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1-100 by Michael Nyman

1-100 by Michael Nyman, Notes by John Korchok

Arranger Notes:

1-100 is one of Michael Nyman’s first serious compositions. It was recorded on the Decay Music album in 1976 with Brian Eno producing and was initially released on Eno’s Obscure imprint. The tape was slowed to half speed in the mastering, so the original recording is an octave lower and twice as long as the original performances. The Decay Music cut include 4 separate unsynchronized performances of the score superimposed on each other.

The releases of the Obscure label were unfortunately pressed with low-quality recycled vinyl, so digital recordings made from the first release have a great deal of background noise. In 2004, Universal Music Group released digitally remastered versions at both the slow speed of the original vinyl and at the original tape speed.

Fortunately, I’ve been fooling around with new music long enough that I have an ancient photocopy of Brian Eno’s essay Generating and Organizing Variety in the Arts. I got this in the 80s when photocopies were an important way of distributing ideas, before the Internet was a thing. This photocopy has Michael Nyman’s original score for 1-100 as performed on the Decay Music album. Here’s a scan, click on the image to get a high-res version suitable for printing:

1-100 Original Version

The instructions at the bottom specify “Dynamic should be constant throughout”, but Nyman’s performance is not particularly constant.

Here’s my transcription of this version: 1-100 Original Recorded Version.

And here’s the score for the later version that Nyman wrote after Decay Music was released. This is the edition I play. 1-100 Rewritten Version

– John Korchok

Notes from the record cover of Decay Music, with 1-100 on side 1:

1-100 was composed on 19 December 1975 as a sound track for a film by a friend of mine, Peter Greenaway. This film consisted of the numbers one to a hundred, shot in an assortment of locations and contexts and edited in sequence. Peter Greenaway asked me to find some musical parallel for this additive arithmetic process and, additionally, to provide a rhythm to edit the numerical sequence to.

Since the idea of simple accumulative growth interested me, and since the photographed figures would also contain a variety of other “incidental” images making for a wider system of references, I initially considered systematising (or desystematising) previously composed music, either as a collage or something more straightforward. At the time I happened to be examining the Blue Danube Waltz and to have discovered in its history two curiously linked experimental features: as multiplicity (the performance that Strauss himself conducted at the 1872 Peace Jubilee in Boston with a reputed 1000-piece orchestra and a 20,000-strong choir), and as uniformity (Schoenberg’s criticism of the shameful absence of rhythmic and melodic variation in the first six phrases of the opening of ‘the otherwise very beautiful Blue Danube Waltz’.)

I idly began counting the number of bars in the first section of the Blue Danube and discovered, to my surprise, that it was precisely 100 bars long. Consequently I conceived the idea of building the piece up bar by bar – the first bar, then the first two, then the first three, etc. until the whole hundred bar structure was complete (rather after the manner of Frederic Rzewski’s Les Mountons de Panurge). However, this would have exceeded the film’s length many times over (and it has since become the sound track of another Peter Greenaway film), so I rejected it in favour of a similar procedure with 100 chords. That too would have taken too long, so I was left with 100 chords, each played once only, in sequence.

The choice of chords themselves relates to my current preoccupation with the traditional harmonic language, most especially with isolating some specific feature of functional harmony. What interests me most are closed, cadential progressions, whose final chord naturally joins on to its beginning, so that the sequence can be extended endlessly through repetition. (The principle behind the chaconne, passacaglia and ground bass).

The 100 chords of 1-100, however, are built on a harmonic procedure which in traditional usage is usually finite – that is, they end with a cadence establishing a new key or confirming the old one, but which can be extended by simply continuing the chord-to-chord root progression – sequences rising a 4th and falling a 5th. In Vivaldi the chords used above these thrilling but commonplace progressions are either triads of 7th chords. In 1-100, I have arranged individual sequences to correspond roughly to the numbers 1-9, 10-19, etc., while the overall grouping of sequences corresponds broadly to the gradual numerical accumulation from one to 100. Thus the first ‘section’ alternates triads and major 7ths. 10-19 has chains of 7ths, 20-29 7ths and 9ths, etc. Generally, 1-59 consists mainly of major 7th-based chords while the later sequences are a mixtures of minor and dominant 7ths, 9ths and 11ths.

Similarly, the procedure for playing this unbroken chord series is also designed to correspond, in a mild kind of way, to the numerical accumulation. I made the means of creating a variable editing rhythm for the film dependent on acoustic factors – that is, the density of the chords (starting in the higher part of the piano register and progressing gradually to the low register, the chords themselves gradually getting denser), and the uniformity with which I was able (or unable) to play the chords. The duration of each chord was dictated by the length of the decay of the sound: one chord followed the previous one either during the last stages of decay or when it had died away completely. The register and density of the chords guarantees that durations get progressively longer as the piece goes on.

