Pianos or Metronomes

Ok, so maybe I was a little too harsh in my last post. Steve Reich got it right when he wrote piano phase, and it turns out that using 100 pianos really wouldn’t work (not to mention that a piece for 100 pianos would (probably) never ever be performed live).

After making a connection between Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique, and Reich’s phase music, I thought I’d quickly try and see what it would sound like if 100 pianos were phasing with eachother. What I did in fact was (very approximately) recreate Poème Symphonique in Logic, but replacing the single tick of a metronome with the opening melody of Piano Phase. This was far closer to the Ligeti that the Reich original, since the melodies never fall back into the same pulse, but the 100 pianos continue throughout at their own speed and gradually fade out or stop as if they were mechanical metronomes.

Well you can hear the results of this little experiment here:

It’s rather noisy all the way through and only right near the end does it become possible to define individual melodies, and this only goes to show why both original pieces work so well as they are. Piano Phase relies on only two pianos to be able to focus in on the hazy effect of very gradual phasing. Whilst the individual pulses of Poème Symphonique can be quite discernible even quite early on in the piece, and would be indistinguishable if any more complex than a simple click.

So yea… sorry Steve…


About jackwestmore

Jack Westmore writes music for film, television and media, and is currently based in Cardiff in the UK.
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