A Piano Listening To Itself – Nordheim Variation

In 1971, on commission from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, Arne Nordheim composed what could be described as an installation work for piano, Listen, dedicated to the Hungarian-Danish pianist Elisabeth Klein. Nordheim used extremely high and extremely low pitches to explore the piano’s sonority, where listening itself is the focus of attention and where monotonous repetition of some motifs subsequently create their own space in time. The echo effects and fading sounds offer a range of options for the interpretation, and for the listener, too.

The Canadian sound artist Gordon Monahan, born in 1956, is a pianist, composer, and sound artist. Here he takes Nordheim’s piece and gives it a totally new meaning, by ‘re-composing’ note sequences from the original work and plays it through an amplification system that transmits the sounds down long piano strings suspended from the left tower of Oslo City Hall.

In the early 1980s, Monahan performed John Cage’s Etudes Australes, and composed a work related to Listen called Piano Mechanics, which similarly employs the piano’s inner mechanics. Many of his subsequent sound sculptures and installations explore the phenomenological qualities of sound. His works often make use of vast spaces and formats, as in Piano Airlift from 1988/2006, where a piano is lifted and moved with the help of a helicopter, or in A Piano Listening to Itself – Chopin Chord from 2010, where six long piano strings runs from a tower high up in the royal castle in Warsaw to a piano positioned in the square below, and where fragments of different works by Chopin vibrate through the strings inside the piano. By Magnus Haglund.