James Davies (University of California, Berkeley): Albert Schweitzer’s Tropical Pedal Piano

This paper presents initial thoughts on the zinc-lined pedal piano presented to the greatest humanitarian of them all: Bach scholar, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, theologian, and jungle doctor Albert Schweitzer. The instrument was gifted to Schweitzer by the Paris Bach Society in 1913. He received the gift, in order that he could continue musical studies, on the eve of his departure for the Paris Missionary Society’s mission at Lambarené on the Ogooué river, in French Equatorial Africa (now Gabon). This Gaveau piano, built to resist the equatorial rainforest, is now housed at the Musée Albert-Schweitzer in Gunsbach, Alsace.

The site of Schweitzer’s posting had a reputation as the most “inhuman” environment known to enlightenment man. It was an historic “slave reservoir,” and long a principle resource for the extraction of circum-Atlantic wealth, including ivory, ebony, padouk, and other musical woods. This is to say that the idea of the “uninhabitable” tropical forest as “uncivilizable” prospered at the very same time they provided the raw materials for the production of “civilization.” This “white man’s grave,” indeed the Gulf of Guinea tout court, had long been the site where the question of what it means to be human had been most fraught.

I am interested in questions of humanitarianism, and anthropopoesis – that is, the mission to “make human” by overcoming climate. What I think we’re dealing with, with the export of the “insulation technologies” of German Art Music to the Gabonese tropics, is certain imperial navigation of “the human.” By anthropopoesis, I mean “an art of the human,” or a “progressivist” humanitarian project to “make human.” This “making human” involved music-making and Bach, of course. But it also involved the cultivation of conditions for a more “equitable” and “temperate” (indeed “equal-tempered”) world, one delivered from the purportedly “dehumanizing” effects of “torrid zones.” This paper sketches the lineaments of that humanitarian project – at once biomedical, raciological, religious, and musical – to free humanity from its enslavement to climate.

Hans Fidom (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam): Breaking Rules: Rethinking Organ Interfaces (keynote)

As organs are always custom-built, no organ is exactly the same as the next one. Yet, there have been developments that changed organ building practices in general. The first one was the introduction of changeable sound colors (‘stops’) in the 14th century. The second one took place In the 19th century: instead of many sound colors forming one instrument, one basic sound color had to be available now in many shades. As this required organs to include much more and much larger pipes, and as organists were expected to changes these shades often and quickly, electricity and pneumatics entered the realm of organ building. Consoles – interfaces – became rather complex: they could have up to five manuals, and hundreds of knobs to control the sounds.

Today, the third global revolution in organ building is taking place: digital technology is taking over from electricity and pneumatics, much to the concern of both historically informed performance practitioners and mainstream musicians. Knobs are replaced by touch screens, and the organization of the pipes inside the organs is reconsidered in completely new ways once again.
Questions to be addressed include: How can this development be understood, both historically and technologically? What could historically informed performance practices as well as 21st century composers and artists gain from this development? In which ways do the designs of the consoles – i.e. the interfaces – frame the minds of both users and listeners? What effect do such interfaces have on our concepts of what making music is about?

Massimiliano Guido (University of Pavia): Ways of the Hand: Historical Improvisation at the Keyboard

When in 1978 David Sudnow published Ways of the hand, he gave a precise account of the movements of his fingers caught in the act of learning how to play jazz on the keyboard. He thoroughly described a process of interiorization, pairing concrete movements to musical responses in a “rhythmic coordination that synthesizes such movements into true jazz sentences.”This is the exact way in which Girolamo Diruta looked at his fingers about four hundred years earlier. Historical improvisation is based on the constant dialogue between the keyboard affordances, the musical language of the time, and the physicality of the performer.

I will show how the characteristics of a keyboard (and those of the instrument) induce the hand to a certain response. Learning how to rhythmically organize music events is achieved by patterns of body movements. The latter are dependent upon the generative rules of a specific music style, absorbed within the process. There is, in other words, a constant dialogue between the music, the performer, and the instrument. Furthermore,  this hand-on approach is not anymore limited to the practitioners of the keyboard, but has found its legitimation among music theorists.

