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A three-day music festival honoring the life and work of composer Conlon Nancarrow. Performances, panels, exhibitions, films & more!

Thank you to all of our over 250 backers for helping us reach our goal! Please help us keep this campaign going in its final 24 hours. Our minimum fundraising goal was $15,000 but we could really use any additional funds to help cover the costs of our rewards. Any donations beyond our goal will ensure that Other Minds is able to continue producing exciting festivals similar to the size and scope of Nancarrow at 100.

Every donation will go directly to supporting Other Minds in producing the largest festival in North America dedicated to the life and music of the genius composer Conlon Nancarrow. In collaboration with Cal Performances and the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA), this international festival will bring together musicians, artists, scholars and film makers from all over the world.

Featured festival participants include MacArthur "Genius" Grant recipient Trimpin, the Calder Quartet (Los Angeles), archaeologist Dr. Yoko Sugiura-Nancarrow (the composer’s widow), former Arditti Quartet violinist Graeme Jennings (Australia), engineer Mako Nancarrow (the composer’s son), composer/author Kyle Gann (Bard College), filmmaker James Greeson (Arkansas), musicologist Dr. Felix Meyer (Director of the Sacher Foundation that preserves Nancarrow’s music in Basel), composer Dominic Murcott (United Kingdom), the Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo (U.S./Switzerland), composer Peter Garland (whose Soundings magazine published many of the scores to Nancarrow's Studies for Player Piano), pianolist Rex Lawson (London) and many others.

Conlon Nancarrow in his Mexico City studio
Conlon Nancarrow in his Mexico City studio

Born in Texarkana, Arkansas in 1912, Conlon Nancarrow was active in his early years as a trumpeter, playing jazz and other types of popular music. He attended the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music from 1929-32, and later studied composition and counterpoint in Boston with Nicolas Slonimsky, Walter Piston, and Roger Sessions (1933-36). He values most his work with Sessions: "The only formal studies I did that were important were the studies I had in strict counterpoint with Roger Sessions. That was the only formal training I ever had. And they were rigid! I'd do this strict counterpoint exercise, and then I'd take a piece of my music and say to him, 'What do you think of this?' 'Very interesting; where's your counterpoint exercise?'" Nancarrow also cites Bach and Stravinsky as seminal influences.

In 1937 Nancarrow enlisted in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. On his return to the United States in 1939 he became involved in the New York new music scene, contributing several reviews to Modern Music and associating with other composers such as Elliot Carter and Aaron Copland. Nancarrow was a dedicated socialist, which made him politically unacceptable in the United States. This was brought plainly home when he applied for a passport and was denied. Angry at such treatment, he moved to Mexico City in the early 1940s, becoming a Mexican citizen in 1956. He died there in 1997.

Nancarrow returned to the player piano partly because of Mexico's extreme musical isolation. Another more compelling reason was his long-standing frustration at the inability of musicians to deal with even moderately difficult rhythms. He goes so far as to say that "As long as I've been writing music I've been dreaming of getting rid of the performers." With the advent of the phonograph, the player piano has been relegated to the status of an object of nostalgia. But not so for Nancarrow, who since the late 1940s has composed almost exclusively for the instrument.

"This music is the greatest discovery since Webern and Ives... something great and important for all music history! His music is so utterly original, enjoyable, perfectly constructed but at the same time emotional...for me it's the best of any composer living today."—György Ligeti

"The stuff is fantastic... You've got to hear it!"—Frank Zappa

"Conlon's music has such an outrageous, original character."
—John Cage

COMPLETE SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

October 27, 2012 at 7:00 PM, Piedmont Pianos (Oakland, CA)
On October 27th, Other Minds is hosting a centennial celebration honoring the great American composer Conlon Nancarrow (1912-1997). You are invited to this one-time, once-in-a-century opportunity to honor Conlon Nancarrow on what would have been his 100th birthday. This event will feature a rare live performance of Nancarrow's Study No. 40b performed on two disklaviers by the West Coast sound sculptor Trimpin. The pianola virtuoso Rex Lawson will demonstrate the capabilities of the pianola with an entertaining selection of historical piano rolls. Excerpts from Jim Greeson's new documentary "Nancarrow: Virtuoso of the Player Piano" will also be screened at what is sure to be a very memorable event!

November 2, 2012 at 5:30 PM, Berkeley Art Museum
BAM/PFA introduces a new sculptural sound installation by Trimpin, on view from November 2 through December 23, 2012. Commissioned by Other Minds in collaboration with BAM/PFA, Trimpin: Nancarrow Percussion Orchestra / MATRIX 244 pays tribute to the composer's rhythmically complex and intensely layered studies. Trimpin has re-imagined and rebuilt the orchestra of pitched and unpitched percussion using three reconstructed pianos as well as Nancarrow's actual drums, unveiled for this first time in this exhibition. On the occasion of the exhibition's opening, BAM/PFA Chief Curator and Director of Programs and Collections Lucinda Barnes talks with Trimpin about this new installation and Conlon Nancarrow's legacy.

Sketch of Trimpin's Nancarrow Percussion Orchestra
Sketch of Trimpin's Nancarrow Percussion Orchestra

November 2, 2012 at 7:00 PM, Pacific Film Archive
Director James R. Greeson present the West Coast premiere of his 2012 documentary film, Conlon Nancarrow: Virtuoso of the Player Piano, featuring performances of Nancarrow's cutting-edge music, a premiere presentation of a recently discovered piece, and interviews with his friends and supporters. The program also includes two short experimental films by Alban Wesly based on Nancarrow's Studies for Player Piano. James Greeson, Yoko Sugiura Nancarrow, Mako Nancarrow, Trimpin, and Charles Amirkhanian in person!

