Review of Post_Piano 2 [12k1032]

Stylus (US)

The label 12k adores the sleek and digital. This is no indictment—one should expect that of a cutting-edge electronic label—but I found it ironic to be reminded of this most sharply during an album based on recordings from a musty old childhood piano.

The piano in question belongs to Kenneth Kirschner, a composer and friend to 12k labelhead Taylor Deupree (the childhood belongs to him as well). He and Taylor collaborated back in 2002 on the first installment of Post_Piano, a lovely affair based on manipulated piano samples. The reclamation of the old piano inspired Kirschner to write a sketch for another volume of Post_Piano (the sketch is included as the fourth and final track). The sketch was then shipped to Deupree, who sourced, squeezed and sequenced the original into a series of long minimal pieces. After some collaborative editing with Kirscher, Post_Piano 2 was complete.

Deupree stays true to the aesthetic of his label for this release, relegating the recognizable plinks of the piano to decorative flourishes flitting on the outskirts of his meditative tone washes. Way more Raster-Noton than Terry Riley, but I’m not complaining. This method could come off as a gimmick—yet another electronic album that samples something solely for the sake of it (this drum kick is actually the manipulated sound of an duck’s beak being tapped with a nail—or maybe it’s just a hi-hat…)—but Deupree mines his sound well. Each track bears the fingerprint of the sketch, but it distills one fleeting mood or moment from it to build the new piece. By doing so, Deupree doesn’t merely flex his muscles as a composer; he also does a great service to Kirschner’s piece. He shows us just how much can lie beneath the surface of even the most skeletal composition.

Which brings me to my primary complaint with the album. While it’s nice to hear Duepree’s raw materials, Kirscher’s piece is exactly that: raw material. Meandering melodic fragments, stopping and starting in a manner that should seem melancholy but instead seems bored. Kirschner did thoughtfully provide more for Deupree than the piano tone. He places as much emphasis on the environmental noise and the recording technique as he does on the instrument. Each burst of music is orchestrated to give Deupree as much to work with as possible. But Kirschner was so focused on the next step that the sketch feels like an incomplete product. Who would want to read a novel only to find that the last quarter of it consists of notes sketched on a cocktail napkin? The idea is conceptually interesting and indeed you might slog through it once or twice to fully understand the work, but you’ll eventually press stop after track 3.

To be fair, there is a practical reason for placing the sketch at the end. Post_Piano 2 is released under an open license, and other digital composers might prefer to work with the original rather than Deupree’s degree of separation. And by placing the beginning at the end, Deupree and Kirschner refuse closure for the work, hinting that the project is only now coming to fruition. Again, good intentions, good project, but as the last quarter of an album? A letdown.

But the half-hour that remains does not disappoint. Deupree refracts subway rattles into shaky, paranoid squalls, and he blossoms dying notes into shoe-gazey bliss-bombs. The music is limpid and languid, dripping grace and deft touches. I like to think of Deupree cutting and pasting on his laptop with the exultant expression of a pianist caressing the last keys of a concerto. Despite its heady, post-modern baggage, such moments of classical inspiration abound.

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