for Violin, Cello, and Prepared Piano
Approximate Duration: 11'
Sandwiched between my burgeoning shelf of electronica vinyl and an admittedly more modest stack of bargain-bin classical LPs, I have in my record collection a few dozen albums of old-time string-band music. The covers show ecstatically happy groups of country musicians crowded together and clutching the tools of their trade: fiddles, guitars, mandolins, banjos, a string bass. The breakneck, instrumental picking on the records is even more lively than the looks on their faces, and somewhere in that soulful, earthy music I found a space to begin String Band.
Those who are aware of old-time string-band music might hear a twangy resemblance to the work’s opening material. A unison that slowly bleeds lower, made more effective by the use of pencil erasers and small screws inserted in the piano, grows into bluesy, sliding half-steps. This ultimately flowers, in the middle of the work, into a long melody framed by bent notes — but at that moment the piece begins to disintegrate. With the pitch world fractured and the grooves of the beginning now fading into the chemical sunset, the last half of the piece shows the ensemble as a very different kind of string band. It is a unified band of resonating strings, with the melody regressing back to its original space of a bleeding unison.
The very minor piano preparations, detailed on the following page, require a maximum of ten minutes setup time. These preparations will not damage the piano in any way, and do not even require the pianist to touch the strings with his or her fingers. A flathead screwdriver used to gently separate the strings is the only tool needed. The rest of the materials can be supplied by the composer, if necessary.
"With rubber washers, pencil erasers and screws placed strategically in the Steinway's strings, the trio presented String Band for Violin, Cello and Prepared Piano, a rhythmic, lyrical work composed for the ensemble by 27-year-old Mason Bates. Kwong created faint Irish clogging sounds, bell tones and muted gongs to accompany the pitch-bending melody in the strings." — Grace Jean, March 25, 2004 (Washington Post)