Dead Beats: A new composition by American avant-garde composer Alvin Curran for Dutch pianist Reinier van Houdt, brought together with the first ever recording of Inner Cities No 9 '9-11-01' The piano has always been at the core of Alvin Curran's oeuvre. Granted, you'd expect a statement like that from the liner notes to a collection of his piano pieces. In this case, however, he's said so himself, in a candid interview with sound artist Andrew Liles: "It’s the focal point and kind of a totem for all my work in music." Certainly, thanks in part to a cycle like "Inner Cities", which spans twenty years of his career, it has become a sort of constant in a catalogue with very few constants, the perfect tool for a composer who likes to think beyond tools. Still, the bond between Curran and the piano has always been one of attraction and repulsion.
It was certainly where everything started. The piano was the first instrument Curran learned to play as a five year old son of virtuoso parents, stepping into the footsteps of a mother who accompanied silent movies and a dixieland jazz band trombonist. After studying with Elliott Carter, his path towards academia seemed paved. Rejecting this future wholeheartedly implied rejecting the piano as a symbol for the very tradition he had become to loathe. By the time the group of "long-haired, mad- eyed, stoned-out hippies" around him, Frederic Rzewski and Richard Teitelbaum had set up the Musica Elettronica Viva collective and were touring in support of their first big piece, "Spacecraft", he considered the instrument outright bourgeois. It was a revolutionary thought at a time rife with revolutionary thoughts. When the MEV members had arrived in Rome just one or two years earlier, they only had one thing on their mind: "erasing our whole background". That Curran eventually returned to the piano with the same fervour with which he had abandoned it is a tribute to his dedication to music rather than ideologies. Or, as he would later state: it was a manifestation of his belief that it didn't matter how the music was made, but that it was made at all. - Tobias Fischer