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Keith Kirchoff | The Electroacoustic Piano, Vol. Three: Off the Cuff

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The Electroacoustic Piano, Vol. Three: Off the Cuff

by Keith Kirchoff

Keith Kirchoff – a specialist in works that combine the piano with computer driven electronics – presents a third volume of new electroacoustic piano works, showcasing pieces that call for piano improvisation and electronics.
Genre: Avant Garde: Electro-Acoustic
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Poised to Make Gains (2010)
7:57 $0.99
2. Iteration Two (2010)
7:31 $0.99
3. Nostalgic Visions (2009)
13:26 $0.99
4. ...Wash Yourself of Yourself (2009-10)
21:12 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
The Electroacoustic Piano Volume 3: Off the Cuff

Once upon a time, every musician was an improviser.

Back before jazz and rock and roll, it went without saying that one could improvise on their instrument. Bach was famous for improvising elaborate fugues on the organ. Throughout the bulk of the Classical era, composers like Haydn and Mozart left the cadenzas to their concerti un-notated, leaving it up to the performer (who was most likely the composer himself) to make up a wild solo on-the-spot, dazzling the listener with their virtuosity. In a famous piano competition in the 1840s between Liszt and his biggest rival Sigismond Thalberg, mammoth improvisations were at the heart of their duel: listeners would holler out a theme, and the player would spontaneously weave those tunes into magical piano works.

But somehow, somewhere within the 20th century, improvisation fell away from the technique of classical performers. While nearly every other genre of music – from jazz to folk to rock – were still improvising to varying degrees, classical musicians became content and focussed on playing only what others had already composed. A certain creativity had been lost, replaced instead by a new re-creativity.

This, of course, isn’t to downplay the artistry of the great classical artists of the 20th century: some of my favorite performers come from this era! Though classical performing artists weren’t improvising, they were embracing more scholarship and practicing more than any other generation before. As dazzling as the technique of Liszt or Bach may have been, it is highly likely that the technique of our average modern-day conservatory student is far more polished and refined.

As a classically trained conservatory pianist of the 20th century, I was never taught – or encouraged – to improvise. If I spent time making things up at the piano, I was admonished by either a parent (for wasting time) or a teacher (for wasting time). Even when these improvisations started to morph themselves into written compositions, with only a few exceptions, my teachers suggested that I would be better off spending that time practicing my etudes.

But though I greatly value the technical training I received, I cannot help but believe that something was lost as performers transitioned from being “creative” artists to only “recreative” artists. I feel we’ve lost the spontaneity of our playing and instead moved towards more conservative and safe interpretation, foregoing the more daring performances of our forbearers. And as a listener, I miss those risks. Where is the artistry in safety? There is something fresh, unique, and personal about a performer that is willing to take a chance and make him or herself vulnerable and exposed. It portrays a genuineness that cannot by synthesized, even if it results in more missed notes.

As the 20th century evolved and gradually turned into the 21st, composers started to again ask their players to improvise. The degree to which this was required varied from piece to piece, of course: Louis Andreessen's “Worker’s Union” asks the players to improvise pitch, but he specifies range and rhythm. Christian Wolff’s “Exercises” ask the players to improvise rhythm and freely choose clefs, but pitch is predetermined. John Zorn’s “Cobra” gives pages of verbal instructions, forgoing a traditional score altogether.

And the response of performers has also been equally varied. Many traditional performers have rebelled against it entirely (though some have famously come around). Some will do it if they absolutely must, but they do so rather grudgingly. Yet others have embraced it wholly and clamor to improvise at any opportunity presented. And though very few conservatory programs yet offer any training in improvisation to their young classical trainees, it is my personal observation that more and more young performers are embracing this medium, are willing to at least dip their toe in the art of improvisation, and experiment with letting themselves go.

