Sonatra

Michael Gordon, 2017

The sheet music for Sonatra (for solo piano) came with the LP—which features Gordon's work performed twice by Vicky Chow (of Bang On a Can): once in equal temperament and again in just intonation. On paper, the piece looks deadly simple, but I'm sure it's fucking murder to execute. Chow maintains a clockwork tempo as eighth notes climb up then cascade down scales in interlocking, two-handed patterns. The insane tension of it would be utterly lost if Sonatra were simply loaded and played as MIDI. Maybe we're so attuned to the subtlest shifts in tempo we inevitably pick up Chow's human fluctuations, or perhaps we're just dumbstruck at her accomplishment.

The work itself is hypnotic in its bloody-mindedness. So much so, there's a hint of disappointment when some slides down the keyboard come in towards the end, breaking the spell. I have a slight preference for the just intonation variation. The resonances clang in unexpected ways, giving a piece of such superhuman rigor a hint of surprise.