Monday, June 2, 2014

Duckworth weights

In a recent blog I mentioned what I call "Duckworth weights" — I opened the recital with "An improvised prelude, using seven Duckworth weights."   These are small lead bars, used by piano technicians, to counterbalance the weight of the hammers. They are properly called "keyleads" or "key leads," one word or two. Their conventional use is discussed in detail in the following article:

Scroll down to "Some Historical Background."

When Bill Duckworth composed The Time Curve Preludes he specified that certain keys were to be held down for the duration of each prelude. These pitches would never be struck, but would vibrate in sympathy with the other strings, accumulating resonance as each piece progressed. Each of the twenty-four preludes had its own specified drone pitch (1) or pitches (as many as 7). Bill originally intended the keys to be secured by rubber wedges, the sort that piano tuners use to separate and dampen strings while they are being tuned. George Krippenstapl, who was the Wesleyan piano technician at the time, persuaded him that the wedges, inserted between the key and the fallboard, carried the risk of damaging the keys, and that he should use keyweights, stacked and secured by masking tape. Originally I used stacks of four, now I use stacks of five — heavier and more stable.

The penultimate composition on "This Is It! TWO" was "Memories of You, 2012," the memorial version of an earlier work that I prepared for the concert in Bill's memory at Le Poisson Rouge. (We co-composed it in the late '60s.) I'll write about that on Wednesday. Today I just want to talk about the weights.

I have discovered that these small stacks of keyleads, to be known henceforth as Duckworth weights, are a great compositional resource. When you improvise with them you can use them as a manually controlled sostenuto pedal; you can use them in conjunction with the sostenuto pedal; you can use them to create floating drones that migrate from register to register on the keyboard. They are altogether cool and I hope other composers and improvising pianists will decide to use them. Any piano technician can get you a bag of keyleads. Be sure and get the ovaloid ones, and not the small round ones, which will not stack properly. Wrap some masking tape neatly around a stack of five and you are ready to go. They come in small batches, or bargain bags of various numbers (I have well over a 100, can't remember the precise amount). Enjoy, and help spread the word!

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