Relative to his New York School associates John Cage and Morton Feldman, Earle Brown (1926-2002) tends to be overlooked both as a composer and as someone who helped reimagine the relationship between composition and performance. But his work with graphic and indeterminate scores, composed in the 1950s, helped define a concept of composition as an open-ended—he liked to use the word “mobile”—process consisting in the dynamic exchange of creative energy between composer and performer. Brown described these scores, exemplified by the FOLIO collection, as “ambiguous but implicitly inclusive” systems which, with the active participation of the performer, would stimulate an engagement with sound through its multiple parameters. Beyond their capacity to elicit a highly creative response from the performer, Brown’s graphic scores—the single-page December 1952 best known among them—are elegant, and elegantly spare, works of visual art in their own right.
The Pugliese pianist Gianni Lenoci has had an interest in Brown’s work for at least a decade, having obtained from the Earle Brown Foundation some scores for study. Like other performers before him, Lenoci, active in jazz and improvised music, was attracted to Brown’s work at least in part because of Brown’s own background as an improvising jazz trumpeter. Unlike a composer like Cage, who long denied the role of improvisation in the interpretation of his own indeterminate scores, Brown fully acknowledged that improvisation was the latent content implicit in his graphic and modular work. Lenoci’s Selected Works for Piano and/or Sound-Producing Media, the recording of which was supported by a grant from the Earle Brown Music Foundation, presents the pianist’s realizations of ten of Brown’s compositions.
Lenoci’s piano performances are exquisite—hearing them, one can imagine sound as the material crystallization of time. The pieces from FOLIO treat sound as consisting in a collection of quanta–a series of brief, discrete points in time defined by their sudden eruption, limited duration, and inevitable dissipation. Moving through the FOLIO sequence these events gradually become longer in phrasing or simply hang in the air, blending into one another—helped, in the case of December 1957 52, by an electronic delay or loop. In contrast to these piano performances, Lenoci’s interpretation of Four Systems is a thicker-textured thing–all electronic scuff and rush. The closing piece, Twenty-Five Pages, is a shimmering kaleidoscope of pianism that never loses momentum throughout its entire twenty-five minute length.