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Keith Kirchoff | The Electro-Acoustic Piano, Vol. One

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The Electro-Acoustic Piano, Vol. One

by Keith Kirchoff

World premier recordings from some of the most adventurous composers of electro-acoustic music.
Genre: Classical: Postmodern
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Servicio a Domicillio (1991)
10:05 album only
2. Lush Intrinsic (2009)
10:14 album only
3. Praya Dubia (2008-09)
15:32 album only
4. In Vitro Oink (2010)
11:23 album only
5. Velocity Study No. 3: Rip (1991)
4:45 album only
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Welcome to the 21st century.

There's no denying that computers have taken over every aspect of modern life; everything from our phones to our toasters to our cars are some form of computer. And music has not been spared from the computer's influence.

With computers becoming more powerful, portable, and user friendly, composers of the 21st century have been quick to integrate them into modern classical performance. Though “computer music” is certainly nothing new, what was once a fringe novelty left only to those patient enough to cut up analog tape, is now a musical phenomenon sweeping every genre of music.

What is interesting to me as a performer, is seeing how these modern composers choose to take advantage of this new technology. Some see it as an opportunity to create symphonies of purely electronic sounds, some embrace the notions of interactive electronics, some create instillations, some build robots with whom to play, others find ways to incorporate their phones and video game consoles into their art. But one thing is certain: there is no one method that is proving more popular (or more stable) than any other.

In general, electronic music comes in two forms: fixed media and live. With fixed media electronics, a composer sits in the studio and constructs a piece that will remain the same with every playing. While many of these fixed media pieces still grace concert halls now and then, the newest trend is to construct pieces that are designed for album and may or may not be intended for live concert performance (one of which is included here). Since the 1970s, hundreds of pieces have been written which combine fixed media electronics with a live performer – a sociological concept (the imperfect human paired with (or against) the perfect machine) that continues to prove endlessly fascinating. This album includes three such pieces.

In comparison, live electronics require some level of human interaction and are different with every performance. Live electronics could be as simple as a series of delays, or as complex as determining pitches by tracking the position of your eye's pupil. Live electronics can theoretically do just about anything and are only limited by the composer/engineer's creativity and programming skills.

This album series seeks to explore the ever growing and ever changing field of electro-acoustics. It will not focus on any one method of electronic composition, nor will it feature only one musical aesthetic. Rather, it is my hope to truly show the full spectrum of possibility with musical electronics.

This first volume includes five pieces, three of which were commissioned by me. As this is the first album, I have also included older electro-acoustic works to show the evolution of technology and aesthetic over the past few decades. Both older works were composed on DAT tapes.

DAT tapes. At the beginning of the 21st century, this was a technology that was in every single music studio in the country. It is now (only ten years later) completely obsolete. It is exciting to consider where this series of albums will end up in another ten years time. Technology changes so fast, it is impossible to even imagine what might be possible next decade. How will the composers respond? The violin hasn't really changed in hundreds of years. The piano – new in comparison – hasn't changed significantly since 1880. But the computer? It's completely different than it was yesterday.

What does this do to the world of composition? To the world of performance? Who knows. But what I do know, is that these machines have given us the opporunity to explore new sounds and new possibilities previously seen as impossible.

And that I embrace.

-Keith Kirchoff


“Servicio a Domicillio” for piano and fixed media (1991)

Compositionally speaking, “Servicio a Domicillio” is one of the most unique works on this album. Whereas the other two fixed media works included here have meticulously notated piano parts, the score to this work is primarily graphic: only about 25% of the piece is traditionally notated. Morales-Manzanares explains the sound world he wants (clusters of varying intensities), and then asks the pianist to improvise with the electronics, all the while borrowing motifs and gestures heard in the tape.

Because the electronics are fixed, there is a certain consistency achieved with each performance: regardless of how differently I may interpret the symbols from one performance to the next, each improvised gesture is limited to an exact length of time and will always be interacting with the same sounds.

