Quadrophonic tape player installation for the 8th Berlin Biennale
In the early 1950’s, Conlon Nancarrow devised a concept for an automated musical machine similar to the player piano that instead of hitting strings would play percussion instruments. He developed a number of devices that would translate punched roll compositions into a “percussion orchestra”, without much success. Instead, he recorded stock drum beats of which a small portion was used in his only musique concrète work: Piece for Tape (undated).
After more than 60 years, some of the tapes have been rescued from his studio, restored, and sent to Berlin-based composer Nils Frahm who has rearranged the sounds to create a nine-week-long composition that functions as the soundtrack to the exhibition.
This installation puts Conlon Nancarrow’s practice - read more broadly, from beyond the confines of just the music world - into perspective. It is composed of Nancarrow’s original papers and reproductions, as well as works by other artists that accompanied him, personally or remotely, in his practice. Rescuing tapes, tuning a piano, and writing and re - writing letters are among a number of other contemporary gestures, which act as narrative joints that advance the missing links in this museographical essay, including a composition (the length of which spans the entire duration of the 8th Berlin Biennale exhibition) by pianist Nils Frahm, who has rearranged Nancarrow’s never previously heard stock percussion recordings.