Episode 4: The Dead Can Dance

Medium Rotation presents conversations and sonic experiences that probe the conditions (and counter the received ideas) of our time, among other times. Each season of the podcast is animated by the concerns of an issue of the magazine, which are addressed by artists, writers, and scholars. The first season, Omniaudience, asks how we understand ourselves and others through listening—and what the obstacles to listening reveal about our society.

Medium Rotation is hosted by Alexander Provan, Triple Canopy’s editor, and Nikita Gale, an artist and longtime collaborator. In the fourth episode, they’re joined by the composer and performer Tashi Wada, who speaks about technologies that claim to capture the souls of performers. Wada presents a composition for a “high-resolution player piano,” Table of Visions, and asks how we discern between human expression and technical perfection, how we listen to virtuosos and machines. He speaks about the pandemic-era vogue for liveness at home, the displacement of pianists by piano rolls (or proprietary software), and the differences between people and marionettes. And, with Gale and Provan, he listens to Conlon Nancarrow, Glenn Gould, Perry Como, advertisements for hi-fi systems, the ghost of Art Tatum, and the stars of Hologram USA Theater.

Table of Visions, was commissioned by Triple Canopy as part of a residency at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and written for the Steinway Spirio, a player piano designed to record and replay live performances. (Triple Canopy recently published an essay about the composition with recordings of two sketches, excerpts of which are played on this episode.) With Gale and Provan, Wada speaks about the history and future of “high-resolution” technologies, that aim to approximate (or supplant) liveness—and that, increasingly, are aided by precise records of all that we say, do, and play. They discuss the age-old dream of perfect fidelity as manifest in musical automata, cutting-edge stereos, and holograms of Tupac and Michael Jackson. And they ask how the pursuit of performances that exceed human capabilities change us as listeners as well as laborers.

In this episode, Gale, Provan, and Wada speak about Philip Auslander’s Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture (Routledge, 1999); Heinrich von Kleist’s “On the Marionette Theatre,” 1810; and the work of Patrick Feaster, a specialist in the history, culture, and preservation of early sound media. In order of appearance, the music and other recordings played on this episode are: Steinway & Sons, “The Features of the Steinway & Sons SPIRIO | r,” 2019; Glenn Gould playing Bach’s “Contrapunctus IV,” “Glenn Gould on Bach,” Sunday Concert, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1962; Perry Como, “Goodbye, Sue,” (Victor, 1943); Conlon Nancarrow, “Study For Player Piano No. 13” Studies for Piano Player (Other Minds, 1977); “Study For Player Piano No. 42,” Conlon Nancarrow: Studies for Player Piano, Vol. V (Wergo, 2018); a film by RCA that introduces the company’s high-fidelity stereo system, 1957; “Variations on Glenn Gould,” Telescope, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1969.

Medium Rotation is produced by Alexander Provan with Andrew Leland, and edited by Provan with Matt Frassica. Tashi Wada composed the theme music. Matt Mehlan acted as the audio engineer and contributed additional music.

Medium Rotation is made possible through generous contributions from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and Nicholas Harteau. This season of Medium Rotation is part of Triple Canopy’s twenty-sixth issue, Two Ears and One Mouth, which receives support from the Stolbun Collection, the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, Agnes Gund, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.