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CD Feature/ Kenneth Kirschner: "Three Compositions"

img  Tobias

What can the piano teach us what we don’t already know? While its potential to truly surprise seems all but exhausted, composers, artists and audiences alike can not let go of it and the literature that has accumulated around it over centuries. Kenneth Kirschner, too, uses the piano as a starting point for his majestically designed “May 3, 1997”, the last of the “three compositions” collected here. For thirty-seven minutes, it duels with the forces of electronics, with hiss, crumbling frequencies, echoes, digital erruptions and drones, only to find itself washed away to the sea by whispering waves of aural foam in the end. And yet, in this monumental fight it proves itself to be more than just an anachronism.

Melody, harmony and timbre (in that order) have been the instrument’s main motors over time. If the piano really wants to arrive in the 21st century, however, it will have to search for different points of progress. Form is one of them. Already Chopin made use of the “fantasy” as a means to allow his themes to follow their own will. “May 3, 1997” certainly fits that category, in the sense that it repeats no standardised pattern and choses to develop its ideas intuitively. Which is not to say  that there is no red thread behind the work, with a clear surge of processed material over the course of the piece and its friction with broken cluster-chords and singular, heavily reverbed tones. But the bequeathed blueprints no longer apply here: In Kirschner’s world, sound is the adhesive that binds this score of epic proportions together, defining a pool of timbre and space, rather than keys and tempi spinning round the circle of fifths.
The second important new factor is context: If the piano can keep its rich spectrum of immediate associations while entering the realms of an electronic future, the result might well be the confluence of antiquity and modernism composers have been searching for. That is where this piece is heading. Where the orchestra formerly used to embed the piano, now pulse drones provide a stable, yet temporary basis and the element of harmonic progression is substituted for timbral shifts. Kirschner’s piano motives are syllables sliced from a much longer word, their meaning can be felt on the level of their atoms and be peaced together intellectually on a macro-level. In any case, the typical dilemma of new music, that real progress can only be achieved by establishing new dogmas (which, in turn, can not be understood without the author’s explanations), is overcome by reverting to fundamental material everyone can relate to. Spelling out what these elements essentially constitue is suddenly no longer just the task of the composer – but of the audience as well, its act of listening suddenly free again.

Maybe that is what the piano and the ongoing search to keep its impact alive can still teach us: That there is no end to its possibilities, as long as one regards the act of composing for it as a dialogue, instead of a theoretical contribution to historic discussions. In combination with the other two tracks on “Three compositions”, taken from 2004 and 2006 respectively, this is a great introduction to Kennth Kirschner’s oeuvre, which uses more than just the piano to come to fresh perspectives in experimental music.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Kenneth Kirschner
Homepage: Sirr Ecords

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