Department of Music

Extended performance practice

Professional performers active today are often required to incorporate extended techniques and new technologies into their repertoire. For example, pianists working in contemporary idioms may be required to play inside the instrument as well as on the keys and master additional keyboard instruments and interfaces.

This not only calls for expanding and building on existing motor skills, but also developing new skills, strategies and techniques for practice, rehearsal and performance.

Principal Investigator:

Dr Xenia Pestova Bennett

Xenia-Pestova-ROLI
Xenia Pestova Bennett performing on the ROLI Seaboard, photo by Chris Webb Photography
 
 

Research overview 

My practice-led research at the University of Nottingham investigates and catalogues these skills. My approaches include investigating existing repertoire, commissioning new repertoire, collaborating with composers and technologists, engaging in improvised music making and documenting the outcomes through performance, recording, lecture presentations and written research publications.

I am currently interested in the following areas:

  • Music for piano and extended techniques
  • Music for piano or other keyboards and electronics (live and/or fixed)
  • New music for portable keyboards: toy piano and Indian harmonium
  • Design and implementation of new keyboard interfaces
 

Current projects

Gold.Berg.Werk 

Principal Investigator

Dr Xenia Pestova Bennett, Assistant Professor in Music and Director of Performance, University of Nottingham

Project overview

J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations (1741): a radical re-interpretation

The Goldberg Variations form a cornerstone of keyboard repertoire, yet we rarely question the mode of presentation for this piece. Austrian composer Karlheinz Essl offers a refreshing glimpse of a new performance practice through his unusual take in Gold.Berg.Werk (2013-16). Originally envisioned as a performance environment for string trio, there is now a version for piano and live electronics, never before heard in the UK. Time-stretched harmonies are manipulated in real time and played back through spatialised loudspeakers in between the piano variations, bringing together Baroque and contemporary sound worlds. This new reimagining of Bach’s vision juxtaposes the variations in a new strictly symmetrical structure which reflects the binary form of the original aria (a microcosm within a macrocosm with binary divisions commonly found in digital systems). No two performances are the same due to the live generation of the electronic interludes. Gold.Berg.Werk transcends itself and becomes a new piece in its own right, creating a sense of space and grandeur through electronic distribution of the interludes. 

Current work

Xenia is currently working with the composer on a definitive interpretation of this piece. They will present this project in concert on tour and record a fixed version for commercial release.             

 

 

 

Flowing Under Ice

Principal Investigator

Dr Xenia Pestova Bennett, Assistant Professor in Music and Director of Performance, University of Nottingham

Project overview

This project will bring together remarkable sounds of frozen rivers and waterfalls with live piano improvisation together with radical Canadian composer and instrument designer Gayle Young.

Gayle Young’s music challenges instrumental constraints through unconventional tuning and timbre. Close collaboration with the composer is integral to the success of the venture due to the fact that the new work embraces improvisational approaches, and the performer’s input is vital in both the early stages through feedback on sketches, and as the piece evolves through repeated performances.

This project will provide an unprecedented opportunity to take risks by combining the seemingly disparate worlds of the concert grand piano with sound art and create microtonal tuning combinations between the piano and the electronic elements.
Field recordings of water flowing under ice recorded in three contrasting locations will describe a quintessential Canadian winter soundscape of:

  • an ice-covered waterfall
  • the shoreline of a lake at freeze-up
  • a bridge over a frozen river with passing traffic

all recorded through resonant tubes of different lengths.

This unusual technique creates striking and aurally beguiling effects, amplifying different harmonic resonances and drawing the listener into the sounds and inviting engagement with the environment and human impact on nature. The piano will inhabit and weave a unique path through this soundscape, guiding the listener.

Current work

Collaboration on the creation of a new piece, recording, performances and dissemination of all three pieces in 2020.

Engagement with this project provides an ideal opportunity to feature music that is not easily definable in terms of genre terminology, and fits "between the cracks" of audience expectations.

Presenting three works with clear environmental connections will enable us to tap into a wider range of listeners and have an impact beyond the contemporary classical audience bracket, while also sharing the sounds of the Canadian winter in a musical context beyond Canada.

Past work

Premiere of “Ice Creek” for piano and fixed media by Gayle Young: Calgary, Alberta, Canada, 2018

Premiere of “As Trees Grow” for piano and live electronics by Gayle Young: London, UK 2017

Funding

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien.

Canadian Council for the Arts logo

 

 

 

 

Past projects

Magnetic String Resonance

Principal Investigator

Dr Xenia Pestova Bennett, Assistant Professor in Music and Director of Performance, University of Nottingham

Project overview

Performance with new technologies is a rapidly growing area of artistic expression, yet little research has been done from the performer's perspective, and existing works often employ unergonomic approaches.

