Sunday, March 06, 2005

Overlapping Hands: Eight Segments

Marilyn Crispell & Irene Schweizer: Overlapping Hands: Eight Segments. Posted by Hello

Women's History Month continues at HurdAudio with an epic two piano improvisation experience by Marilyn Crispell and Irene Schweizer from 1990 as I apply ears to Overlapping Hands: Eight Segments.

"Segment 1" opens with quiet passages of pizzicato piano strings as fingers bypass the hammers and reach inside these two pianos. As the dynamic range edges toward loud some nodal points on the strings are explored with one hand as the hammer is applied by the other. The "extended techniques" used color this entire segment.

"Segment 2" pulls out to the keyboards for an energetic blending of the musical languages of these two master improvisers. The collaboration locks in as found interlocking gestures are somehow reiterated by some intuitive agreement.

"Segment 3" opens up the density factor as each trades phrases in the wake of successive ideas. The playing then turns more percussive and the collaboration becomes one of interlocking rhythms and pitting patterns against one another with the fluidity of drummers.

"Segment 4" traces stark lines from the wake of the dense segment that preceded it. Scalar and sequential patterns are punctuated by thick chords and some parallel melodic lines begin to emerge. Other lines move quickly and turn into mere blurs that ripple across the surface of the texture. After passages that resemble hand punched player piano rolls of Conlon Nancarrow the density steps back toward spare lines before rebuilding the thickness again.

"Segment 5" shifts the focus to an interplay and development of short riffs. These quick melodic bursts give this segment a particular unity. Elements from the previous four segments make a return. These include reprising the piano interior work (sometimes accompanied by "exterior" playing, the mesh of colors working well).

"Segment 6" begins with solo ripples leading into some pulsating improvisation as an invitation for the second piano to enter with counter-materials to thicken the sonic density. The chemistry between these two minds is particularly evident here as these players seamlessly trade focal points and answer each idea with high contrast.

"Segment 7" builds from an intriguing harmonic territory constructed in the low mid range of the pianos with phrases ending in the higher registers. Longer melodic lines are then added in the high register. This segment sounds strongly Crispell-esque to my ears. Late in this segment there seems to be a general migration toward the mid to high register of the pianos as the sustain pedal is used to hold the on to the overall sonic resonance.

"Segment 8" returns to the interior piano sounds at a slower tempo without losing any of the intensity and energy built up to this point. Hand claps, handheld percussion instruments (often applied to the piano strings) and whispers are added to the soundscape. At times this segment moves back to the exterior of the instruments as the density of sound picks up. After a satisfying tremolo roll to end this segment the audience erupts into appreciation.

These two players are so compatible and have such a similarly energetic approach to free improvisation that part of the fun of listening to this disc is trying to guess who is playing what at any given time. I particularly like how these eight segments work together as a full, 66 minute period of intense creative concentration.

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