“Lush Intrinsic” for piano and live electronics (2009)

As classical music continues to evolve, the strict boundaries that have separated it from popular music forms are rapidly dissolving. Some composers choose to fight this inevitable development, but others, like composer Dan VanHassel, are at the cutting edge of exploring these new possibilities. VanHassel aims to write music that combines the elements of rock and classical without compromising the essential elements of either. He writes: "My music looks for the connection between the hard-hitting viscerality of heavy metal bands like Rage Against the Machine and the savage ferocity of composers like Iannis Xenakis; the similarity between the intricate polyrhythms of Steve Reich and math-rock bands like Tool; a place where the collage of musical quotations practiced by Charles Ives can coexist with the electronic sampling culture of hip-hop groups like Public Enemy."

“Lush Intrinsic” borrows from the sound worlds of classical minimalism, indie rock band Animal Collective, and electronica dance music. The piano is continuously sampled throughout the piece, and every sound in the electronics derives itself from these samples – in other words, there are no prerecorded sounds.

“Praya Dubia” for prepared piano and electronics (2009-10)

A praya dubia is an underwater sea creature that lives in depths of up to 1600 feet and can grow to lengths of 3200 feet. One of the most unique features of the praya dubia is that while it is one unified organism, it is made up of several seemingly independent members, each with its own specific role within the colony. Thus, one member's job is to eat, another's to attack, another's to defend, etc. So while each member almost seems a complete individual, in fact, quite to the contrary, each member needs each of the other members to survive.

Christopher Trebue Moore's piece, "Praya Dubia," is composed in a similar fashion. On a micro-level, one hears a series of pointillistic, almost independent pitches. These pitches may at first seem unrelated to their neighbors, but, when put together, actually form long expressive lines.

On a macro-level, the piece is similar to the animal in that there are three individual layers happening simultaneously: the live piano, a pre-recorded piano, and an electronics part. Each layer is almost a complete piece, but in reality needs each of the other parts to complete the work.

One of Trebue Moore's biggest concerns when writing for a live instrument and electronics, is connecting the natural sonic disconnect that occurs when juxtaposing an acoustic instrument controlled by a human being with electronic sounds controlled by a computer. He bridges this gap in two ways. First, Trebue Moore chooses to prepare the piano. This causes the piano to have an almost electronic timbre despite being solely acoustic. Secondly, the pre-recorded piano part included within the electronics does not act in counterpoint to the live piano, but rather joins with the live pianist to create the illusion of a pianist with ten hands.

“In Vitro Oink” piano, wii remote, and electronics (2010)

“In Vitro Oink” is a multimedia work in the broader sense of the word. Besides the obvious inclusion of computer-driven electronics, the piece has a strong visual component not transferable to this recording: throughout this piece, I have a wiimote strapped strapped to my arm. This wii controller tracks the position of my arm in space and sends this data back to the computer, which then translates my movements into sound. Additionally, throughout the work, I tap and strike various parts of the piano's case creating percussive attacks.

During the performance, the piano is sampled live, and these samples are played back sporadically through the piece. These delayed samples are triggered by different motions of my arm.

The piano part is derived from an analysis of the small granular sounds that are the building blocks for this piece. The title is a reference to an event in November 2009, when, from living cells, scientists from the Netherlands created meat in the lab – a process the composer feels resembles his own method of composing this work.

“Velocity Study No. 3: Rip” for piano and fixed media (1991)

For most of his life, Allen Strange (1943-2008) was considered the leading authority on analog electronic music, and he wrote dozens of pieces for solo instruments and electronics. Among these works were five compositions he titled "Velocity Studies." These pieces, each for a different instrument, were Lisztian-style etudes that explored new methods of integrating live acoustic performance with pre-recorded media.

Having been a fan of Strange's work for many years, I was very interested in learning his only work for piano: Velocity Study No. 3. I was anticipating speaking to him about the work at the 2008 SEAMUS (Society for Electro Acoustic Music in the United States) festival in Salt Lake City, when he very unexpectedly passed away that February - about a month before the festival (where his final Velocity Study, NGate, was to be premiered). As he was the only person who knew the whereabouts of this piano piece, I assumed all opportunities to play the work were gone.

