Ukrainian pianist/composer Lubomyr Melnyk is best known for his groundbreaking "continuous music" technique, which involves playing extremely rapid, complex patterns of notes, often while holding down the sustain pedal in order to produce overtones. The result is a dense cascade of sound that can be trance-inducing for both the performer and the listener. Melnyk has gone on record as the fastest piano player in the world -- he has been able to sustain over 19.5 notes per second in each hand, as well as more than 93,000 individual notes in a single hour. While his music recalls the mind-bending complexity of Conlon Nancarrow's studies for player piano, Melnyk's melodic compositions never sacrifice grace or heart for the sake of technical ability. In addition to his solo piano works and performances, Melnyk has also composed orchestral and chamber works. Melnyk was born in Munich, Germany to Ukrainian parents in 1948. His family moved to Winnipeg, Canada in the early '50s in order to flee the Communist expansion. After graduating from St. Paul's College in Winnipeg with a degree in Latin and philosophy, and earning an M.A. in philosophy at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Melnyk moved to Paris and played piano for modern dance classes. He developed his technique while in Paris, inspired by the minimalism movement and frustrated with what he viewed as a lack of innovation in the previous three centuries of piano playing. He moved back to Canada in 1975 and began composing works, as well as presenting lectures on continuous music throughout Canada and Europe. His debut album, KMH, was issued by Toronto-based Music Gallery Editions in 1979, followed by the double LP The Lund-St. Petri Symphony (Apparition Records) in 1981. Also that year, he published Open Time: The Art of Continuous Music, a book explaining his method. Numerous LPs of his music were released through Bandura Records, or self-released as cassettes. Despite his prolific release schedule and his record-setting abilities, Melnyk's work largely went unnoticed until the 21st century. Avant-garde classical label Unseen Worlds reissued Melnyk's debut album in 2007 (minus the first ten minutes of the original recording, as the beginning of the master tapes had been damaged), and the release received critical acclaim. This led to additional releases on labels including Hinterzimmer (Windmills) and Erased Tapes (Corollaries, Evertina, Rivers and Streams), as well as a collaboration with guitarist James Blackshaw titled The Watchers (Important Records). In 2016, Melnyk made his major-label debut with Illirion, released by Sony Classical. He returned to Erased Tapes with 2018's Fallen Trees.
© Paul Simpson /TiVo
© Paul Simpson /TiVo
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Experimental - Released May 1, 2007 | Unseen Worlds
Lubomyr Melnyk's music sounds like nothing else. Melnyk acknowledges his debt to minimalism, and it's easy to see its influence -- rhythmic regularity, a steady pulse, and repeated patterns within a massive wall of sound that evolve over time, somewhat reminiscent of the effect of Reich's Eighteen Musicians and Eight Lines. Melnyk's music could never be mistaken for Reich's, however. One of its most striking attributes is its rhythmic complexity, which makes playing it a major feat of virtuosity; polyrhythmic patterns of three and four and seven and eight, for instance, going on simultaneously create an enormously rich contrapuntal texture, out of which new melodies are constantly emerging. The rhythmic patterns undergo continuous metamorphoses, so the contrapuntal relationships are in an ongoing state of flux. Melnyk's harmonies are nothing like Reich's, either. They range from multiple overlaid tonalities to the richly chromatic language of late Romanticism. The music has a feeling of a basic tonality, but a tonality that's so heavily ornamented with other tonalities that it's sometimes all but submerged. There are clearly defined modulatory shifts, and they keep the music fresh in spite of its relentlessly dense textures. The piece has a large-scale harmonic purposefulness in its movement from varieties of harmonic complexity toward a more conventional, sometimes ecstatic tonal clarity at widely spaced cadential points and at the end. Melnyk's performance boggles the imagination -- this is the kind of contrapuntal complexity characteristic of Nancarrow's Studies for player piano, yet he manages to keep the multiple melodic lines distinct and regular. His website claims he is on record for being the world's fastest pianist, sustaining patterns of 13.5 notes per second in each hand, and his performance of KMH makes that claim seem credible. (Unseen Worlds' release doesn't include the first 10 minutes of the piece; it begins with a gradual fade-in, which leaves the listener wondering how Melnyk gets his monumental opus off the ground. Bandura's release of the same performance is complete.) Audio Review called the original 1979 release of KMH "one of the ten most important albums of modern music." Any fans of minimalism and maverick experimentalism with an immensely attractive sound should check out Melnyk's phenomenal performance of his unique music. © TiVo