24 improvisations for broken and untuned pianos found in New York City
The Ill-Tempered Piano performed and recorded by Nicola Cipani 2006 – 2007 New York City. Design and drawings by Eugene Timerman. Mastered by Maurizio Giannotti at Bips Studio, Milano.
Tracklist: 1. Body Hair Rag 2. Princip 3. Macrominiature 4. True Story 5. Accent Elimination 1 6. Blink 7. Pastime 8. Celestino 9. Scemofonia 10. Tibidabo 11. Sredni Vashtar 12. Flimflam 13. Accent Elimination 2 14. Ear Worm 15. Outsourced Music 16. Astragalizousa 17. Crime Watch 18. The Odd Ones 19. The Petrarca Brothers 20. Self-Saluting Unit 21. La Deutsche Vita 22. Paramour 23. Adopt a Highway 24. Gentleman Cow
“Ill-Tempered Piano” is a suprising and playful album of solo improvisations played on broken and untuned pianos. Cipani’s accomplished melodic and rhythmic approach and his responsiveness to each instrument’s raw potential set this project apart. The recordings were made over the span of two years in different New York City warehouses, on several keyboard instruments (among the pianos you hear also a clavichord), some of which are so damaged as to be hardly recognizable — but each piece takes the peculiarities of its instrument as a starting point, not as a limitation. What results is a collection of fresh, clever and fully-realized sound experiments performed on the strange landscape of each piano. The album is unpredictable and captivating — one to be heard and re-heard.
Here’s an elegant idea brilliantly realized.
Nicola Cipani is a pianist who scouted the New York City area for broken or untuned pianos to improvise on. The variety and intrigue of timbres he found at his fingertips is as exciting as you might hope for. Clusters splatter; melodies buzz and sputter; notes grunt instead of singing. Nicola strikes a great balance between the viscerality of timbral jump-cut action (think Kagel) and the milder thrills of elliptical phrases changing slope. Because it’s the keyboard being played, not the strings themselves, the music is much closer to the perverse percussive perambulations of prepared pianos in the Cowell, Cage, et al tradition, than the similarly popular tradition of piano-guts playing in the vein of Maroney, Neumann, et al. Having settled in Brooklyn and taken on an academic career after spending most of his life in his native Italy, where his early adult years were spent playing avant-leaning jazz, this disc is an overdue resumption of musical pursuits for a savvy and talented musician with no desire to be a redundant ivory tickler. Like horn players who develop idiosyncratic timbral vocabularies without abandoning the conventional physicality of their instrument and its attendant resources of ingrained melodic and rhythmic intuition, Nicola avoids both extremes in the continuum from banality to abstraction. The secret of improvisation is avoiding cliches; the unique states of disrepair of these pianos virtually guarantee success, but Nicola’s phrasing is so precise and nuanced that the music goes a lot deeper than timbral novelty. Just like the man who made it, the music is endlessly clever, astute, and playful. Sometimes I get burned out on piano music, but this disc proves how incredible the instrument can be when it’s not limited to the same 12 notes and the same clean attacks and decays. Bravo to the new and promising Italian label Long Song Records for sharing a distinctive gem deserving to be heard. — Micheal Anton Parker – Downtown Music Gallery
That unfeasibly complex machine
the piano, has evolved to the point where silky smooth sound and microscopically engineered response are taken for granted. A clavichord player like Brighton’s Paul Simmonds might remind us, however, how clunk and clank were an integral part of early keyboard music. Now Italian pianist Nicola Cipani tackles a score of low maintenance New Yorkjunkheaps, the kind of instrument that would elicit foaming-at-the-mouth fury from a touring concert pianist were he to find one on his stage. There’s playful fun and considerable style in this sequence of 24 short pieces. Cipani has to establish a relationship with each battered beast, and he plays with real appreciation of the unique qualities of a particular neglected instrument. Sometimes he works from the keyboard: “La Deutsche Vita” is a tune rendered woozily unrecognisable by extreme tuning problems. Other times he climbs inside and works like a percussionist, with an impressive range of techniques. Pitches shimmer and slide as Cipani wields a bottleneck device, and “Accent Elimination 1″ sounds like subtle application of a tremolo effect – or maybe that actually is a clavichord, where pressure on the keys can vibrate the strings. “Paramour” is very effective, riffing on notes so broken as to be almost silent. Other tracks, like opener “Body Hair Rag”, are robust and rapid, jangling celebrations of loose parts and grand piano resonance. The record recalls British improvisor Mike Adcock’s Moments Of Discovery – Adcock’s “Quickly Prepared Piano” used ajacket or some such tossed inside the instrument. Cipani has found a lot of music inside his ramshackle machines, and briefly restored them to blazing life. —The Wire
Now this is a strange album
but one with a special charm. Swiss-born, Italian-raised, German-educated and US-based classical philologist Nicola Cipani looked for untuned, damaged, broken and almost unrecognizable pianos in the New York area for two years. After getting acquainted with each instrument’s specific ailments and shortcomings, he still tried to play some music on it, without altering the instrument of course. In some cases percussion is the only result, but more often than not the results are interesting, if not great fun or totally captivating. The sounds are weird, bizarre, but very musical. It is not avant-garde, maybe in its approach, but certainly not in the delivery, because Cipani tries, with the limited means the instruments offer, to still create something like a tune, a rhythm, structure, emotional expression. Sometimes Tom Waits comes to mind, but then without the vocals. Cipani’s universe is harsh, tough, but full of humanity and surely, with a great heart for those abandoned instruments. If they were animate (and they surely still sound alive, although some not too much), these instruments must have rejoiced by the totally unexpected attention they got, and the vision of this musician to still make them shine, probably just one more time, one last time, …– Stef
Nicola Cipani’s ill-tempered piano
is an instrument that is rarely played, hard to find and hauntingly beautiful. Neither the prepared piano (in the Cage tradition) nor the unprepared piano (in an orthodox, say Marian McPartland, manner), it’s what might be called an “unprepared piano”: an instrument not in any condition for a traditional concerto. Unprepared piano players are rare; pemaps the only other musician to make a name on the instrument is Australian Ross Bolleter of the World Association for Ruined Piano Studies (an institution which seems to have two members, Cipani not being the other), whose expenments on pianos left to decay and rot have been collected on the excellent 2006 Emanem release Secret Sandhills and Satellites. But with the unprepared piano, as with any per- fonmance, what counts is the singer, not the song. Each weathered keyboard must, like a handmade steel drum, be approached on its own terms to leam the idiosyncrasies of the instrument. Where Bolleter seems to strive for being as pianistic as possible—playing slow suites on his found detritus— Cipani seems to seek out the most off sounds he can find. The 24 brief tracks on The 111- Tempered Piano, recorded on found instruments in New York City, are achingly gorgeous. To say they often sound like a gamelan is something of a c1iché in writing about experimen- tal music (rather akin to “tastes Iike chicken”) but the melodie percussion of his improvisations makefor an unusual and wonderfullisten. — Signal to Noise
CD version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)