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28 September 2020

Pertout and Zappa: Exposiciones

Louise Devenish in performance at the Virtual Art Music Awards Image: Louise Devenish in performance at the Virtual Art Music Awards  

Andrián Pertout's work Exposiciones (2007) for glockenspiel and tape, played by Louise Devenish, attracted widespread admiration as part of the 2020 Virtual Art Music Awards performance program, curated by Barney McAll. The composer explains the background of this work in this blog article.

Exposiciones (or 'Expositions' in English) was especially created for the Extensible Toy Piano Project at Clark University (Department of Visual and Performing Arts, Worcester, MA, USA) - the world's first symposium on toy piano. It was initially conceived as an 'acousmatic' work for sampled microtonal Schoenhut Toy Piano and 7-speaker sound diffusion, utilising samples from the model 6625, 25-key Schoenhut Traditional Spinet (the same toy piano that internationally acclaimed concert pianist Margaret Leng introduced to New York's Carnegie Hall in 1997). Leng was in fact meant to headline the 2005 symposium, but in view of her unavailability, a young and talented New Yorker, Phyllis Chen, assumed centre stage. That very night, after the 'acousmatic' world premiere of Exposiciones, Chen excitedly contacted me, requesting a copy of the score. I was bemused. Let me explain.

Exposiciones pays homage to American musician, composer, activist and filmmaker Frank Zappa (1940-1993). It is commonly rumoured that Zappa expected from his musicians the capacity of performing any polyrhythm between 1 and 15, and actually tested them with random ratios. So, I decided that Exposiciones would incorporate 'all' 114. In other words, polyrhythmic ratios 3:2 (2:3), 5:2 (2:5), 4:3 (3:4), 5:3 (3:5), and so on - 57 polyrhythmic sets in total, with the last set represented by 15:14 (14:15), together with 'all' equal temperaments between 1 and 24 - essentially functioning as tuning modulations.

Phyllis Chen's performance of Exposiciones (2005) for toy piano and prerecorded sound,
recorded live at Symphony Space/Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre, New York in 2009.

The intended 'study' score (that was never intended for performance) is ghastly in its complexity, and this was the context of my initial state of bemusement at Chen's request. But here was a 'new music' creation that, in spite of its inherent complexity, actually sounded quite pleasant. The experience taught me a great lesson. Never underestimate the abilities and commitment of a performer.

The version for Chen became a chromatic reduction (approximating the original microtonality within the limitations of the equally-tempered 12-note system) supported by a tape part consisting of a single modified model 6625 sample: a gong-like detuned middle C (octave down) sounding the tonal centre, as well as marking the downbeat, while another severely gated alternative providing the rhythmic pulse (downbeats and upbeats) - essentially, the left-hand element of the acousmatic version.

Exposiciones became Chen's showcase piece that ultimately supported her selection as a New Music/New Places Fellow at the 2007 Concert Artists Guild International Competition. In 2009, Chen then released the work as part of her UnCaged Toy Piano debut CD on the Concert Artists Guild Records label. Countless other toy pianists adopted the work, including Genevieve Feiwen Lee (USA), Isabel Ettenauer (Austria), Stephanie Chua (Canada), Jacob Abela (Australia), and Antonietta Loffredo (Italy). In 2009, New York choreographer Adam H Weinert even created moving gestures for Exposiciones, which were presented as a dance piece at Brooklyn's BRIC Studio Theater in New York. In 2010, Pawel Romanczuk (Polish composer and collector of no less than 500 small instruments) and Dorota Hartwich highlighted the work in their beautifully illustrated seminal Polish publication delineating the history of the toy piano Male instrumenty graja Chopina, or Little instruments are playing Chopin.

Louise Devenish's performance of Exposiciones (2005) for glockenspiel and prerecorded
sound at the 2020 Virtual Art Music Awards.

Returning to 2007, in conversations with Melbourne percussionist Peter Neville, it was pointed out to me that the register of the toy piano was identical to that of the glockenspiel. So, it was Peter Neville (one of Speak Percussion's notables) that initiated the glockenspiel transformation and assisted in the 'mallets' revision with advice on how to successfully manoeuvre the instrument with four mallets in my dots (extremely problematic in view of the closeness of the bars). In 2010, Neville widely disseminated the work as part of the Speak Percussion's Australian 10th Anniversary Tour.

Other percussionists (encouraged by Neville) adopted the work, including Kaylie Melville, Madi Chwasta, Mathew Levy, and Rebecca Lloyd-Jones. Today, one sensational exponent of the work is Australian percussionist Louise Devenish (senior research fellow and percussion coordinator at Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, Monash University), who discovered the work as part of research for her DMA at the Australian Music Centre Library (the world's largest collection of Australian music), and went on to first perform Exposiciones in December 2014 at the Callaway Music Auditorium, University of Western Australia.

In 2018, Devenish then released the glockenspiel 'debut' recording of Exposiciones on her monograph CD Music for Percussion and Electronics, released on the Tall Poppies label. The work was given even further exposure via its inclusion in her Tura New Music national tour, and more recently, as a video performance as part of the APRA AMCOS/Australian Music Centre 2020 Virtual Art Music Awards. Today, Exposiciones is undoubtedly one of my most performed compositions, with countless performances in its various forms in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Cuba, Finland, Greece, Japan, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Taiwan, UK, and USA.

> The score of Andrián Pertout's Exposiciones for glockenspiel and tape is available from the AMC as a ePDF as well as in printed format. Louise Devenish's recording of the work is available on CD.

> Andrián Pertout - AMC profile


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