of the Piano

- Integrating musical creativity into everyday life
The idea for ACM’s next Chicago concert « Inner Worlds » has been percolating in the mind of our Executive Director Seth Boustead for years.  « I used to interview composers as part of my radio show Relevant Tones, » he says.
« One composer told me a fascinating story of lying under the piano when she was quite young and hearing her father play.  These early memories of sound washing over her were an inspiration in the music she would later compose.
« I thought at the time how fascinating it would be to somehow take an audience inside the piano to discover the strange and beautiful sounds that can be created inside this highly resonant wooden box, a kind of cabinet of sonic wonders. I’m so happy to see this idea come to life. » 
‘Inner Worlds’ features the piano as you’ve never heard it before.  Alone on stage, lid over the strings removed, lid over the keys closed, microphones and cameras placed inside to bring every sonic nuance to life, this is the piano as you’ve never heard it before.

Encompassing a variety of special effects, the music for this concert ranges from eerie to playful to dramatic and everything in between.
And since our concert series happens in a movie theater, cameras placed strategically inside the piano send the image to the big screen in real time so you can see exactly how each sound is being produced.

Monday, December 16
Davis Theater
4614 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago
$20/$12 for students

Composer Lisa Neher demonstrates some of the techniques in her piece
The Banshee by Henry Cowell
Inside the piano technique all began in 1925 with an innovative piece from Henry Cowell called The Banshee. 
Cowell stated that his inspiration in creating the « stringpiano » method of playing came from a desire to reinvent the landscape of piano technique finding new usages and sounds for old instruments without necessarily inventing new ones.

To Stare Astonished at the Sea by Lois Vierk

When it is calm the ocean is gentle and inviting. It can be mysteriously majestic or humblingly powerful. Sometimes it thrashes about frighteningly.
The title of my piece was inspired by the W. B. Yeats poem « Her Triumph ». Yeats’ words say to me that the energy of life itself is untamed and often wilder and more beautiful than what shows on the surface.


The piece is played entirely inside the piano on the strings. It is composed in three sections, beginning percussively in the lowest register, adding « tremolos » and « trills » (no pitches here are notated exactly). The music moves to higher strings and develops tonally with plucked string phrases and dynamic glissandos. lt ends with a flurry on the highest strings.


Glimpses by Vivian Fung (3rd movement)
Glimpses is a set of three pieces that each feature a different aspect of prepared piano. In the third piece, Chant, the pianist plays inside the piano and pulls on rosined butcher twine to simulate a long deep drone that permeates through the piece.
Glimpses was originally written for pianist Jenny Lin and was premiered by Jenny at the 2006 ISCM Miami Festival.
The following works were all commissioned by ACM and will receive their World Premiere performance at the Inner Worlds concert
Stritch by Pierce Gradone
Strich is a collection of miniatures inspired by Vasilly Kandinsky’s eponymous painting by, Durchgehender Strich (trans. Transverse Lines). Strich imagines the inside of the piano as a canvas, with Kandinsky’s dynamic lines and shapes serving as the blueprint for the pianist’s physical and musical gestures.
Each movement asks the pianist to use a different implement to play, including their palms and fingers, guitar picks, and percussion mallets; allowing the piece to explore a variety of musical worlds within the piano, from percussive, industrial grooves to long, eerie counterpoint on plucked strings.

Operating Theatre by Randall West
It starts with delicate pricks, meddling inside the piano; and it is gradually pulled out. The piano is never struck. Instead, thread is tied to the piano’s strings and the thread is plucked, which in turn provokes the piano strings.
It is a splaying or “opening up” of the instrument to which the audience is privy, and in which onlookers partake. As if scientists were exposing some animalistic, ancient, beautiful, but private quality of a being, and allowing us, as students and voyeurs, to discover it. An experiment; a ritual; an operating theatre.

