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Erik Griswold's Ecstatic Descent is a prepared-piano work that melds composed and improvisational elements to create an intensely animated, one-of-a-kind textural sound world. Performed here by the composer, at times it may call to mind an enormous out-of-control music box or mechanical toy. It also readily lends itself to comparisons to various ever-changing (yet ever the same) natural sound phenomena, and has been likened by composer Annea Lockwood to the bubbling frequencies of a river.
The composer writes:“In ‘Ecstatic Descent’ every note of the piano is altered (‘prepared’) with bolts, screws, strips of rubber, cardboard, and paper—transforming the instrument into a miniature percussion orchestra. By carefully positioning these materials along its strings the entire piano is, in effect, tuned to A minor. On this singular instrument I perform cascades of rapid-fire textures that start at the very top of the keyboard and wend their way down, bubbling and glinting as they descend.” (Erik Griswold)
Reviewing a recent live performance of Ecstatic Descent, a critic at The Creative Issue wrote, “I could not take my eyes off his hands, although his fingers were moving so exceptionally swiftly that it was not possible to lucidly focus on them…. Making his way from the high notes to the low, and literally every note in between, Griswold offered an enchanting performance that left fellow concertgoers defining in delighted disbelief ‘extraordinary!’”
“Erik Griswold’s aptly titled Ecstatic Descent is a forty-minute-long composition for prepared piano, here performed by the composer. Griswold prepared the piano with a painstaking method to preserve the white keys’ pitches while lowering the black keys’ pitches, yielding an instrument of varied colors tuned to A minor. The piece is divided into two roughly equal parts, the first of which is a thickly textured, continuous but slow movement downward from the top to the bottom of the keyboard. The second part interweaves pauses into the texture. It’s a work of cascading tones that sound at different times like a gamelan, bells, rain on a metal roof, or a nylon-string guitar. Underlying much of the piece is an oscillating movement in fourths, which implies a certain harmonic mobility within an otherwise static key.”—Daniel Barbiero, Percorsi Musicali (Italy)