Thankfully, his wife, Patricia, found the original electronics on DAT tape buried in a closet in his studio. Unfortunately, due to the fact that this piece had not been performed since its premier in 1991, the DAT tape containing the electronics was horribly damaged and had several holes and tears. Enter Brian Belet: a mutual friend and a very talented composer himself. Brian took this damaged DAT tape and devoted months of his time to remastering this piece. He did remarkable work, but because the tape was so heavily damaged, it was impossible to restore the work to its original condition. Hence, several pops, hisses, and scratches are heard throughout the performance. Personally, I find such imperfections sort of endearing.

I included this piece on my 2010 Electro-Acoustic Piano tour, and I include here as a musical tribute to Allen Strange: though we never had the opportunity to meet and collaborate, I will continue to feel his invaluable contribution to electronic music for years to come.


Musician, composer, performer, researcher and professor ROBERTO MORALES (b. 1958) has written music for theater, dance, film, TV, and radio. He has presented both his own work and the works of others in tours throughout Latin America, the United States, Canada, and Europe.

As a researcher, Morales has 8 publications in major journals, and due to his ground-breaking work on algorithmic composition has been invited to several national and international conferences such as the International Society forArtificial Intelligence, ICMC (International Computer Music Conference), First Brasilian Symposium on Computer Music, and IJCAI (International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence). In 1987, he co-founded the first musical laboratory in Mexico. Morales-Manzanares has received several grants and awards, including  FONCA, Bancomer Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Trust for Culture Mexico / USA, and the National Acoustic Award, among others.

He has been invited as composer in residence at UC Berkeley, San Jose State University, Yale University and McGill University in Canada.
He currently serves on the National System of Creators in Mexico, director of LIM (Laboratory of Computer Music) where he coordinates and organizes the Alley Noise Festival and teaches courses of computer music, algorithmic composition, and digital synthesis. 

DAN VANHASSEL (b. 1981) is a composer and multi-instrumentalist living in Oakland, CA. His music is deeply grounded in his experience performing in rock bands as well as orchestras and chamber ensembles. Often highly rhythmic, his works embrace noise and chaos as well as the simplest of tonal materials. Some of today’s top emerging performers have championed his music including, pianist Keith Kirchoff, saxophonist Michael Straus, flutist Laura Heinrichs, and bassoonist Dana Jessen.  Ensembles such as Steve Schick’s Red Fish Blue Fish Ensemble, Ensemble SurPlus, the Virginia Intercollegiate Band, the Ohio University Percussion Ensemble, and the Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic have also performed his work. Also active as a performer and improviser, Dan was a founding member of the new music ensemble Agenda, the free-improv group Output, and the composers collective Test Pattern. He also was a co-founder of the ‘Embryonic Noise’ concert series in Boston, devoted to the music of emerging composers, as well as the ‘Comprovised’ music series spotlighting contemporary improvisation. He has been educated at institutions including Carnegie Mellon University, the New England Conservatory, and is currently studying at the University of California, Berkeley.

CHRISTOPHER TREBUE MOORE (b. 1976) is an active composer of acoustic and electroacoustic music currently residing in Berlin. A native of Texas, he began formal studies of music at an early age focusing on jazz and rock guitar as well as harmony, counterpoint, and improvisation. In 2008, he completed his D.M.A. at Stanford University where he studied composition with Brian Ferneyhough (primarily), Mark Applebaum, Chris Chafe, and Josh Levine. Previous degrees earned include a Master of Music in composition from the University of Oregon (2003), a Bachelor of Music in classical guitar performance from San Francisco State University (1999), and an Artist’s Diploma from the High School for Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, Texas.

A prolific composer since the late 1990’s, Moore’s body of work to date includes a long list of instrumental works for chamber and solo forces, in addition to several purely electronic works, works for voices, and for orchestra. Moore’s music has been performed in the USA and Europe at various festivals and conferences by a host of performers including the Arditti String Quartet, Ensemble Surplus, musikFabrik, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Earplay, Insomnio, Graeme Jennings, Red fish/Blue fish, Keith Kirchoff. Current projects include a work for prepared piano, pre-recorded/digitally-enhanced piano, and electronics commissioned by Keith Kirchoff, a chamber ensemble work for Earplay, a solo flute piece featuring pre-recorded/digitally-enhanced flutes for Claire Chase, and a work for wind trio and percussion with live and fixed electronics (realized at the Strobel Experimentalstudio in Freiburg) written for musikFabrik which recently premiered at the Donaueschinger Musiktage 2009. His discography is distributed by Innova Records (USA), with printed music published by Edition Gravis (Berlin).

