Sunday, January 24, 2010
Pat Metheny's Orchestrion Project
For his latest recording project Orchestrion, jazz guitarist Pat Metheny teams up with an unlikely combination of pneumatics, solenoids and mechanically played instruments, instead of his usual Pat Metheny Group.
Metheny is one of the few jazz guitarists who has always experimented with technology -- he was a keen user of the Roland guitar synthesizer, which he made as much a part of his musical voice as his warm toned jazz guitar, and was also an ardent supporter of the Synclavier digital composing and recording system back in the day.
But the Orchestrion is a different machine. Quite literally, it is a machine.
Metheny recalls visiting his grandfather's home as a child and heading straight for the basement where he would tinker with an ancient player piano and boxes of piano rolls -- no doubt the awakening of his infatuation with music technology. At the turn of the 20th century, the player piano idea was taken further with the Orchestrion except that the piano rolls now controlled percussion and calliope wind instruments like a pseudo-orchestra -- an early music sequencer if you will.
For his Orchestrion project, Metheny sought out inventors and engineers to create an array of acoustic instruments that could be controlled from a central source -- he uses the technology from the Yamaha Disklavier piano, the modern electronic version of the player piano, for his central controller. Pivotal also was an invention that used MIDI to trigger mechanical solenoids by way of control voltage which allowed for a wider dynamic range than was ever possible.
Pat Metheny has really stepped out of the box with this one. What is remarkable is that he makes a convincing statement out of what could easily have turned out to be a musical and mechanical disaster.