Johannes Keller & Martin Kirnbauer (Schola Cantorum Basiliensis FHNW): Keyboards Adapted to Music vs. Music Adapted to Keyboards: Arciorgano, Archicembalo and Similar Instruments

The development of the modern standard keyboard seems to be a straightforward success story: already from its first emergence somewhere in the Middle Ages the musical keyboard existed with 12 keys per octave, consisting in 7 so-called ‘diatonic’ and 5 ‘chromatic’ keys. Even if this simple narrative has to be differentiated, this keyboard certainly has had a strong influence at Western music. However, a closer look reveals that alternative keyboard layouts existed that show a radical different approach. Examples that we will discuss include instruments propagated by Nicola Vicentino (1511-1577), among others. The lecture will be accompanied by practical demonstrations on the archicembalo (with 36 keys per octave) and the clavemusicum omnitonum (with 31 keys per octave).

Franz Körndle (University of Augsburg): Keys, Claves and Tasten in Early Modern Times: Annotations on the Meaning, Range and Function of a Musical Tool

This paper focusses on the early history of the term „clavis“ in musicology as well as other disciplines and its application to the keyboard until the first quarter of the sixteenth century. To examine pictures of organs and clavichords, drawings of keyboards helps us to determine the compass of these instruments in the fifteenth century. In respect of the use of the organ in liturgy, one has to compare the compass of keyboards to the range not only of polyphonic music but mainly of plainchant. The German term „Taste“ instead of „clavis“ was introduced only in 1731 but musicians and composers did not adopt it until the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

Laurence Libin (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York): Describing Keyboards

While rarely achievable in practice, thoroughly detailed documentation of a keyboard instrument would enable its accurate reconstruction in all essential aspects, including tone and touch. Since such technical documentation is usually done by curators, conservators, and instrument builders, not by performers, important characteristics of keyboard interfaces, such as individual key dimensions, spacing of accidentals, touch weight and responsiveness, and the “feel” of different key surfaces, are often overlooked. Partly this shortcoming reflects inadequate vocabulary for describing and quantifying the sensation of playing on a keyboard. This talk addresses the problem of comprehensively describing keyboards of various types in terms meaningful to performers as well as to builders of replicas, and offers suggestions for improving documentation standards in light of current research on haptics.

Roger Moseley (Cornell University): Chopin’s Aliases (keynote)

From his day to ours, musical images of Chopin at the keyboard have mediated Romantic fantasies that at once reveal and disavow the mechanisms that animate them. Moving across the discursive registers of pedagogy, performance, recording, and cultural techniques, this paper approaches the networks via which Chopin’s nocturnes and études have been distributed and the interfaces through which they have been filtered over the course of the last two centuries. In particular, the digital transmission of Chopinian signals via the keyboard’s grid has been liable to introduce technical artifacts that can be elucidated via contemporary methods of mitigating aliasing (the jagged presentation of smooth contours). Rather than constituting a transparent means by which Chopin and those who followed in his fingerprints could impose their musical will, the keyboard’s pliability risked engendering mindless automatism. Conversely, the creative spirit could be spurred rather than hindered by mechanical resistance, the inevitability of communicative distortion, and the impulse to transcend such artifacts via the fine-grained manipulation of the very digital elements that gave rise to them.

Tiffany Ng (University of Michigan): Total Parameter Control: The Pathologization and Military-Industrial Application of the Keyboard Interface

At the height of Romantic organ building, the organ’s multi-tiered keyboard interface came to epitomize the ideology of efficient human control of maximalized parameters. When understood as a techno-ideological expression, its influence can be charted through Romantic fiction, the American military-industrial and intelligence complex, and the transatlantic Organ Reform Movement and its enfants terribles. The skills and forms of performativity privileged by each of these interface iterations, moreover, highlight the performance of gender in what has been framed as a history of male authors, inventors, and fictional characters.

The symphonic organ inspired both authors and engineers to creative invention. From the fantastical fictions of Hector Berlioz to Jules Verne, organs were the instruments of choice for imaginary megalomaniacs in the long nineteenth century. The keyboard provided a powerful control metaphor, while the players’ pathological hungers problematized the embrace of new technologies. Contemporaneously, early engineers such as Benjamin Franklin Miessner idealized the organ keyboard as the only musical user interface suited to modernity, as it offered potentially infinite parameter control to a single performer utilizing all appendages. These priorities went on display at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Nazi Germany and in the Allies-funded development of total serialism at Darmstadt.

The keyboard interface also fed into the American military-industrial complex. An early prototype of encrypted communications technology used during World War II, Bell Labs’ Voder was a speech synthesis organ, anthropomorphized as male and played by virtuosic women telephone operators. In the arena of performance, race and gender would continue to complicate binary narratives through the careers of flamboyant electronic organ virtuosi.

