Named after cognitive psychologist Roger Shepard, a Shepard scale is an audio illusion in which a scale seems to rise endlessly, without getting higher. The constituent pitches consist of several simultaneous octaves, which fade out at the top of the scale and fade in at the bottom. Taken out of the moving context, the actual octave register of a note is ambiguous to the ear. A toy piano displays similar ambiguity: as the length of the sounding rods at lowest keys is too short to produce a true bass note, its overtones are louder than its fundamental pitch. Taken out of context the lowest F can sound more like its C overtone, an octave and a fifth higher. This ambiguity is part of the charm of the toy piano, and Shepard’s Pi enjoys playing with that charm, with lots of scales that seem not to get higher, sonorities whose octave register is ambiguous, and moments where the meter and tempo could be heard in several different ways.
Oh yes, pi. Just as pi = 3.14159265. . ., so too Shepard’s Pi has slightly more than three electronically produced sounds (all derived from the sound of the toy piano), sections, and tempi.
NOTES FOR PERFORMER:
The piece requires a 37-key toy piano and stereo playback. Below are links to downloadable files: a PDF of the score, a standard MIDI file, two .wav files. (one of just the electronic sounds; one a "performance" file with a synthesized solo part added), an mp3 of the "performance" for quick downloading, and an rtf of tech and program notes. Download all these files if you want to perform Shepard's Pi. Brighten a composer's day by letting me know if you program the piece.
The standard MIDI (.mid) file should be opened in any sequencer (GarageBand, Digital Performer, Cubase, etc.) Import the audio files (.wav) into two available stereo tracks. One file has a synthesized version of the solo part, in case that is helpful in practice sessions. The other is just the electronic sounds, for the performance. Mute whichever track you don't need at the moment. The sequencer should enable the performer to start and stop at any measure, for practice purposes.
SCORE PDF (367 kb):
MIDI FILE for playback coordination (enables starting at any measure, for rehearsal) (38kb):
ELECTRONIC PLAYBACK without solo (101 MB):
ELECTRONIC PLAYBACK WITH SYNTHESIZED SOLO (97 MB)
ELECTRONIC PLAYBACK WITH SYNTHESIZED SOLO (mp3, for faster download) 4 MB):
PROGRAM AND TECH NOTES (4 kb):
Tom Flaherty has received grants, prizes, awards, and residencies from the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, American Music Center, the Pasadena Arts Council, the Massachusetts Council for the Arts and Humanities, the Delius Society, the University of Southern California, "Meet the Composer", and Yaddo.
Published by Margun Music, Inc. and American Composers Editions, his music has been performed throughout Europe and North America, by such new music ensembles as Dinosaur Annex in Boston, Speculum Musicae and Odyssey Chamber Players in New York, Earplay and Volti in San Francisco, Concorde in Dublin, Gallery Players in Toronto, XTet and Ensemble GREEN in Los Angeles; and by such performers as soprano Lucy Shelton, guitarists David Starobin, Peter Yates and Matthew Elgart, organist William Peterson, pianists Genevieve Lee, Susan Svercek, Charlotte Zelka, and Karl and Margaret Kohn. His music is recorded on the Albany. Klavier, Bridge, SEAMUS, Capstone, and Advance labels. He earned degrees at Brandeis University, S.U.N.Y. Stony Brook, and the University of Southern California; his primary teachers in composition include Martin Boykan, Bülent Arel, Robert Linn, and Frederick Lesemann. He studied cello with Timothy Eddy and Bernard Greenhouse.A founding member of the Almont Ensemble, he currently holds the John P. and Magdalena R. Dexter Professorship in Music and is Director of the Electronic Studio at Pomona College. He is an active cellist in the Los Angeles area. Recent commissions include A Heckuva Job for guitarist David Starobin, When Time Was Young for Lucy Shelton, Moments of Inertia for Dinosaur Annex, Gleeful Variants for Genevieve Lee, and Looking for Answers for piano trio and electronics, for the Mojave Trio.