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Chris P. Thompson releases True Stories & Rational Numbers

An album of electronic music for acoustic pianos composed and programmed in modern piano roll notation

New York-based composer and percussionist Chris P. Thompson releases his new album True Stories & Rational Numbers. A nine-movement work, True Stories & Rational Numbers features music composed, performed, and produced by Thompson. It represents Thompson’s investigation of just intonation – the tuning system based on the natural harmonic series that uses simple whole number ratios of frequencies – an experience which Thompson likened to having his eyes re-opened to music and seeing it in color for the first time. “Splitting” from the album was included on BBC Radio 3’s Inside Music, while the video for “Five ‘Til” was premiered by Burning Ambulance. An extensive interview with Thompson, about his background, approach, and thinking as a composer, is featured on Fifteen Questions.

Thompson’s True Stories & Rational Numbers is available digitally, as well as on vinyl, CD, and cassette tape, and is mastered by Heba Kadry with album art and design by Timo Andres. The piece is also published as a fully notated score for live performance.

The album explores the beauty, oddity, and emotional poignancy of simple whole-number rhythmic and harmonic relationships. It is composed and meticulously programmed entirely in modern piano roll notation, in an extension of the tradition of the piano rolls of 20th century American composer Conlon Nancarrow, who frequently composed for player piano. Thompson explains, “this recording represents an idealized realization of the score from a near future where four grand pianos can dynamically re-tune themselves to an infinite lattice of pitches, and dance to the rhythmic relationships of simple mathematical ratios.” To Thompson’s knowledge, this is the first large scale work for piano in just intonation that moves fluidly through Western harmonies and keys, since previous works have been constrained by the practical limitations of fixed-pitch instruments.

Thompson’s goal with this album, as well as with his previous LP Everything Imaginable Comes True (2019) and EP Lot Hero (2017), is to marry the machine with the warmth of human emotion. In this most recent work, just intonation became a vehicle for that. He says, “As a percussionist, the world of rhythm had been the primary aspect of music for me. All of a sudden, I was able to see the world of pitch and harmony as rhythm, through the lens of just intonation.”

Chris P. Thompson is well-known in new music circles as a longtime percussionist in Alarm Will Sound and the American Contemporary Music Ensemble. He recently toured internationally as a performer with Tyondai Braxton’s HIVE. He has participated in the world premieres of over a hundred new works and can be heard on 30 studio albums. He has collaborated and appeared with artists including Björk, Dirty Projectors, James McVinnie, Medeski Martin & Wood, Nico Muhly, Brian Reitzell, They Might Be Giants, and Valgeir Siggurðsson, among many others.

Although Thompson has made his compositions public more recently than his work as a performing percussionist, he has been writing music for most of his life, since his days as one of the youngest-ever members of the Santa Clara Vanguard drumline, at age 15. His music blends the high-energy sound world of modern drum and bugle corps with the experimentalism of contemporary classical and electronic music, but always with an ear toward telling stories and painting pictures of potent emotional states. He says, “Even when I'm using algorithmic or computer-aided techniques to generate material, there is always a human hand manipulating that material and molding it into a human story.”

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