Sounds Heard: Kathleen Supové—The Exploding Piano
Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos by Missy Mazzoli
Kathleen Supové: The Exploding Piano
Major Who Media
Kathleen Supové, piano
Walking the streets of Brooklyn or lower Manhattan at practically any time of day, the likelihood of spotting a flash of Kathleen Supové’s vivid red hair racing down the street is high. I’ve seen it myself on several occasions, and I don’t even live in New York! Indeed, Supové is a thread that weaves together numerous musical worlds encompassing different age groups, styles, venues, and media, and she is constantly on the run to the next rehearsal, the next performance. Her latest release on Major Who Media, The Exploding Piano, is aptly titled in that each work includes elements, both electronic and acoustic, that make the piano larger than life.
Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos by Missy Mazzoli pairs Supové with pre-recorded digitally manipulated piano to tell the story of the drowning of explorer/writer Eberhardt in 1904. Snippets of Schubert peek through the damp fog of piano textures, helping imbue this solidly constructed work with a mixture of urgency and heartache.
In Michael Gatonska’s A Shaking of the Pumpkin, a bass drum is balanced above the piano strings for additional low-end ambience as Supové evokes “the mystic society of plants and animals” with intense scampering across the keys, bursts of jazz-inflected riffs, assorted sound effects, and an earthquake of cluster-smashing toward the close of the work.
On Track by Anna Clyne and Revolution by Dan Becker both require, as the liner notes aptly describe, “finger busting” performances by Supové alongside soundtracks of sampled piano and prepared Disklavier, respectively. Clyne tosses a recording of Queen Elizabeth stating, “I have lived long enough to know that things never remain quite the same for very long,” as well as segments of found sound and quirky bits of mangled piano to create an off-kilter dreamscape, while Becker’s tick-tocking 16th note streams are paired with audio excerpts of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1964 Methodist Student Leadership Conference Address. The piece intensifies to a fever pitch halfway through, and spends the second half of the work slowly cooling down and thinning out.
The mellow looped tabla and percussion samples of Randall Woolf’s Sutra Sutra are refreshing after so much concentrated energy. This extended work clocks in at over 24 minutes, espousing a whopping dose of ideas—musical, scientific, and spiritual. Although the composition could benefit from editing, the sounds are compelling, as are the spoken and whispered—often by Supové herself—discourses on string theory.
In an age when it is easy to question whether the world really needs more piano repertoire, Supové’s championing of new works for piano demonstrate that this instrument, like many others, will continue to evolve over time and attention should be given to where it is going. For her part, she is running down that street to the next gig with gusto.