Paradoxically, the postwar generation of historically informed organ builders were wartime-trained engineers. They recognized the limitations imposed by the maximalized keyboard interface, particularly its assumptions that parameters are discrete. In a kind of musical disarmament, they chose to revive the limitations of historical organbuilding to find expression in the haptic manipulation of the interface in addition to the parameters to which it gives access, even while the CIA compared its Cold War network of front organizations to an outdated “Mighty Wurlitzer” capable of playing any propaganda tune.

Catalina Vicens (Leiden University), Winold van der Putten (Orgelmakerij van der Putten), & Jankees Braaksma (Ensemble Super Librum): From Images to Sound: Interpretation and Interaction in the Reconstruction and Performance of Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Organs

In this presentation with a team of three experts on the building and performance of late medieval organs, we will present different aspects of their reconstruction, including issues that arise from the interpretation of iconographic sources and the choice and interaction with the materials; the direct experience in the performers’ interaction with the keyboard; and limitations and possibilities and their musical consequences. Winold van der Putten has devoted himself to the construction of medieval organs since 1978 in close collaboration with medieval and Renaissance music performer Jankees Braaksma. In 2017, van der Putten together with a team of researchers built his latest project, a reconstruction of the Ghent Altarpiece organ (1432) by the Van Eyck brothers, in commission of the Nationaal Orgelmuseum. The organ was premiered in a performance by Catalina Vicens as guest of Ensemble Super Librum (Jankees Braaksma). In this presentation, aspects of the building process and performance issues arising from this and other works by Winold van der Putten will be discussed and demonstrated.

Daniel Walden (Harvard University): “A Return to the Eternal Laws of Nature”: Tanaka Shōhei’s Just-Intonation Instruments and Techniques of Defamiliarization in Nineteenth-Century Germany and Japan

Tanaka Shōhei’s just-intonation harmoniums and organs captivated European audiences during the last decade of the nineteenth century, earning accolades from the likes of Anton Bruckner and Hans von Bülow as the first truly practical instruments of their kind.  This paper introduces Tanaka’s theories and technologies, contextualizes their development against the history of acoustical science in Germany and Japan, and explores how they were meant to serve as the new foundation for reciprocal transnational musical exchange between Europe and Asia.  Tanaka’s instruments operated by what I call “techniques of musical defamiliarization,” subverting the structural and acoustical expectations of the listener, as well as the tactile expectations of the instrumentalist, so as to increase in both the ability to perceive the advantages of a just-intonation practice signifying “a return to the eternal laws of nature.” I will recount how Tanaka deployed these techniques in private lessons, public lectures, and demonstrations of the instruments at musical exhibitions, focusing on how one of Tanaka’s instruments briefly ended up at the Deutsches Museum itself.  I will end with a brief recreation of one of Tanaka’s presentations on a version of his Demonstrations-Harmonium that was recently rediscovered and restored in 2017.

Ralph Whyte (Columbia University): Are Light Instruments Color Organs?

This paper concentrates on a moment of apparent disruption in the history of light-producing instruments, or “color organs”: the abandonment of the musical keyboard interface by Mary Hallock Greenewalt and Thomas Wilfred, two twentieth-century light artists/inventors.

Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century instruments (created by Castel, Bishop, and Rimington), regardless of whether they could produce sound, produced lights and colors by means of keyboard interfaces. The interface of these early instruments was predicated on the perception of music as a discrete series of pitches, and the transferability of each of those pitches into discrete colors.

Greenewalt and Wilfred’s new interfaces reify their rejection of color-tone analogies and their desire to create a medium-specific, autonomous light art, freed from its historical dependence on music. The slides and pedals of Greenewalt’s “nourathar” prioritized subtle control of luminosity over shifting colors, while the slides and rotating keys on Wilfred’s “clavilux” allowed him to create nebulous, slow-changing forms for projection. Both figures rejected the term “color organ,” but contemporaneous reception and recent histories have applied the term to their instruments regardless. I suggest three reasons for this: the historical precedence of keyboard-based instruments for creating light effects, Greenewalt and Wilfred’s continued reference to music in describing their light art, and later historians’ desire to create a seamless pre-history of intermedia.

Lastly, I reflect on later uses of the term “color organ” to describe DIY light-bulb radio units and early disco lighting that could automatically light in response to recorded music. I argue that the long history of the term “color organ” suggests that, despite Greenewalt and Wilfred’s intervention, music remained an important stimulus for the creation of light effects and a means through which abstract light has been understood.