Pat Metheny's "Orchestrion" Redefines Solo Artistry And Establishes New Touchstone For Innovation In Music

4/23/2010 [Marching Instruments]

Yamaha Disklaviers Are Integral To Project Conception, Recording And Global Tour

Pat Metheny with all of his instruments
With the help of the Disklavier, Metheny stretches his artistic boundaries with the release of "Orchestrion"
BEUNA PARK, Calif. – Guitarist and composer Pat Metheny is universally acclaimed as a musical pioneer, renowned not only for his brilliant guitar work but for the seemingly instinctual way he coalesces textures and colors to create a perpetual conversation through, and with, music. Since he first began touring and recording in the 1970s, Metheny has attracted a loyal audience, of critics as well as fans, in genres spanning from his home base of jazz all the way to electronic music, fusion, country and beyond. With countless superlatives firmly attached to his playing and composing, the 17-time GRAMMY winner and three time Gold Record honoree is among the most prolific, innovative and revered artists of our time. Metheny was one of the very first jazz musicians to embrace the synthesizer as a serious musical instrument, and years before the invention of MIDI technology, he was using the Synclavier as a composing tool.

Metheny once again stretches his artistic boundaries with the release of "Orchestrion" (Nonesuch, 2010), easily his most creatively invigorating and intriguing project to date. Yamaha Disklaviers have been an integral centerpiece of this ambitious project during several years of development and recording, and will be onstage with Metheny during an extensive worldwide tour that begins in Europe, traverses the United States and concludes in Japan.

The hallmark of the Disklaviers, often referred to as computerized player pianos, is that they are more than high-performance pianos; they may be used as MIDI-controllers and they record, store and play-back performances with peerless accuracy and tone. By relying on the Yamaha Disklavier to generate "Orchestrion's" majestic interactions among a stunning array of instruments, Metheny is empowered to 'conduct' a roomful of pneumatic and robotically powered instruments. In giving birth to this mesmerizing – and historic – musical collaboration using his guitar and a flawlessly melodic band of nearly human musical partners, Metheny may be the only flesh-and-blood being onstage, but you wouldn't know it if your eyes were closed.

All Music Guide says of "Orchestrion:" "Here Metheny exceeds our expectations, and perhaps even his own," referring to the massive scope of planning, innovative technology and creative inspiration attached to this exquisite large-scale musical offering. Combining ideas from earlier times (particularly the works of George Antheil and Conlon Nancarrow) with today's cutting edge inventors and instrument makers (Eric Singer, Mark Herbert and Ken Caulkins, among others) and his own fluidly ingenious passion for music, Metheny has created a new, open-ended platform for musical composition, improvisation and performance.

In the process, he may well be re-defining the concept of what it means to make a 'solo' recording or live concert: with "Orchestrion," Metheny offers a wholly new interpretation of what constitutes a performance by a single musician. At its most basic level, "Orchestrion" is Metheny composing with the capabilities of robots, not live players (with the notable exception of himself), in mind: with thousands of moving parts, eight-and-a-half tons of equipment, and everything synched to produce music according to either a fully realized score or in a totally improvised fashion, "Orchestrion" clearly is a feast for the eyes, ears and soul.

The "Orchestrion" project first took root in Metheny's childhood imagination while visiting his grandparents in Wisconsin. His grandfather, a professional musician, introduced young Pat to one of the family's most prized possessions, a then-50-plus-year-old player piano kept in the basement. "I would spend hours there with my cousins trying each roll, pumping until we were worn out by the pedals. My grandfather had lots of piano rolls, and I just thought it was the coolest thing," says Metheny, adding that in the years since then, he's visited many museums, exhibits and attended concerts where player pianos and orchestrions of the late 1800s and early 1900s were presented. "I always imagined that it might be fun to try to look at those instruments through the prism of everything else I've done in terms of harmony, and in terms of melody. I'm kind of amazed that we've gotten to ten years into the 21st century and it hasn't been explored that much."

"'Orchestrion' is a trip into the unknown. His most ambitious project yet."
-- Jazzwise

The exploration that became "Orchestrion" started, naturally enough, with the Yamaha Disklavier. "In many ways, the Disklavier is the gold standard for the entire idea of mechanical musical instruments in the modern era. When the original Disklavier came out, it was an historic leap into new territory, a giant step beyond what had been possible with traditional pneumatic player pianos and in many ways the inspiration for all the other instruments that I commissioned for this project," he says.

To Metheny, the term "orchestrionics" describes "a method of developing ensemble-oriented music using acoustic and acoustoelectric musical instruments that are mechanically controlled in a variety of ways, using solenoids and pneumatics." Over the course of several years, he engaged a brilliant team of inventors to work with him to assemble an orchestrion of custom-made instruments. These instruments included dozens of percussion and mallet instruments; guitar-bots; a drum kit; an electric bass; wind-based instruments, such as calliope pipes; and a 'bottle ensemble' comprised of bottles that are blown with air. Many of these instruments require hearing – and seeing – them for full appreciation.

"'Orchestrion' suggests a band trying to sound like a machine rather than vice versa, and ends with a heavenly chorus of constellated ecstasy."
-- Village Voice

Several Yamaha Disklaviers were employed throughout the project. "At every step of the way, the dynamic resolution, tone production and reliability of the Disklavier were the point of reference as I commissioned other instruments. I have had a Disklavier at home for 15 years and use it constantly for writing, testing and modeling music. In the execution of "Orchestrion," I scored for two Disklaviers in addition to the dozens of other solenoid and pneumatic instruments."

A worldwide tour – featuring Metheny performing solo with his groundbreaking orchestrion – commenced in January and will extend well into 2010. "The two Disklaviers are also going everywhere around the world with us," he says. "It is hard for me to overstate the importance of these instruments in my current work."

"Bright tapestries of sound and soaring melodies. The results are absorbing."
-- The Times London

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About Yamaha
Yamaha Corporation of America is the largest subsidiary of Yamaha Corporation, Japan and offers a full line of musical instruments and audio/visual products to the U.S. market. Products include: acoustic and digital pianos, portable keyboards, guitars, acoustic and electronic drums, band and orchestral instruments, marching percussion products, synthesizers, professional digital and analog audio products, and innovative technology products targeted to the hobbyist, education, worship, professional music, and installation markets.

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