Randy Gibson: Aqua Madora
Avant Media

Not many recordings include a credit for the piano tuner, but in the case of Randy Gibson's Aqua Madora, it seems entirely appropriate, as it's a recording featuring Gibson playing in just intonation using a just intonation Estonia 190 piano (its full title is Aqua Madora - for Just Intonation Piano and Sine Waves). Begun in 2005, the work is notable on mulitple counts: it's heavily influenced by the compositional studies Gibson initiated with La Monte Young in 2003 plus Gibson's raga studies in the Kirana tradition with Young and Marian Zazeela; and it's a work that grew out of a video-dance collaboration Gibson undertook with Ana Baer-Carrillo. As conceived, the work is based on themes of water and mourning, hence the Aqua (water) Madora (sorrow) title, and was premiered in June, 2006 with the video (featuring Dani Beauchamp) establishing the dramatic arc of the material. The Brooklyn-based Gibson, who complements the live presentation of his ritualistic just intonation works with incense and lighting, is also artistic director of Avant Media, a non-profit organization dedicated to collaborative artistic endeavors, and co-curator of the Avant Music Festival.

Aqua Madora is forty-seven minutes in length and comprised of six separately titled sections presented without interruption. That it was recorded live in concert on May 2, 2008 at the Gene Frankel Theatre in New York City is at times apparent in the occasional creak of a bench and cough, but such touches only humanize the recording. Appropriate to the title's water allusion, the reverberations produced by the piano's sustain creates an impression of fluidity between the notes played, as if they possess a liquidy dimension that allows them to flow into one another. In the opening part “Alap,” soft sine tones are the first sounds heard, after which sparsely distributed piano pitches appear, with each one introduced slowly (a method of pitch introduction called 'badhat') while the sine tones persist as an underlying drone. The just intonation dimension of the work is readily apparent in pitches that will at first strike the listener accustomed to standard tunings and conventions of harmony and consonance as unusual, but adaptation sets in quickly. Without interruption, Aqua Madora carries on into “Drone (Skyline)” with stately chords announcing its onset and Gibson's playing growing more rapid, intense, and, with the playing swelling into multiple layers, denser. “Bed” alternates between reflective and more aggressive passages before the thick clusters of “Drone (Ice Flow),” a remarkable twelve-minute section, appear to take its place. “Table” again arrests the driving forward movement and replaces it with a ponderous and spacious eight-minute meditation, the generous spaces between the notes enabling the sine tones to once again be heard.

This is a special recording that'll appeal to not only listeners interested in La Monte Young and Charlemagne Palestine but more generally those with an appetite for innovative piano-based work. Gibson has made it available in two physical editions, a limited-edition digipak CD (70 copies) that includes a booklet with program notes from the recorded performance and a hand-embellished version (30 copies) that's hand-numbered, signed, wrapped in handmade Japanese paper, scented with roses, and sealed with wax. Oh, and that piano tuner? His name's Kaz Tsujio.

May 2011