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Avant-garde music geeks should not miss "Conlon Nancarrow: Virtuoso of the Player Piano," a documentary about the musical genius and Texarkana native. The film — made by University of Arkansas professor and composer James Greeson — airs on AETN Thursday at 7 p.m.
Nancarrow is hardly a household name, unless yours was the (very) odd household whose stereo played a steady rotation of Cage, Cowell, Ligeti and the like. But his music, much of it insanely fast and rhythmically complex, is actually nowhere near as intimidatingly out-there as the work of many of his 20th century contemporaries. Stockhausen or Xenakis it is not. Check out "Study for Player Piano No. 3a-e" for something that sounds like Jelly Roll Morton played at 1,078 RPM.
Oh, and Nancarrow also: was a committed Communist, fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, lived most of his life in Mexico as a political exile and was awarded a Macarthur Foundation Genius Grant.
The film was screened at this year's Little Rock Film Festival. Times contributor Natalie Elliott noted that "the documentary does have a little structural trouble, jumping around achronologically at times in a fairly befuddling way, but the expert interviews, archival footage, and deconstruction of Nancarrow's pieces are all very informative and user-friendly."
Definitely one to set the DVR for.