What’s most fascinating to me about composers who ask performers to improvise, is how much trust is required, particularly from the perspective of the composer. For every improvised lick, the composer must relinquish control and trust the skill of their performer to interpret their guided improvisations correctly. Whether the piece is freely improvised or meticulously scored, the listener will always assume that the performer is playing an accurate representation of the piece. And it can be terrifying to give the performer – especially one who may have little experience improvising – the freedom to potentially butcher and misrepresent your work!

Of course, while it is fair to argue that the composer runs this risk in every piece of composed music, there is something uniquely special about the relationship between composer and performer in an improvised composition. In many ways, these are true collaborate pieces: the composer provides the framework, the form, and the general outline, and it’s up to the performer to fill in the cracks and the details. The result is an honest, unique, and personal interpretation, ensuring that no two performances will ever be the same.

As a player, this can be both liberating and challenging. On the one hand, we as performers are free to use whatever techniques best suit our physical strengths. Less time needs to be spent learning finger-busting passages to help facilitate a particularly difficult phrase. (No more missed notes! No more memory slips!) We embrace the techniques that come most naturally to us and generally omit the ones that don’t, and the music shines as a result. I know that as a composer, I have moved more and more towards this approach: in my early work, I was writing grotesquely difficult music, when really an easy illustration or explanation could produce the exact same sonic result but with significantly fewer hours of practice.

However, with this freedom comes great responsibility: we are charged with the distinct challenge to mold our own creative voice to that of the composer we are representing. It is far too easy to use the same techniques in every piece, borrow the same ideas, and use the same harmonies. Soon, if one isn’t careful, every piece – regardless of the composer – starts to sound the same. While I may be improvising “Nostalgic Visions,” for example, it is still a composition by Elainie Lillios and must sound like a composition by Elainie Lillios. It should never sound like a composition by Keith Kirchoff.

The greatest compliment I ever received was on April 12, 2006. I received a letter from Frederic Rzewski – a one-time mentor of mine and a composer I greatly admire. Rzewski is a great improviser, and improvisation is at the heart of many of his works. On this particular occasion, he had just heard me perform “Mayn Yingele,” a set of variations on a Yiddish folk song with a very extended improvised cadenza. In this letter, he wrote: “I very much enjoyed your performance of ‘Mayn Yingele’ the other day in Boston. I thought your improvisation was especially interesting. It almost seemed as if I were listening to myself!” I have this letter framed on the wall of my studio, as there is no higher compliment a performer can receive! (If the reader is curious, this performance is available on my solo piano album “Variants.”)

It is my hope that this album not only demonstrates the breadth of possibilities in improvised music, but also the immense artistic and musical value it holds. While every piece has a clear and articulated form, each composer plays with improvisation differently: Lillios provides the player with suggested melodies and gestures, but gives him or her the freedom to depart entirely. Sudol is a little more open-ended, telling the player only what pitches and timbres to play along a general timeline. VanHassel is freer yet, omitting a pitched score altogether, and instead only including text describing what he wants heard.

And maybe, after listening to the entire album, those old teachers of mine will decide that those hours I spent improvising all those years ago weren’t such a waste of time after all.

-Keith Kirchoff


(program notes written by the composers)

Dan VanHassel:
“Poised to Make Gains” for piano with live electronics and video (2010) [world premier recording]

“Poised to Make Gains” is a structured improvisation for piano with live audio and video processing using Max/MSP and Jitter. Using this software, the performer is able to directly control the electronics, both audio and video, during live performance. The audio material is comprised of live processing of the piano sounds as well as very short samples taken from various jazz and rock songs. The video material is directly analogous to the audio; it is made up of live processing of the image of the performer as well as short snippets of appropriated video.

