This week’s Bohemian column is on Conlon Nancarrow, the communist expatriate composer who manipulated piano rolls to create ridiculously impossible-to-play sonatas. In poking around to find further information about his life, I found this lovely 1987 interview with Nancarrow by Bruce Duffie. I say “lovely” only because of personal reasons; by most measurements it’s a disappointing interview, because while Duffie probes Nancarrow on any deeper meaning about his music, he keeps deflecting his inquiries.
BD: So where is music going today?
CN: I have no idea. I don’t think anyone else does.
BD: Well, what direction is it heading?
CN: I don’t know.
I should, as someone who interviews people for a living, feel uncomfortable reading this interview. But on the contrary, I applaud Nancarrow’s reluctance to join in the game and settle for giving pap, bullshit answers. Another gem is the mention of the Columbia Records release Studies for Player Piano, which is the subject of my column. In Nancarrow’s own words on the album that introduced him to the public at large: “Incidentally, it’s a very bad recording.”
Here’s a good example of Nancarrow’s music—the Study No. 5: