Ecstatic descent by Australian composer Erik Griswold is a prepared-piano work that explores different timbral effects over the high and low registers of the keyboard. Each note of the piano is altered by using bolts, screws, strips of rubber, cardboard, and paper – which transforms the piano into a miniature percussion orchestra. Griswold then further elaborates on the production of sound on the instrument:

“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.”

Paul Muller’s album review encapsulates the broader picture of this work. Muller states that Griswold’s composition is an extension of John Cage’s musical techniques. This innovative work experiments with new horizons in musical composition including tone colour, textural density and rhythmic complexities, all which convey a work of grandeur and high expressivity.

Muller goes into great detail when mentioning the intent of the piece, whilst also breaking it down structurally to communicate it succinctly for readers. Facts beyond the recording were provided. Essentially, Muller delves into the description of Griswold’s musical techniques and then further analyses it to explain its affect. For example, Muller responds with this analogy when Griswold delves into the pitch:

“All of this produces a marvelously organic feel as the starting notes evoke visions of water trickling down a small rivulet or brook. As the pitches move lower, there is a sense that the flow is growing stronger. Each change in tone creates a vivid new experience in timbre and sonority, attesting to the thoroughness and care of Griswold’s preparation.”

The informative aspects of this piece really capture the essence of the work, allowing terminology to be more easily understood by the non-music enthusiast. The review itself was given in an unbiased perspective in which jargon was indeed avoided.

Considering the complexities of this experimental work, and the process of its creation, Muller generates a well-informed discussion by using his knowledge of music and translating it into simple analogies that audience members can better understand.

“Ecstatic Descent is an inspired work based on an innovative approach to that most conventional of instruments. Without melody, harmony or beat, Erik Griswold has managed to create powerful music that connects with both the natural with the spiritual.”

References:

  1. Muller, Paul. Erik Griswold – Ecstatic Descent. January 23, 2017. Accessed March 8, 2017. http://www.sequenza21.com/cdreviews/2017/01/erik-griswold-ecstatic-descent/
  1. Griswold, Erik. Ecstatic Descent: Album Discography. January 20, 2017. Accessed March 8, 2017. https://www.discogs.com/Erik-Griswold-Ecstatic-Descent/release/9773731
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