Steven Mackey - from Indigenous Instruments

mesmerizing, strange, dark, funky

This is the last of the three movements of Indigenous Instruments, which Mackey wrote in 1989 as if it were folk music from a culture that doesn't actually exist. That meant inventing the kind of tunes these nonexistent people might like, and they kind of instruments they might play-instruments he created by adapting standard ones. Traditionally in western music, the smallest gap between two notes is a semitone. That's the gap you find, for instance, between two adjacent notes on the piano. But in this piece Mackey has some of the instruments retuned, so that we can hear gaps of half a semitone. That's partly what makes the music sound peculiar, even disturbing. When the piano comes in, with its regular tuning, it sounds, as Mackey puts it, 'like a broken toy'. You can also hear, from the cello, the low sound of a delivery truck that was arriving at his house while he was working on the composition. You can make music with anything.

Steven Mackey (born 1956)

Many classical composers grew up playing the piano, or the violin, or the trumpet. With Steven Mackey it was the electric guitar. He was playing in rock bands in California, where he grew up, before he got into classical music. Even now-even though he's a professor at one of the foremost universities in the United States (Princeton) - he's a bit of an outsider. He seems to like it that way. His music's offbeat, often funny. He still plays the electric guitar, and has written many works for it, including works with symphony orchestra or string quartet.