The spry, tall, thin, angular pianist walked on stage, bowed, sat on the bench in front of a baby grand piano and looked at the keyboard in thought. One hand playing two notes later began the setting of a framework for what Arner dubs a spontaneous composition.
The first piece established his focus: span, interval, and a unity of functioning of both hands. Arner generated his music from the extent which the keyboard would allow. He found the center and moved to the outskirts and back again. He utilized small, delicate, single note movements, and grander, larger, wider chordal plants to fulfill the balance of variation. His penchant for repeated phrases alternating with repeated single notes that climb out of phrases and clusters of notes is a signature component to Arner’s playing. It is Arner’s mode of accenting to the point of making an accent a pure isolated element in the improvisation that catapults his compositions above any of those of its kind (of which I know). The accents become a major factor in the construction of the music. Their repetition serve as both the technical hinge from one set of movements to the next AND the content.
The variations which he created were based on a steadfast set of givens, recognizable in hindsight once a piece has concluded, but, if recognized during the piece, could indicate a pattern of growth. Each spontaneous composition could be mapped out graphically. The patterned aspect of his performance thrust it into an arena of description that had more to do with classical format than not, yet, more to do with improvisation than classical format. The significance is that Arner is expanding the world that was established when Earle Brown said in effect that improvisation allows his classical compositions to evolve and become richer than if he premeditated his music with measures.
Arner performed one of the works from his solo recording. COSMOS uses the piano as a percussive instrument. He utilized mallet tools to play the strings of the piano in the sounding board. It was thrilling to see the instrument from within make sound without the movement of keys and hammers; to see resonance controlled by an invisible pedal resulting from the up and down motion of the row of felts. Arner alternated the use of the keys with the use of the mallets. His touch was delicate and purposeful, intended for drawing an atmosphere and breaking it apart. His touch caused the sound to pulsate like groups of binary stars and whir like intergalactic dust winds.
How refreshing this music is for the academic world as well for the world of the improvisers. The music brings the two stylistic temperaments soberly together in a way that it can only be heard as itself. So much is said with so few pitches. So much is said with the distance between one pitch and another. So much is said with silence as is with sound. So much is said with a minimal number of gestures, pushed and pushed and pushed until their effect is maximal. Totally. Instrumentally. Without question.