neither Anvil nor Pulley is, in short, a wordless musical epic that explores the man/machine relationship in the digital age. Composed by Dan Trueman, a Princeton music professor who co-founded the Princeton Laptop Orchestra and is a master of the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle, the work was commissioned by So Percussion and calls for a "laptop/percussion quartet with turntable." It was first performed in Austin, Texas in March 2010, and eventually made its way to Carnegie's Zankel Hall in New York City, where the New York Times lauded the "dazzling results" of mixing "George Crumb's knack for unearthly timbres, Alvin Lucier's infinitesimally fine gradations of tone and the fierce creative audacity of Jimi Hendrix."
Trueman's own description places neither Anvil nor Pulley in context: "Unlike the anvil or the pulley, the computer hides its purpose -- to strike or yank will only break. What is this 'tool' we call a computer? It is surely not really about computation, and what does it offer us as musical beings? Are there musical places we can travel to or musical buildings we can construct with this tool that were impossible -- even for us to imagine -- with its predecessors?"
In "120 bpm," machines and humans duke it out. The laptops provide a constant click at 120 beats-per-minute, but the humans can reset the metronomes at any time by striking a handy piece of wood. In "Feedback," the concert bass-drum becomes a speaker that is caressed (by speaker drivers taped to its heads) rather than struck, and its output is fed back to the computer with hand-held microphones. An array of digital drum machines surrounds the drum, also using feedback in unusual ways, while a real-live drummer attempts to survive what amounts to a brutal, accelerating, digital blender.
Around and in between these two pieces are three fiddle pieces that sound as though they flew in from long ago. Trueman is keenly aware of how differently fiddlers and laptops deal with time, and these songs highlight the differences. In the end, the jury is still out as to who wins the contest: man (or more aptly, musician) or machine?
neither Anvil nor Pulley is a digital-only release, but is also available in several limited edition packages (repurposed LP, customized speaker driver, and "tether" controllers, all with nAnP download card) exclusively from Cantaloupe Music.