Christopher Jette/Keith Kirchoff:
“iteration two” for piano and electronics (2010) [world premier recording]

(notes by Keith Kirchoff)
Christopher Jette and I have collaborated many times on a variety of projects. He’s written me several piano works and we co-composed the theater work “#chronicled” in 2014. In each of our piano collaborations, we have a true back-and-forth: I put forth a simple idea (a piece for Wiimotes, a piece with Kinect, a toy piano work), he writes a sketch, I comment and edit, he comments, edits, and adds, and so on. In most cases, I compose a significant portion of the piano writing, using his voice, his notes, and his concepts.

In January of 2010, I suddenly had a bizarre idea: what if I simply played all of Jette’s pieces at the same time? The result was immensely fascinating, though not without challenges. However, it was interesting and intriguing enough, that I decided to compose a piece using entirely his materials. I immediately set about studying his complete catalogue, and essentially remixing it into a single piece.

Unlike our typical collaboration style, this time the piano writing is 100% his, and is a reworking of his 2002 set of pieces “4 Piano Miniatures.” Though I change none of the notes, I completely rethought the work in the context of this alternative piece: I start by playing the pieces attaca (although inserting fixed media electronic solos in between some of the movements), I change tempo (slowing the last movement down do be more than 2x slower), alter dynamics, and added an extensive improvisation in the third movement.

As for the electronics, I drew from nearly every fixed media piece he had composed up to that time, each piece getting at the least a short snippet. Jette in turn added a live electronics component to the first two movements, adding a sort of wobbling-effect to the piano writing. The electronics of the final movement were composed predominantly by myself, drawing not from his previously composed fixed media pieces, but rather from the very movement I was playing: short snippets are played at a variety of speeds, transposed microtonally, and distorted to a low-fi quality.

I premiered the piece in Chicago in 2010 and played it a handful of times in public: I was (and remain) quite pleased with the overall arc of the piece, and the new way it cast Jette’s compositions. Unfortunately, the computer (and only hard drive) upon which the piece was saved was stollen in 2011, and the piece has been lost to history.

Thankfully, the recording I had made of the piece for this album was backed up, and I was able to reconstruct the piece. Now, six years later, I am very excited to finally release it.

If you’re curious about the original set of piano pieces, you can view them on his website: http://www.cj.lovelyweather.com/_works/pfMinis.html

Elainie Lillios:
“Nostalgic Visions” for piano and live interactive electroacoustics (2009)

“Nostalgic Visions” is a composition for piano and live, interactive electroacoustics inspired by a stanza of “Balada de la Placeta” (“Ballad of the Little Square”) from Libro de Poemas by Federico García-Lorca (English translation by Robert Bly):
Se ha llenado de luces mi corazón de seda,
de campanas perdidas, de lirios y de abejas.
Y yo me iré muy lejos, más allá de esas sierras, más allá de los mares, cerca de las estrellas, para perdirle a Cristo Señor que me devuelva mi alma Antigua de niño, madura de leyendas,
con el gorro de plumas y el sable de madera.

My heart of silk
is filled with lights, with lost bells,
with lilies and bees.
I will go very far,
farther than those mountains, farther than the oceans,
way up near the stars,
to ask Christ the Lord to give back to me
the soul I had as a child,
matured by fairy tales, with its hat of feathers and its wooden sword.

Lorca’s text expresses the longing felt by one seeking a return to the innocence of youth. The poem’s dual time streams, the reality of present day and visions of the past, are expressed musically by the pianist who alternates between playing on the keys and inside the piano. At times present and past are clearly divided; other times the lines between them blur and reminiscence becomes a hopeful yet impossible reality. “Nostalgic Visions” was commissioned by and is dedicated to pianist Thomas Rosenkranz.

