Hammered! On Q2: “That Time Of Year Again … “


Q2 tells us, “As the New Year looms and another 365 day cycle prepares to reset, we at Hammered! started thinking — as any good contemporary music show should — about John Adams. To what clock does music like his set its watch? This week Hammered! investigates by offering piano works that confront notions of time-ticking and temporal organization.

Questions you might be asking yourself: In a piece like Phrygian Gates, how do the cycling waves of piano sonority subvert our perception of metric regularity? How do Steve Reich, Conlon Nancarrow and Luciano Berio deal with similar issues of metrical timekeeping? Is there an equivalent to New Year’s Eve for musical organization, where some overarching unit of time ends and another one begins? Is there champagne involved?

The composers this week have obsessive preoccupations with these issues, and we’ll begin with the work that is largely responsible for triggering them: Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (arranged for two pianos), a rhythmic rite of passage for generations of contemporary composers that virtually redefined metrical organization in the twentieth century. With its endless rhythmic variety and organizational innovation, Le Sacre’s seditious influence still remains — directly or indirectly — a source for rhythmic reinvention.

Take any of the other composers this week, each in one way or another consumed with pulse, metric manipulation, and, in a few extraordinary cases — like Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Klavierstuck IX — the illusion of temporal suspension. We’ll have works by Milton Babbitt (including About Time), some obscure pieces for organ, harpsichord and player piano by Gyorgy Ligeti*, Harrison’s Clocks by Harrison Birtwistle, and the epic Phrygian Gates by Adams, each offering a unique perspective on how we perceive time in music.

[* Did you know that Ethan Iverson and The Bad Plus play Ligeti? Check out their 2009 concert at the Village Vanguard from News Years Eve for 2010. It is available as a download from NPR/music, originated by WBGO]