The recorded realization of 1-100 consists of four unsynchronized superimposed readings. What interests me about musical processes is the fact that one can precisely specify the material and method of articulation, and yet leave the system open in some way to bring about something more than mere unprogrammed incidentals: rather the complete transformation of the material, the effacement of the ‘given’ identity. This was a pleasantly unexpected consequence of making the four ‘blind’ (deaf?) superimpositions on the 100-chord sequence. Thus not only are entirely unforeseen, accidental concurrences and staggered sonorities thrown up, but the original harmonic rhythm, the expected resolution of ‘dissonant’ chords, disappears almost entirely too.

– Michael Nyman

From online listing of the score:

Composed in 1976, 1-100 for multiple pianos demonstrated a curious confluence of free and fixed musical processes. The fixed systems control the background harmonic language and overall textural density (each player reads from the same written sequence of 100 sustained chords, rigidly arranged in the familiar baroque sequential standby of ‘roots rising a 4th, descending a 5th’, starting at the top of the keyboard and inexorably and slowly spiralling to the bottom). The free(-ish) process is designed to create unwritten harmonic (and rhythmic) divergences by overlapping the juxtaposition brought about by the fact that each individual reading of the chordal text is independent of those of the other players, since each pianist may only move to the next chord after the preceding one has decayed. Individual touch and hearing are therefore indeterminate factors causing the desired out-of syncness as the overall motion of the piece decelerates – as the chords get lower, they get thicker and the decay process slower.

– Michael Nyman

Introducing the Zhaltar

I started designing this new instrument at the beginning of 2022 and finally have a playable prototype. The name Zhaltar comes from the Slovak name for a psaltery. It’s played by plucking the strings, and it’s fully chromatic, with a range just over 5 octaves (C2 to C#7). The zhaltar is a solid-body instrument and a MIDI controller.

Zhaltar prototype

The strings are colored the same as on a piano. The right-hand and left-hand set of strings are each arranged as a whole-tone scale, with the left hand set being a semitone higher than the right. This means that once you learn a melody, you can easily transpose it by moving it up or down a string.

The strings and pickup contacts are made with Aquila Nylgut to give the sound a lute-like mellowness. The MIDI controller functions are still in development. I’ll post some musical samples, as soon as I teach myself how to play the thing!

The iPhonarium 2022

iPhonarium 2022 version

This is what the iPhonarium has evolved into. This whole rig is be 100% battery-powered, so I can make noise anywhere.

Top to bottom:
Vox DA-5 amp
iPhonarium case with 4-channel mixer, battery pack and MIDI hardware
Keith McMillen K-Board (connects to 4S)
Akai EWI 4000s wind synth (I use it only as a MIDI controller, connects to 5S)
iPhone 4 running JR Hexatone (a classic, but not on the Apple store any longer)
iPhone 4S running Grain Science (love that app)
iPhone 5S running ThumbJam (still on iOS 10, so I can run old 32-bit music apps)
iPhone SE running iVSC3 (fantastic weird noise app)
Akai LPK-25 with foot switch jack mod for sustain (connects to SE)
Ancient Traynor foot switch
Korg iKontrol (connects to iPhone 4)

This the final iteration of this version. Newer iPhone have a larger form factor that will require a rebuild from scratch.

The iPhonarium

A new instrument I’ve developed over a year, the iPhonarium includes 4 interlinked iPhones, mini-keyboard controllers, a wind controller interface and an audio mixer, all in a small wooden box I can carry under my arm. This photo shows an early version, when it only had 1 keyboard:

An early version of the iPhonarium

In effect, I’m running 4 tiny computers each with 24 to 126 music apps on each. There are some really outstanding synth apps out there, covering every different type of sound generation, including my favorite, physical modelling. This gives me great flexibility plus redundancy: if one phone goes down, I can move to another in seconds.

The whole setup, including my amp, is battery-powered, so don’t matter if AC power is available or not. Here’s a video where I accompany poet Janet Hamill. This setup used voice harmonization and 2 keyboard-operated synths:

This synth can also be placed in the center of a small table and played by up to 4 people at once. That’s the Jam Station incarnation. I entered this in the 2016 New Jersey Makers Day and won $50 for “Best Thing That Makes Sound”!

The iPhonarium at New Jersey Makers Day, 2016