Inner Worlds by Lisa Neher
Neher’s piece takes inspiration from what is inside our planet. The music explores the layers of the Earth: the hard outer crust, the firm but moving mantle that shifts and re-forms and erupts to form volcanoes, and the pressurized core made of metals that swirl around, generating the planet’s magnetic field.
Listeners will hear throbbing slaps of the low strings, swirling metallic glissandi on the upper strings, and rhythmic tapping and beating on the piano’s support beams using hands and yarn mallets.
Orbita by Jeff Kowalkowski and Mark Mahoney
Orbita is a co-composed work for piano interior, percussion, trumpet, trombone, and piano which seeks to pull resonance from the piano through the emulation of planetary motion.





And In Other News, in the World Outside of the Piano…
Open House Chicago Video Posted

We were thrilled to collaborate with one of Chicago’s most unique historical venues: the Forum.  Built in 1897, The Forum is home to the oldest assembly and social hall in Bronzeville and contains what may be the oldest hardwood dance floor in Chicago.
This imposing red brick building was an epicenter of the “Black Metropolis”, the “city-within-a-city” created by African Americans to provide the retail and social needs they were barred from accessing within broader Chicago. The Forum hosted leading performers, prominent social events, and some of the era’s most important union meetings and political assemblies, while providing a wide range of hospitality and retail amenities.
After remaining vacant for nearly 30 years, The Forum was narrowly saved from city-ordered demolition in 2011 by a neighborhood resident who brought together a team to stabilize the complex and develop a plan for its revitalization.

Composer Trevor Patrick Watkin wrote a piece that pays homage to the history of the space while fitting neatly within his own creative vision.

Open House New York Collaboration a Massive Success
On October 20 we collaborated with Open House New York to present the first public performances of music by Seth Boustead, Stephanie Ann Boyd, Anthony R. Green and Ed Windels as part of a fascinating presentation that interspersed the musical performances with conversations with the architects and designers who brought this iconic space back to life.
Designed by Eero Saarinen, the TWA Flight Center was a marvel of its time.  But when TWA was gutted by plutocrat Carl Icahn in 2001, the building sat empty for years.  It has now been reimagined as a swanky hotel where it’s always 1963 and you can swim in an infinity pool overlooking a busy Jet Blue runway and have a drink inside a vintage jumbo jet.
Sadly there was no video taken but we plan to record these pieces soon and will share them.  In the meantime here’s one more photo to give you a sense of the room we were in which did not exist in Saarinen’s time and also the scale of the place which easily accommodated nearly 800 people.
Film Submission Deadline December 1st
ACM’s popular Sound of Silent Film Festival features newly commissioned music performed live to modern silent films.  We source the films through an international search and submissions are now open!
We’re looking for short silent films (2 to 20 minutes) in all genres, or films without dialogue that can be screened in silence.  Our composers will write a new score for the film and we’ll play it live on March 28th, which marks the fifteenth anniversary of this unique film festival. 

Submit Now
More ‘Live at the Davis’ Season 3
Inner Worlds isn’t the only thing we’ve got cooking at the Davis Theater.  ACM is committed to bringing the music of a wide range of living composers to life in several other exciting, innovative concerts at this beloved community movie theater that just happens to have a full bar and restaurant.
Please mark your calendars for these upcoming shows!  Start times are at 7:30, all shows at the Davis Theater, 4614 N. Lincoln Ave.  And yes, you can take drinks and food into the theater!

February 10 – Specific Gravity

ACM performs an array of music inspired by physics including Lois Vierk’s astonishing work Red Shift, Paul Lansky’s wild ride of a chamber piece Horizons, Olga Neuwirth’s austere but spellbinding Quasare/Pulsare and the piece that inspired the whole show, Lansing McCloskey’s rollicking ball of fun Specific Gravity.

More Info and Tickets
March 28 – Sound of Silent Film Festival
ACM’s popular Sound of Silent Film Festival celebrates its fifteenth anniversary with two shows featuring brand new modern silent films with newly commissioned scores performed live.  These shows will sell out!
More Info and Tickets
Blue Hour – May 11
We’ll close out the season with a dizzying (in a good way) display of new works inspired by the color blue. Pieces to be performed include Pulitzer Prize winner Julia Wolfe’s Blue Dress, the Full Range of Blue by Laura Kaminsky, Devil in Blue Blue Sea by Clara Latham and The Blue-Footed Booby by Avant-French composer Tristan Murail.
More Info and Tickets
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