Jacob Sudol:
“...wash yourself of yourself” for piano and live electronics (2009-10) [world premier recording]

“…wash yourself of yourself” incorporates two electronics techniques that I developed from 2008 to 2010 and refined in 2014 and 2015.  One technique uses real-time spectral analysis to create timbres by both subtractive and additive synthesis.  These timbres imitate the original sounds as well as the combination tones our brains create when hearing these sounds.  The other technique uses real-time spectral analyses to create statistically transforming clouds of microtonal samples.  In the case of my recent piano works, the samples used to create these clouds are also piano sounds.  Both of these techniques aim to provide the listener with methods to explore his or her own listening.
“…wash yourself of yourself” presents the these techniques in an open and structured improvisational manner.  The title come from the line in a poem by Rumi, “Be melting snow, wash yourself of yourself.” Following this line, this work reflects an attempt to totally formalize and remove any unintentional mannerisms from my music.
The work is written for and dedicated to my lovely wife, the Taiwanese composer and pianist Chen-Hui Jen.



The music of composer and multi-instrumentalist DAN VANHASSEL (b. 1981) has been described as “energizing” (Wall Street Journal), “a refreshing direction” (I Care If You Listen.com), and “an imaginative and rewarding soundscape” (San Francisco Classical Voice). His works create a uniquely evocative sound world drawing from a background in rock, Indonesian gamelan, free improvisation, and classical music. His piece for chamber ensemble and electronics Ghost in the Machine, performed by the Talea Ensemble at the MATA Festival in New York City, has been praised as “something of a masterpiece…this piece needs to be heard, seen, talked about, and learned from” (New Classic LA). fzzl for snare drum and live electronics, featured at the International Computer Music Conference in Perth, Australia, was called a “magnificently-crafted composition…VanHassel has created a consistently fresh and surprising dialogue between the live performer and the electronically induced sound” (Lontano Music).
His music has been recognized by grants from Chamber Music America, the Barlow Endowment, and New Music USA and he has received honors and awards from ASCAP, New England Conservatory, UC Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, the Guerrilla Composers Guild, and the Kalamazoo New Music Project.
Also active as a concert producer and performer on piano and electric guitar, Dan was a founding member of contemporary chamber ensemble Wild Rumpus in San Francisco and artistic director through 2016. Cited as a “fresh young ensemble” by the Wall Street Journal and “a showcase of virtuosity and imagination” by San Francisco Classical Voice, Wild Rumpus is devoted to presenting the music of the present, with an emphasis on commissioning young and emerging composers.

CHRISTOPHER JETTE is a curator of lovely sounds, creating work as a composer and new media artist. His creative work explores the artistic possibilities at the intersection of human performers/creators and technological tools. Having trained as a violinist, his compositions are strongly coupled to the performer that they are written for, highlighting their unique performance perspective. Jette’s research details his technical and aesthetic investigations and explores technology as a physical manifestation of formalized human constructs. A highly collaborative artist, he has created works that involve dance, theater, websites, electronics, food, toys, typewriters, cell phones, printing, instrument design and good ol’ fashioned wood and steel instruments. In addition to creating concert music, Jette explores Creative Placemaking through site-specific and interactive work as a core-four member of the Anchorage based Light Brigade.
Jette is an active member of the research and composition community both locally and internationally having presented works in England, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, France, Poland, Greece and throughout the United States. He is frequently commissioned and his work is recognized with various awards, fellowships and residencies. Jette received a PHD in composition from the UC Santa Barbara, a MM in composition from the New England Conservatory and a BA in violin performance from the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. He was the 2015-16 Interdisciplinary Performance Grant Wood Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor in Music at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. He is currently the Artist in Residence and Technical Staff at CCRMA, Stanford University.