The music of CHRISTOPHER JETTE (b. 1975) is a reflection of the extreme contrasts that exist in the human condition. His music explores how an individual line can exist as a part of a cohesive whole while simultaneously existing as an individual. The musical gestures explore the vast colors and dynamic and registral extremes that obviously fascinate this composer. There is a conscious connection to the traditions of music in the manner that the juxtapositions and oppositions are held together with a direct and organic narrative. One is aware that the performers who take up this music are deeply committed and that this is indicative of the underlying spiritual and human emotions that are being explored. 

As an educator Christopher is adept at working with a wide variety of musicians from his beginning violin students to the professional performers that are his colleagues. Christopher has maintained a private studio of violin and composition students working with students to explore not only the mechanics of music creation and production but also working with the student to create a musical education that explores their personal interests beyond the traditional repertoire. One of the outgrowths of this passion for education has been the development of a curriculum for composers working with performers as a component of his Music Educator Portfolio.

As a presenter he works in a collective spirit with musicians and visual artists to present artistic events that not only entertain but engage the issues that define the era and the artistic discourse which supersedes the here and now. The Lovely Weather collective as it is known, brings together a variety of creative persons and is modeled after his experience working with Dr. Lawrence Scripp and the Music in Education National Consortium as well as the currational role that galleries and museums fulfill. 

ALLEN STRANGE (1943-2008), was an American composer and performer studied composition with Donal Michalsky at State University, Fullerton (BA, MA 1967) and later with Robert Erickson, Harry Partch, Kenneth Gaburo and Pauline Oliveros (composition and electronic media) at the University of California, San Diego (1967--8, 1970--71). He received two grants from the San Jose State University Foundation (1969 and 1974) for research into electronic music and in 1970 became professor of music and director of the electronic music studios at the university. In 1973 he attended Chowning's music seminar at Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Center. Strange is one of the leading authorities on analogue electronic music; his Electronic Music: Systems, Techniques, and Controls (1972) is now a classic text. He also wrote Programming and Meta-Programming the Electro-Organism (1974), the operations manual for the Buchla Music Easel and has documented the 200 Series synthesizers made by Buchla. He co-founded two performance groups, Biome (1967--72), in order to make use of the EMS Synthi, and, with Buchla in 1974, the Electric Weasel Ensemble. He was president of the International Computer Music Association (1993--8) and has appeared as a guest artist-lecturer throughout the world. With his wife, Patricia, they have published The Contemporary Violin: Extended Performance Techniques. Strange’s compositions incoorpertate live electronic instrumental ensembles, live and taped electronics with voices and acoustic instruments, and the theatre. Most of his works for acoustic instruments require extended performance techniques. He is particularly interested in linear tuning systems (as in The Hairbreath Ring Screamers, 1969, and Second Book of Angels, 1979), spatial distribution of sound (Heart of Gold, 1982, and Velocity Studies, 1983), the isolation of timbre as a musical parameter, and composing for groups of like instruments or voices. Elements of vaudeville, rock-and-roll, country-and-western music, and the guitar techniques of Les Paul are found in his works. His theatre pieces employ various media including film, slides, and lighting effects. He produced a series of such works in collaboration with the playwright and director Robert Jenkins, of which the most important are Jack and the Beanstalk (1979) and The Ghost Hour (1981), an audio drama. In the mid-1980s, Strange became interested in alternate tuning systems. Strange retired to Bainbridge Island, Wa. pursuing a full-time career composing and concertizing with his wife. "He is something of a musical outlaw, a composer who created outside the traditional bounds of music-making".


KEITH KIRCHOFF is one of the most unique artists from his generation. Described as a “virtuosic tour de force” whose playing is “energetic, precise, (and) sensitive,” he works towards promoting under-recognized composers and educating audiences of the importance of new and experimental music. An active lecturer who has presented in countries throughout the world, his recital programs focus on the integration of computers and modern electronics into a traditional classical performance space.

