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Improv Guru George Lewis Performs Disklavier Work at Kennedy Center Event

Posted by on in The Disklavier Frontier
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Composer, performer, and music theorist George E. Lewis recently joined Kennedy Center Artistic Director for Jazz Jason Moran in a special performance celebrating the 35th anniversary of the MacArthur Fellows program. Lewis and Moran are both past MacArthur Fellows, named in 2002 and 2010, respectively. In discussing the work, Lewis detailed the setup of the one-of-a-kind performance, enthusiastically drawing on his 25-year history with the Disklavier, calling it a "reliable instrument, great instrument, great sound." 

Later in the discussion, Lewis makes analogies between musical artificial intelligence and computer-controlled anti-lock brake systems or even the Mars Rover, driving the point that there are many parallels between musical interaction and the operations of the everyday world. 

The work, essentially an improvised chamber piece for piano, trombone, and computer-controlled Disklavier, incorporates electronic elements, namely a degree of artificial intelligence, without any electronic sounds. The computer programming "listens" for musical elements via audio of the live players, then interprets them and interacts via the Disklavier. 

In addition to creating the Voyager interactive music performance software used in this performance, George Lewis is the author of The Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies, a two-volume work that examines the process of improvisation both in and out of the arts. 

Shana Kirk is a pianist, teacher, technology consultant, and arts advocate in Denver, CO. Focusing on teaching and performing technologies, she presents performances and workshops at music and music education events and conferences nationwide. She is also a frequent contributor to publications such as American Music Teacher and Clavier Companion.