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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Seven years ago, a pianist named Guy Livingston came into NPR's Studio 4A and performed for host Lynn Neary. But he didn't play for long. Each piece was around 60 seconds.

For his CD, "Don't Panic! 60 Seconds for Piano," he commissioned dozens of composers to write tiny vignettes. One composer even notated a 21-second prance across the keys by his cat.

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HANSEN: Guy Livingston has now taken the idea one step into the multimedia age. He commissioned five Dutch filmmakers to add a visual dimension. The result is a new DVD, "One Minute More: 60 Films, 60 Composers, 60 Seconds Each."

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HANSEN: Guy Livingston, who makes his home in Paris, is now on a North American tour, and he joins us now from the studios of WBEZ in Chicago. Welcome back to the program, Guy.

Mr. GUY LIVINGSTON (Pianist): Thank you very much, Liane. Thanks for that great intro.

HANSEN: Well, you know, I went back to 2002 when you spoke to Lynn Neary, and heard that you told her that composers were intrigued by the constraints of writing in a 60-second frame. And you quoted Stravinsky, you said that great art likes chains. What about filmmakers? Were they intrigued by the constraints of filming in a 60-second frame?

Mr. LIVINGSTON: Absolutely. But what is the funny paradox here is that the filmmakers were much more used to that. If you've ever filmed a commercial, or even thought about filming one, 30 seconds might be a good one. So for the filmmakers, in a way, the conceptual leap was easier to take.

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HANSEN: Do the compositions, you think, say something about the perception of time?

Mr. LIVINGSTON: Totally. The music is being forced into an unreasonable constraint, and then that makes everybody think about time in a different way and try to mark the passing of time in different ways. And some of it moves forward very, very, very hard, very, very quickly and with a huge -high velocity. And other stuff moves in an extremely slow manner.

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Mr. LIVINGSTON: And yet the slow piece might seem much shorter.

HANSEN: All 32 Beethoven sonatas.

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Mr. LIVINGSTON: That is definitely an ultimate compression. He's taken one bar from each of the 32 Beethoven sonatas, and strung them together in a way that actually makes sense.

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HANSEN: Tell us who some of the filmmakers are.

Mr. LIVINGSTON: We have - like you said, we have five filmmakers; they're all Dutch. Thijs Schreuder, Nelleke Koop, Newt Hinton, Menno Otten and Juan de Graaf. And they all made film-films, some of which are abstract, some of which are more narrative and - with the exception of Juan de Graaf, who made animations in which the pianist character sort of comes to life and has these series of 10 adventures with the piano.

HANSEN: They're interesting adventures. There's one piece that I love, called "Angel." And there's this kind of animated character with a really big nose, and he's interacting with this animated piano and the snow's coming down. And toward the end of the film, the piano's top opens up and protects the animated character from the snow.

Mr. LIVINGSTON: Gives him shelter.

HANSEN: Yeah.

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HANSEN: Were there images that surprised you?

Mr. LIVINGSTON: Totally. One of the ones I - yeah, OK, I'll give you an example. One of the ones that really astounded me was by Menno Otten, and it's a piece by the composer David Dramm. It's called "Ruby." What is Ruby? Ruby is the brand - affectionate name for a metronome that has a little ruby LED on it that blinks on and off in time with the music that you're playing when you're practicing. And so if you use this metronome, the light blinks on and off. Well, it goes click, click, click, click, click.

But David, the composer, discovered that if you cover the metronome with your fingers while you're letting it play its click, click, click - that you can make different sounds with it. So you can make loud clicks and soft clicks. And so he wrote a piece where I'm holding the metronome in one hand, making it go click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click by moving my hand across it and at the same time with the other hand, I'm playing the piano.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. LIVINGSTON: And that by itself was kind of an odd piece. But when you put it together with the images, which are of a train line that's actually shot from the window of a train, turned sideways, in such a manner that it's totally abstract until the end; you don't realize what it is. It's quite beautiful and it gets that same thing, that click that you would have on a train. And that's a case where the filmmaker completely surprised me, and also the composer, and took the piece to an entirely different level.

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HANSEN: Here's one I really like. I found the images to be mesmerizing. It was Thijs Schreuder's film and it was "Last Minute Tango." And it's a tango that you're playing on the piano, but the image - are these construction cranes that are filmed and overlapped and in such a way that they really are dancing with one another.

Mr. LIVINGSTON: Isn't that great?

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. LIVINGSTON: It's always wonderful when I do that. That's a piece by Frank J. Oteri, the composer. And when I do the piece in concert with the film, the audience always, they're sort of like…

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Mr. LIVINGSTON: …at the last moment when the two cranes come together. It's like they're kissing or something. They just suddenly touch and these two huge, gigantic, abstract pieces of construction material suddenly seem, you know, like they're lovers.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. LIVINGSTON: Quite a beautiful moment.

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HANSEN: So how did you pay these guys? Last time, you paid your composers in, I believe, a bottle of Jack Daniels.

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Mr. LIVINGSTON: This is true. This is true. We paid composers this time with a watch, a special watch made by Stamps(ph), which is a Berlin company that does kind of high-level design, nifty things. And each watch design is different. There are different designs, and each one is based on one of the films.

HANSEN: Wow.

Mr. LIVINGSTON: They're quite funky.

HANSEN: OK. So - go ahead.

Mr. LIVINGSTON: I should respond - maybe I should say something serious about that before it sounds too frivolous.

HANSEN: Sure.

Mr. LIVINGSTON: The royalties, actually, from the disc are, because of the complexity of handling royalties for 60 composers on one disc, the royalties are donated to Doctors Without Borders. So it's not completely frivolous.

HANSEN: Pianist Guy Livingston. His new DVD project is called "One Minute More: 60 Films, 60 Composers, 60 Seconds Each." He's currently on tour and plays in Chicago tomorrow night, and will be coming soon to Montréal, New York and Washington, D.C. Guy joined us from the studios of WBEZ in Chicago. Guy, thanks very much. Good luck with this.

Mr. LIVINGSTON: Thank you so much, Liane. It's been a pleasure.

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HANSEN: You can watch films from Guy Livingston's "One Minute More" on our Web site NPRMusic.org.

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