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Trimpin: Nancarrow Percussion Orchestra / MATRIX 244 Exhibition

Dates: November 2, 2012 – December 23, 2012
Location: Berkeley Art Museum, UC Berkeley

MATRIX 244 introduces a new sculptural sound installation by the internationally acclaimed Seattle-based artist Trimpin, whose work is foremost about visualizing sound. A MacArthur Fellow (1997) recognized for his creative investigations of acoustic music in spatial contexts, Trimpin often uses salvaged and reconfigured instruments and technological equipment to extend the traditional boundaries of instruments and the sounds they produce.

Trimpin’s Nancarrow Percussion Orchestra celebrates the one-hundredth birthday of the avant-garde composer Conlon Nancarrow (1912–97), who approached musical instruments as machines and mechanized contraptions. Nancarrow is best known for rhythmically complex and intensely layered studies for player and prepared piano, compositions that challenge the very limits of human performance. His radical player-piano scores, which he composed from the late 1940s, existed only as unique, individually punched player piano rolls until Trimpin convinced Nancarrow to allow him to convert the vulnerable rolls into electronic information. As a young sound artist and composer, Trimpin had invented his own computerized memory system for music; soon after they met in 1987, he converted Nancarrow’s piano rolls into MIDI files, creating an enduring format for these otherwise fugitive pieces.

For this new work, commissioned by Other Minds in collaboration with BAM/PFA, Trimpin has drawn on his deep understanding of and admiration for Nancarrow’s music and creative approach. Nancarrow spent several years of his life on a large-scale vacuum-actuated percussion orchestra, capable of performing rhythmically complex compositions on an array of hand-built ceramic drums, wood blocks, gongs, orchestral drums, and other instruments. Nancarrow was ultimately unable to realize this work as he had envisioned. Over sixty years later, Trimpin has reimagined and rebuilt the orchestra of pitched and unpitched percussion using three upright pianos as well as Nancarrow’s drums, unveiled for this first time in this exhibition. Trimpin’s acoustic sculpture performs in real time, as the movement of visitors in the gallery triggers the rollout of player-piano paper and thus the playing of the pianos.

Please also join us for Don’t Shoot the Player Piano: The Music of Conlon Nancarrow,two evenings of rarely seen films, some biographical, others visual tributes to Nancarrow’s music, including the West Coast premiere of James R. Greeson’s Conlon Nancarrow: Virtuoso of the Player Piano.

Learn more! Explore Peter Esmonde’s film Trimpin: The Sound of Invention.

MATRIX 244 is organized by Lucinda Barnes, chief curator and director of programs and collections. Nancarrow Percussion Orchestra is commissioned by Other Minds in collaboration with BAM/PFA in conjunction with Nancarrow at 100: A Centennial Celebration. The MATRIX Program is made possible by a generous endowment gift from Phyllis C. Wattis and the continued support of the BAM/PFA Trustees.

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