This new film of My Lips From Speaking is the latest episode in my “year of the Wolfe.” Originally scored for six pianos (count ’em), the piece was later arranged for a mere two, which is the version I’ve recorded here, joined by my doppelgänger. It’s a characteristically singleminded piece, based on the opening riff of Aretha Franklin’s “Think.” Like much Wolfe, it’s relentlessly methodical in how it treats its musical material, violently deconstructing, reconstructing, and finally transcending it.
I’m indebted to Kettle Corn New Music for commissioning and presenting this new film, which is undoubtedly one of the most complex and difficult I’ve made so far, from both a musical and technical perspective. The two piano version contains most of the notes of the six piano—at times, literal fistfuls of them. The music is also constantly, almost cartoonishly syncopated, the parts lining up, or often not lining up, at unpredictable moments. This means it has to be rhythmically ultra-precise—it’s a delicated illusion that can be destroyed by mere milliseconds of variation in timing, causing the whole thing to sound like a haphazard jumble. What I was striving for in this performance was to supersede the “counting like hell” feeling that can plague performances of such rhythmically intricate music, and give it something of the loose, rolling groove of its source material—leaning into the syncopations, easing off the strong beats.
This piece is also just loud—it tested my recording setup, my poor long-suffering piano, and my physical stamina. It’s a challenge to find and savor the few moments of respite within its structural juggernaut. Playing both parts allowed me to fine-tune the dynamics on a moment-to-moment level and find some transparency in the dense interplay, allowing details to come through that may not be audible in the six-piano version. Of course, you lose some of the wonderfully over-the-top ridiculousness of the original—though the ending comes close, I think.