November 3, 2012 at 11:00 AM, Hertz Hall
Panel Discussion: The Expanding Universe of Conlon Nancarrow
A panel discussion moderated by Other Minds Executive & Artistic Director Charles Amirkhanian, and including Yoko Sugiura-Nancarrow, widow of the composer; Felix Meyer, Director of the Sacher Stiftung; Kyle Gann, author of The Music of Conlon Nancarrow; Peter Garland, original publisher of Nancarrow's Player Piano Studies; and Trimpin, composer and sound sculptor. This panel session also includes a performance of Nancarrow's Study No. 12 and 25 by Trimpin.

November 3, 2012 at 2:00 PM, Hertz Hall
Sculptor, sound artist, musician and composer Trimpin and the vorsetzer, a mechanical piano playing device, perform Nancarrow's Study No. 5, 6, 11, 21, 26, 37, and Study 41c for two pianos, and English pianola virtuoso Rex Lawson performs Percy Grainger's Molly on the Shore and Shepherd's Hey, and Sergei Rachmaninoff's Prelude in E-flat, Op. 23 No. 6. Also on this program is French director Jean Grémillon's player piano musical accompaniment to his documentary Un tour au large — Voyage on the Open Sea (1926, American Premiere) about about the voyage of a fishing boat. The wide variety of pianistic techniques representing what today would be called an action film soundtrack seem to presage some of Nancarrow's more breathtaking innovations. Though the film is assumed lost forever, these newly-discovered piano rolls meant to accompany it, comprise possibly the best music ever composed by a film director.

November 3, 2012 at 8:00 PM, Hertz Hall

The "superb" (New York Times) Calder Quartet defies boundaries through performing a broad range of repertoire at an exceptional level, always striving to channel the true intention of the work's creator. Here, they perform Thomas Adès' The Four Quarters, a work suggestive of the traditional uses of the term to indicate divisions of time, Conlon Nancarrow's String Quartet No. 1 and 3 for conventional instruments and a Paul Usher string quartet arrangement of Study No. 33. Although Nancarrow's popularity arose from the recordings of the player piano studies, many chamber ensemble arrangements are now firmly established as classics in their own right. The program concludes with String Quartet No. 5 of Béla Bartók, a composer Nancarrow has pointed to as one of the biggest influences on his own music.

Calder String Quartet
Calder String Quartet

November 4, 2012 at Noon, Hertz Hall
Panel Discussion: Eyeballs Out! How Performers Learned to "Play" Nancarrow
A panel discussion moderated by Charles Amirkhanian with Southbank Centre Nancarrow Festival curator Dominic Murcott, percussionist Chris Froh, Piano duo Helena Bugallo and Amy Williams, Nancarrow biographer Kyle Gann, violinist Graeme Jennings, and artist Trimpin will also include a performance of Nancarrow's Piece for Tape as well as Nancarrow's Study No. 3a and other selected studies.

November 4, 2012 at 4:00 PM, Pacific Film Archive
This film program features a screening of Hanne Kaisik and Uli Aumüller's film Music for 1,000 Fingers: Conlon Nancarrow, which includes footage of Nancarrow explaining his compositional methods and procedures, captured for the first time on film. The program also includes rare screenings of Alban Wesly's Studies on Nancarrow #3C and Tal Rosner and Sophie Clement's Nancarrow Player-Piano Study No. 7.

November 4, 2012 at 7:00 PM, Hertz Hall
When magnetic tape recorders became commercially available after the Second World War, a small but influential group of composers seized the opportunity not just to capture sound but to manipulate it into a whole new sonic experience. Nancarrow's Piece for Tape, one of the oldest pieces for tape, is an unfinished idea that the composer dismissed. Nevertheless, he sent a copy to Elliott Carter in 1970, recognizing something unique in its musical ambition. Here Chris Froh also performs a version arranged by Dominic Murcott for solo percussion. Graeme Jennings and Rex Lawson perform the brilliant Toccata for Violin and Piano. And Nancarrow's favorite composer, Stravinsky, is represented by Rex Lawson's playing of the composer's own rolls of Le Sacre du Printemps, performed for the first time in America by a single pianolist, rather than by two or three alternating individuals.

Discouraged by the lack of acceptable performances of his music, Conlon Nancarrow turned to the player piano in the late 1940s, and for decades, his creative activity was confined to the privacy of his studio: he wrote the music, punched it manually in player piano rolls, and listened to it played by his mechanical instruments. His exhaustive exploration of the medium's possibilities resulted in a series of fifty studies, both highly idiomatic and utterly original. On the second half of this program, Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo perform works from their project transcribing and performing Nancarrow's mechanical music.

Grand Pianola Brigade Event tickets are available HERE
Nancarrow at 100 concert tickets are available HERE
Nancarrow at 100 film screening tickets are available HERE

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

Other Minds is fully committed to producing this very important music festival dedicated to the life and work of composer Conlon Nancarrow. We have negotiated contracts with all the performers, panelists, venues, and other personnel needed to make this event a success. Tickets to all the events are already on sale. A successful Kickstarter campaign will ensure that our small non-profit organization does not lose money on this centennial celebration.

FAQ

  • Other Minds is an IRS recognized 501(c)3 non-profit corporation. All donations are tax-deductible, minus the value of any rewards you receive. If the project meets its Kickstarter goal, you will receive a letter declaring your donation once we have received all funds.

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    Unending gratitude from Other Minds and your name in our annual Other Minds New Music Festival 2013 program booklet.

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