by Dan Senn
duration 5'08"
two pianos
May Knots was one of the first programs written using the Raku Composition Program (RCP) developed by Dan Senn initially at the Canberra School of Music in Australia in 1981. Since then, the work has seen various incarnations, the first for stereo tape alone using a Fairlight Computer Music Instrument (CMI) developed at the CSoM by Tony Furse. In 1985, the piece was transcribed for two pianos, and then updated in February, 2015, at Waterhouse Studios in Watertown, Wisconsin.

The rhythmic aspiects of the work are based on the rhythmic proportions of 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-1-2-1 and explores two features of displaced entry or "fugue". The idea was to create the effect of one piano chasing another using an implied rhythmic line rather than exact pitches and durations. (While composing this piece I learned that a melodic and rhythmic sound path is recognizable even when so obscured.) In the first half of the piece, piano two is separated by an increment of silence as it then gradually catches up with piano one creating a "chase scene." In the second half, piano one is again separated with silence, but the increment remains constant until the piece is concluded—a chase variation. As the entire piece was calculated in synch, these "phantom canons" create levels of obstructive interplay where one voice, in effect, plays with its trace.
The metronome rates given in the score are approximate but, generally, the piece should speed up, plateau, slow at the mid-point (at measure 49), speed up again, plateau, and slow toward the conclusion. While there is freedom to adjust the rates within limits, pitch continuity may be lost if the piece is played too fast. In this 2015 version, fermatas are also scattered through areas where the metric regularity could possibly use some breaking up. Do as you want here within limits—you may apply some space=time interpretation but always return quickly to the strick rhythmic interpretation.

The standard piano duet positioning may not work for this piece as the sound location of the voices (left-right) is important.
While matched instruments should be used the instruments need to be positioned at some distance. But visual cuing between players is also a factor, and here are some ideas:
1 - Take the lids off both pianos; separate them by ten or more feet.
2 - Leave the lids on both pianos while angling them toward the back of the performance space. Separate.
3 - Play on upright pianos while separating them by ten or more feet.

May Nots was written in May of 1981 in the Computer and Electronic Music Studios at the Canberra School of Music organized and directed by  Dan Senn from 1980-84. While there were precedents for computer-assisted composition and AI systems at the time, the RCP may have been the first software that produced a five-line staff and space=time notation using a simple dot matrix printer. During 1970s and 1980s it was common for composers to manually transcribe text from mainframe computer outputs and Dan automated this process using a desk top computer and dot matrix printer. Creating a score for live players was only a matter of tracing the already formatted output. Another feature of the RCP was that individual voice lines were treated as "strata" which could be stretched, displaced and pinched, after the sychronized version was generated, producing artifacts with clear audibly discernable features. There was nothing like this before, a sensitivity which no doubt arose out of Senn's ceramic art training.

At the bottom of this page is a video of the score with sound accompaniment. Or play it on YouTube! A pdf of the full score may be obtained from the composer. The graphic above is from page 4 of the score.

Click here for a sound only mp3 performance of the piece.

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