Portrait of the mexican composer Conlon Nancarrow and his studies for Player Piano (English version)
Film by Hanne Kaisik and Uli Aumüller
Documentation for the Bavarian broadcast and the West German broadcast 1993
BetaSP PAL 45 min. 4/3 -- in stereo
“For me”, the composer György Ligeti says, “Nancarrow is simply the most important composer who lives today. He has made something completely original, something extremely different compared with all other people, on the highest standard, on the standard of Johann Sebastian Bach or the late works of Beethoven. "
How does Ligeti come to this hymn which goes far beyond the usual colleague praise? What connects both composers? Hanne Kaisik Aumüller (director) and Uli Aumüller (author) found the hermit Conlon Nancarrow (1912-1997) in his Mexican studio to follow these questions.
Until his discovery by John Cage or György Ligeti among others, Nancarrow had retired without the least interest in public recognition into his composer hermitage on the outskirts of Mexico city for 40 years. After the performance of one of his compositions had failed because of the listlessness and the technical inability of the interpreters in 1940 he tried to find a way, how he could get rid of human musicians to perform his music, which is on the one hand influenced by jazz, rhythmically immensely awkward and on the other hand influenced by the 12 tone music.
After tests with a self playing drum machine failed he chose a mechanical piano, one of in the fifties already antiquated predecessors of the music computer. From that day on, he punched almost 24 hours a day holes into paper rolls which program the pneumatic mechanism of the piano.
The rhythmical exactness of the mechanical piano made breathtaking polyrythms possible which put everything into shade history of music had produced in this field till then. Nancarrow realized even studies in which the individual voices of his polyphonic compositions act with different speeds simultaneously, even with different accelerations.
In Hanne Kaisik´s and Uli Aumüller´s film Nancarrow explains for the first time his procedure to develop his compositions: At first the constructs a template that subdivides time into faster and slower units in which he then inserts his melodic ideas. Although he sat several months from the first idea up to the punched role for only one of his about 50 completed studies for the mechanical piano, he was still convinced that nobody would be interested in his music after his death, and that his roles will land on the garbage. The 20th century would have simply looked over one of it´s most important composers. ...
Besides interviews with György Ligeti and Mexican composer-colleagues, American publishers and music publicists, Nancarrows third wife Yoko Nancarrow and his assistant, the film contrasts the quiet, hermit-like seclusion of Nancarrows studio and residence within the multicultural complexity and incalculable activity of the 20 million Megapolis Mexico city.