This project uses an innovative but underutilised instrument designed by Andrew McPherson, the Magnetic Resonator Piano (MRP). Electromagnets are suspended above the piano strings, allowing resonance to be “shaped” from the keyboard while retaining the use of the original action.

I approach the MRP from the performance perspective, pushing the limits of the instrument and the technology while developing techniques which are natural to use for the musician.

Past work

I created radical new versions of scores by Alvin Lucier and Pauline Oliveros followed by my own four-movement piece, Glowing Radioactive Elements (2018, 20’).

This is the first piece created in order to identify specific sonorities and physical performance gestures on the MRP. The piece explores four distinct techniques I discovered. One of these, the “mechanical stutter” exploits an unintentional defect in the keyboard scanner in order to produce a shimmering soundscape.

This is just one new element that can be added to the sonic vocabulary of the concert grand piano, an instrument which hasn’t evolved since the introduction of the sostenuto pedal in the late 1800s.

Building on these foundations, Xenia created two substantial sets of pieces featuring the Magnetic Resonator Piano. “Glowing Radioactive Elements” explores the instrument in a solo context with five movements over 25 minutes, while “Atomic Legacies” features the renowned Ligeti Quartet alongside the MRP in a 20-minute work with four interconnected sections. These pieces are now available on Diatribe Records (click on image below). 

Xenia Atomic Legacies Image

 

Funding

This project is supported by the RPA Development Fund and PRS Foundation's Women Make Music.

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Other past projects 

"Urban Birds": commissioning and performing in a new work by Dr Arlene Sierra (Cardiff University) for two pianos, Yamaha Disklavier and electronics in collaboration with Yamaha UK, funded by PRS for Music Foundation New Music Biennial

McGill Digital Orchestra Project – collaborative development of new digital musical instruments, funded by Fonds Québécois de la Recherche sur la Société et la Culture

Stockhausen’s Mantra: new digital version of analogue processing with assistance from Creative New Zealand and others

Performance with live electronics: dissertation, McGill University, funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

The 30-second project: commissions of new music for toy piano

Fluxtrio – investigating extended piano techniques in improvised contexts (with Dr Lauren Sarah Hayes, Arizona State University and Dr Franziska Schroeder, Sonic Arts Research Centre / Queen's University Belfast), funded by PRS for Music Foundation Women Make Music

“Out of Nowhere”: commissioning, performing and recording major new work for piano and electronics by Dr Ed Bennett (Birmingham Conservatoire), funded by PRS for Music Foundation Beyond Borders

New repertoire for the Seaboard with Dr Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, University of Huddersfield in collaboration with ROLI, with support from the Canada Council for the Arts

 

 

 

Selected outputs 

2020. Atomic Legacies: Recording of new music for the Magnetic Resonator Piano Diatribe Records

2019. Approaches to notation in music for piano and live electronics: the performer's perspective. In: FRIEDEMANN SALLIS and VALENTINA BERTOLANI, eds., Live-electronic music: composition, performance, study. Routledge.

2017. TOY PIANOS, POOR TOOLS: VIRTUOSITY AND IMAGINATION IN A LIMITED CONTEXT Tempo. 71(281), 27-38

Some Thoughts on the Toy Piano: a post on writing for toy piano

Arlene Sierra: "Urban Birds" for two pianos, Yamaha Disklavier and electronics, NMC Recordings

Shadow Piano: new music for piano, toy piano and electronics, Innova Recordings (solo CD)

John Cage: works for two prepared pianos and toy pianos – in John Cage: Works for Two Keyboards volumes 1, 2 and 3, Naxos Records (with Pascal Meyer, piano)

The Audible and the Physical: a Gestural Topology for 'Mixed' Electronic Music, EMS12, with Dr Andrew Lewis (Bangor University)

Models of interaction: performance strategies in works for piano and live electronics, Journal of Music, Technology and Education 2: 2+3, 113-126

Stockhausen: Mantra, Naxos Records (with Pascal Meyer, piano and Jan Panis, electronics)

Analogue to Digital: Authenticity Vs. Sustainability in Stockhausen's MANTRA (1970) (with Dr Mark Marshall, currently at Sheffield Hallam University and Dr Jacob Sudol, currently at Florida International University)

In Proceedings, International Computer Music Conference, Belfast. 201-204.

 
 

 

Department of Music

The University of Nottingham
Lakeside Arts Centre
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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