Play Recent

Gather ‘round the piano

Francesco Fusaro, Clavicentrico (Self-Released)

It is not every day that someone names their album after something you invented.

To clarify, I did not invent ‘claviocentrism;’ but I did coin the term. It was in late 2012 — exactly ten years ago, come to think of it — as I was writing an article for the good folks at The Quietus, on the 30th anniversary of MIDI. I was struggling to find a word to describe how central, both culturally as well as physically, the piano had become to western music since the inception of the standard, black-and-white, ebony-and-ivory, together-in-perfect-harmony, clavier-style keyboard to which we are all so accustomed today. But there wasn’t one. Ergo, claviocentrism.

I received an email from one of tQ’s editors saying that he had Googled claviocentrism and it came back a Googlewhack — there were no prior instances of that word indexed in the search engine. I was embarrassed. I replied sheepishly admitting that I had indeed invented the term, and asked if they would like it changed. But the editor said absolutely not to change a single thing, that they were “chuffed” to publish a neologism, and that it was in fact a “cracking piece.” I still remember those words. A cracking piece!

When I perused the press release for Francesco Fusaro’s Clavicentrico, I had to do a double-take. Clavicentrico? It’s not a word I come across often, never, and I thought it might just be a mighty coincidence. But I scrolled down and noted a hefty quote pulled from my 2018 book, Mad Skills, and realized that my concept of claviocentrism had inspired Fusaro not only to compose a touching cycle of “non-virtuosic” piano music, but also to give Claviocentrism an Italian twist.

When you do things, especially when you do things out of desperation, you can never be sure what kind of impact those things will have. When you write a book, or make an album, or paint a picture, or dance a jig, you can never possibly imagine how that book or album or picture or jig will change the world. Probably it won’t. But maybe it will, and probably is not a reason to not try.

Black Ox Orkestar, Museum of Jewish Montreal, 14 December 2022

It is wonderful to have a piano in the kitchen. The kitchen is usually the room in the house where people spend most of their time, and tend to have the best times, over food and family, fellowship and fun. At every party, I always end up in the kitchen.

Pianos, though, are most often relegated far away to the music room or the study, or worse, they become just another piece of furniture in the living room, covered in framed family photos and all manner of other kitschy trinkets.

But the piano, if you are fortunate enough to possess one of these magical instruments in working order, should be kept, I believe, in the home’s most central location. So that anyone, at any time, can start to play it and immediately turn the moment musical.

Pale Ribbons Tossed into the Dark, Fable Guide, Pale Ribbons Tossed into the Dark (Self-released)

The social position of the flâneur was desirable in the 19th century, a person to emulate, the free-floating subject nonetheless un-subjected to the city’s confines of work and family, not institutionalized by institutions, nor hospitals, universities, corporations, prisons, or other such operational enclosures.

Today, the flâneur that is truly untethered from those enclosures is a terrible zombie wandering dazed and spreading capital virally through the confines of hyper-capitalism, a superstructural biodome surrounding the other operational structures that more traditionally enclosed and still enclose, separate, and subjugate subjects.

Even in domestic spaces and other private, seemingly “free” zones, more often the internet nowadays encloses us, and various platforms and subnetworks divide and subdivide that virtual enclosure into smaller and smaller virtual rooms that ultimately reveal our abject isolation in a post-industrial meatspace. Any collective being, even industrial, is no longer necessary.

The contemporary flâneur is either crazy or an exploitative object vis-à-vis subjectivity; that is, capital liberates their subjecthood, thus they subject others using capital in commercial and service environments to their flâneuristic whims. We are all always either working or making others work. There is no leisure today without exploitation. And the guilt, “onboarded” — to use a terrible bro-culture buzzword — from a Christian social order that no longer exists or applies or is even suitable to our quotidian realities still subliminally dictates that leisure is wasteful, sinful, even to a Godless economic society that only idolizes productivity.

La fête du clavecin Kirckman, Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, 15 December 2022

One of the things I love about Montreal is that events like this take place: a concert of a 250-year-old harpsichord in an historic chapel, and it’s free. Were the proceedings entirely in French? Oui. And was I the youngest, Anglo-est person there? Oui encore. But did that matter? Mais non.

Halfway through the performance, however, I started imagining that, to audiences 250 years ago, a harpsichord might have seemed like cheating, like a facile way to emulate the virtuosity of a real harp. Harpsichords, although they utilize the same form of 12-tone keyboard as their piano cousins, are different instruments.

For instance, pianos strike their strings with hammers, meaning that the harder a player hits the key, the harder the hammer strikes the string, and the louder the note sounds. Harpsichords conversely pluck their strings with plectra, a piece of stiff leather similar to a guitar pick. So, when a note is played, the plectrum plucks the string with equal intensity regardless of how hard the player hits the key. This gives the instrument an unsettling on-off sound that we 21st century listeners are not accustomed to hearing. It is more like a music box absentmindedly clanging out a tune. The note is either sounding or silent. It is actually very binary, not unlike early MIDI.

MIDI, or the musical instrument digital interface, is a standard computer “language” that makes it possible for digital instruments of different manufacturers to communicate with one another. MIDI is what allows, say, one central sequencer to control an array of peripheral equipment like synthesizers, samplers, effects processors, mixing boards — even lights and smoke machines. In the digital music studio, it is impossible to overstate the importance of using one common language.

Sarah Pagé, Méduses, Voda (Backward Music)

What is the ultimate experience? What experience could you experience that would put an end to the longing for more experiences? How would you know it was the ultimate it?◼︎