Kirchoff has played in many of the United States’ largest cities including New York, Boston, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Pittsburgh, as well as major cities throughout Italy, England, Canada, Belgium, and The Netherlands. He has appeared with orchestras throughout the U.S. performing a wide range of concerti, including the Boston premier of Charles Ives’ Emerson Concerto and the world premier of Matthew McConnell’s Concerto for Toy Piano, as well as more traditional concerti by Tschaikowsky and Chopin. He has also been a featured soloist in many music festivals including Performing Arts at CAM (Chelsea Contemporary Art Museum, New York), the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS), the Oregon Festival of American Music, PianoForte Chicago, The Experimental Piano Series, Ives and His World, and The eXtensible Toy Piano Project.

Throughout his career, Kirchoff has premiered well over 100 new works and commissioned several dozen. As a strong supporter of modern music, he has worked closely with many prominent composers including Christian Wolff, Frederic Rzewski, and Louie Andriessen. As a lecturer, Kirchoff has presented seminars, lectures, and master classes on the music of the 21st century at many of the country's largest Universities. One of the nation's prominent performers of electronic music, his "Electro-Acoustic Piano" tour has been presented throughout two continents, and, together with the University of Toronto, co-hosted an international composers competition seeking music for piano and live electronics in 2010.

In addition to his work with electro-acoustics, Kirchoff is also a leading authority of early 20th century American modernism. He has toured and lectured extensively on the music of Cowell, Ives, Becker, Ornstein, and Antheil, and is currently working on a large-scale project to edit, typeset, publish, record, and promote the previously unpublished music of the late John J. Becker. The first album of his four volume anthology on the music of Leo Ornstein is to be released later this year.

As a composer, Kirchoff is equally comfortable in acoustic and electronic mediums. The 2010 Rozsa Visiting Artist & Composer at the University of Tulsa, Kirchoff has been awarded residencies at the Banff Centre for the Arts, New York Mills, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and Wildacres, and has been a guest composer/pianist at several Universities including the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Cal State, University of New Mexico, University of North Florida, Brigham Young University. He has received commissions from numerous ensembles and soloists including pianists Shiau-uen Ding and Kai Schumacher, tuba player Jeffrey Meyer, organist Matthew McConnell, soprano Christine Keene, and Telling Stories Music. Often performing his own works in recital, his music, which has been described as "hyperactive," has also been performed throughout the United States, Canada, England, and Germany by many respected musicians and ensembles including the California E.A.R. Unit, the Firewire Ensemble, mezzo-soprano Erica Brookhyser, violinists Carmel Raz and Stephanie Skor, cellist Alex Kelly, and pianists Albert Muhlbock and Mabel Kwan.

The winner of the 2006 Steinway Society Piano Competition and the 2005 John Cage Award, Kirchoff was named the 2011 "Distinguished Scholar" by the Seabee Memorial Scholarship Association. He has also received composing grants from MetLife Meet the Composer and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts.

Kirchoff’s primary teachers include Dean Kramer, Stephen Drury, and Paul Wirth. He received his Bachelor of Music degree at the University of Oregon in 2003 graduating summa cum laude and then received his Master of Music degree at New England Conservatory in 2005. He has also studied composition with Michael Gandolfi and Jeffrey Stolet, and conducting with Richard Hoenich. In addition to his recordings on his independent label Thinking outLOUD Records, Kirchoff has released recordings on the New World, SEAMUS, and Zerx labels.

You can follow Kirchoff on Twitter @keithkirchoff and learn more at his website: www.keithkirchoff.com


Executive Producer: Keith Kirchoff
Producer: Christopher Jette
Engineer: Dan VanHassel
Mixing: Keith Kirchoff (tracks 1 & 5), Christopher Jette (track 4), Christopher Trebue Moore (track 3), Dan VanHassel (track 2)
Mastering: Hollis Nolan

Thinking outLOUD Records promotes and encourages the free distribution of its recorded media. The Thinking outLOUD label was designed by Benjamin Buchanan



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