Of Dust and Sand
for alto saxophone and piano with electromagnets

Performed by The Kenners
(Eric Wubbels and Eliot Gattegno)

Of Dust and Sand
uses the Electromagnetically-Prepared Piano device, a rack of 12 electromagnets which is suspended over the strings of a piano. Each electromagnet is sent an audio signal and in turn excites its respective string, much like a stereo speaker made from piano strings. In this piece a subset of the magnets remains active throughout, the performer physically silencing the strings by pressing down with fingertips. Thus the instrument becomes a kind of anti-piano – lifting a finger frees a string to vibrate, producing sound. In addition, various items, such as paper and a plastic ruler, rest directly on the strings further altering the timbre. Remember – everything you hear is entirely acoustic.

While working on this piece I was deeply immersed in the novel Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann. The title is in part drawn from an image that recurs throughout the novel, that of the hourglass of mortality, which Mann in turn drew from the etchings of Albrecht Dürer. The material of the piece is connected with the novel, though in ways so tenuous as to escape relevance.

Of Dust and Sand was commissioned and premiered by The Kenners

   Performed by the Ecce Ensemble: Philipp Stäudlin, saxophone; John Aylward, Electromagnetically-Prepared Piano

   Recorded and produced at EMPAC - the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts
   Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY

   Recorded during the Chamber Industrial sessions, January 2014
   Album available on Tzadik