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the bitKlavier Commissions: Annika Socolofsky
and a little ditty by Lainie Fefferman as well...
First, I’d like to bring your attention to a new album that Annika Socolofsky released just a few days ago: Don’t say a word. It’s incredible. I’ve known Annika for many years now, and have always been so deeply impressed by her vision, precision, musicianship, and intensity; she sings these powerful songs on this record with the terrific Latitude 49, and I’ll also note that the album was produced by another bitKlavier commissionee, Pascal Le Boeuf.
For her bitKlavier commission, Annika wrote a beautiful piece called “Northwing.” Here’s what she says about it:
"Northwing" is an homage to Lainie Fefferman's gorgeously minimal bitKlavier composition titled "Southwing." I love how bitKlavier allows you to bask in the textures and gestures of the instrument on a level that an acoustic piano simply cannot. Lainie's piece captures such warm sighs and swells and I wanted to run with those gestures in my own way in my piece.
Soooooo…. that brings me to Lainie Fefferman! Some years ago, I asked some composers to create small pieces for bitKlavier, loosely inspired by Bartók’s Mikrokosmos—pieces that were generally aimed at students and focused on particular technical challenges or bitKlavier features. These Mikroetudes ship with bitKlavier, and are a great way to get to know the instrument through some varied and fun music (check out the complete PDF here). Lainie is a dear friend, and “Southwing” is indeed gorgeous; Adam recorded it in response to Annika’s homage:
“Southwing,” by Lainie Fefferman, recorded by Adam Sliwinski
Here’s the sheet music, if you are interested, and the bitKlavier gallery is built in to bitKlavier, in the Galleries/Mikroetudes menu, if you’d like to try it:
There’s lots more where that came from in the Mikroetudes!
For Annika’s “Northwing,” Adam and Annika went back and forth on the approach to performing the piece, with Adam aiming for something with gamba-like, “glue-y” bowing, in a large chapel-like space. It’s not difficult to hear three layers in this piece: a steady, pulsing middle layer; an occasionally emerging high, soaring, descending line; and an almost overwhelming, slowly swelling low layer that at one point overwhelms the other layers to silence, until they carry on a few moments later.
“Northwing,” by Annika Socolofsky, recorded by Adam Sliwinski
If you’d like to try it, check out the sheet music:
Recording aficionados might be curious how we went about recording a sample-based instrument like bitKlavier. For most of these pieces we use a sample library that we created of a beautiful 9’ Steinway grand, the bitKlavier Grand, which is free and covered by the CC BY 4.0 license if you are keen to try it. There are nine stereo mic images of the piano in this sample library, and for these recordings I use a fairly close ORTF set, on the stage parallel to the open lid of the piano. We then use Altiverb to choose appropriate acoustic spaces, which varies depending on the nature of the piece. For the recording of “Northwing” above, in response to the “gambas in a chapel” notion, I put it in the King’s College Chapel space at the University of Cambridge, which is quite glorious with its ~12-second reverb tail. For a clearer, more intimate setting, here is another mix of “Northwing” in the smaller Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall at the Royal College of Music, with its ~3.5-second reverb tail:
“Northwing,” by Annika Socolofsky, recorded by Adam Sliwinski, set in the Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall
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Stage Lid ORTF: Sanken CU41—cardioids
This pair is placed centrally (audience perspective) at about six and a half feet high and is aimed parallel to the open lid of the piano. It captures a balanced stereo image of the harp without reflections from the lid. It has a more even frequency response than the cardioids placed at the lip of the piano, as it is 1.5 meters above and away from the strings. This captures the percussive sound of the hammers quite well. (from the bitKlavier Grand documentation)