Acclaimed as one of the “contemporary masters of the medium” by MIT Press’s Computer Music Journal, electroacoustic composer ELAINIE LILLIOS creates works that reflect her fascination with listening, sound, space, time, immersion and anecdote. Her compositions include stereo, multi channel, and Ambisonic fixed media works, instrument(s) with live interactive electronics, collaborative experimental audio/visual animations, and installations.
Her work has been recognized internationally and nationally through awards including a 2013-14 Fulbright Award, First Prize in the Concours Internationale de Bourges, Areon Flutes International Composition Competition, Electroacoustic Piano International Competition, and Medea Electronique “Saxotronics” Competition, and Second Prize in the Destellos International Electroacoustic Competition. She has also received awards from the Concurso Internacional de Música Electroacústica de São Paulo, Concorso Internazionale Russolo, Pierre Schaeffer Competition, and La Muse en Circuit. She has received grants/commissions from INA/GRM, Rèseaux, International Computer Music Association, La Muse en Circuit, NAISA, ASCAP/SEAMUS, LSU’s Center for Computation and Technology, Sonic Arts Research Centre, Ohio Arts Council, and National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts. She has been a special guest at the Groupe de Recherche Musicales, Rien à Voir, festival l’espace du son, June in Buffalo, and at other locations in the United States and abroad. She serves as Director of Composition Activities for the SPLICE institute (www.splice.institute) and is Interim Associate Dean, Professor of Composition, and Coordinator of Music Technology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

JACOD DAVID SUDOL writes intimate compositions that explore enigmatic phenomena and the inner nature of how we perceive sound.  His music has been performed over one hundred times by many prestigious ensembles and performers across the USA as well as in Canada, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, Singapore, China, Thailand, Japan, and Cambodia.  His compositions regularly selected for the most prestigious annual national and international computer music and electronic music conferences. Dr. Sudol is also currently writing a chapter on his music for a future book to be published by Oxford University Press.
In 2012, he founded a cello/electro-acoustic duo with his colleague the distinguished cellist Jason Calloway and, since 2010 he has been in a piano/electro-acoustic duo with his wife Chen-Hui Jen. At FIU he directs the FLEA (Florida Laptop Electro-Acoustic) Ensemble and in Taiwan he directed CLOrk (Chiao-Da Laptop Orchestra). He also regularly collaborates on interdisciplinary projects with architect Eric Goldemberg, visual artist Jacek Kolasinski, and Cambodian dancer/choreographer Chey Chankethya.
Dr. Sudol was awarded a Fulbright grant to teach at National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan for the Academic 2015-16 Year and is also an Assistant Professor of Music Technology and Composition at Florida International University.



KEITH KIRCHOFF is a pianist, composer, conductor, concert curator, and teacher. 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, San Francisco, and Austin, as well as major cities throughout Italy, New Zealand, Australia, England, Canada, Belgium, Mexico, China, 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’sConcerto 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 the Festival de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, Festival Internacional de Müsica Contemporánea, the Society for Electro- Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS), the Oregon Festival of American Music, and the International Computer Music Conference (ICMC).

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 "Electroacoustic Piano" tour has been presented throughout three continents, and he has twice hosted an international composers competition seeking music for piano and live electronics: first with the University of Toronto in 2011, and then again with the American Composers Forum in 2015.

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 Brown University, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Cal State, University of New Mexico, University of North Florida, and Brigham Young University. He has received commissions from numerous ensembles and soloists including Transient Canvas, Ensemble mise-en, 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, Turkey, Holland, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, 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.

Kirchoff has previously served on the board of directors for the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS) as the Vice President of Programs, and is currently the Artistic Director and founder of Original Gravity: a Boston-based concert series that features the music of local composers and pairs that music with locally brewed beer. Together with Christopher Biggs, he is also the founder and Director of Performance Studies at SPLICE (Summer institute for the Performance, Listening, Interpretation, and Creation of Electroacoustic music) hosted at Western Michigan University.
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, New Focus, Tantara, Parma, Ravello, and Zerx labels.

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



Recorded at: Bowling Green State University, 2011
Executive Producer: Keith Kirchoff
Producer: Elainie Lillios
Engineer: Chris Aftoora
Mixing: Dan VanHassel (track 1), Keith Kirchoff (tracks 2-3), Jacob Sudol (track 4)
Mastering: Scott Miller
Cover Art: “Carbonic Clouds” by Terry Conrad and Christopher Jette. Used with permission.

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



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