Kathleen Supové: The Debussy Effect


Pianist Kathleen Supové is well known in contemporary music circles and beyond for her committed performances and inexhaustible programming and project creativity. On this double CD set, she presents several new pieces for piano and electronics which take Debussy's rich piano repertoire as a jumping off point. The composers responses set the spirit of Debussy's harmonic language within a 21st century frame, often meditative and textural, but filtered through the lens of musical technology.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 96:45
01Storefront Diva: a dreamscape
Storefront Diva: a dreamscape
02Dr. Gradus vs. Rev. Powell
Dr. Gradus vs. Rev. Powell
03Layerings 3
Layerings 3
04What Remains Of A Rembrandt
What Remains Of A Rembrandt

Shattered Apparitions of the Western Wind

Annie Gosfield
05Part 1
Part 1
06Part 2
Part 2
07Part 3
Part 3
08Part 4
Part 4

Cakewalking (Sorry Claude)

Daniel Felsenfeld (b.1970)
09I. Blandishments of the Young and Uniquely Handsome
I. Blandishments of the Young and Uniquely Handsome
10II. Icarus Chained
II. Icarus Chained
11III. Golliwogg Agonistes
III. Golliwogg Agonistes
12La plus que plus que lent
La plus que plus que lent

On her latest two disc release, Kathleen Supové explores the hold that Debussy’s music has on pianists, musicians, and listeners alike. As she observes in her notes, Debussy’s music “seems to suggest a state of mind, too, envisioned in a very crystalline and personal way.” The Debussy Effect documents Supové’s project of enlisting several composers to bring that sensibility and something of their personal relationship to new, 21st century works, for solo piano and piano and electronics. Disc 1 features all works for piano and electronics. Joan LaBarbara’s Storefront Diva (for piano and sonic atmosphere) takes several fragmentary quotes from the writings of Joseph Cornell, American artist and sculptor, as inspiration for her sound paintings. LaBarbara uses a wide pallette of sounds, from bowed piano timbres to pre-recorded storm sounds to assemble a soundscape that evokes Debussy’s sensual relationship to the natural world. Matt Marks’ Dr. Gradus vs. Rev. Powell is a play on Debussy’s famously virtuosic movement of his work Children’s Corner, “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum.” One hears patches of the harmonic sequence from the original float by in the electronic part, haunting incantations, and insistent snare drums as if the pianist finds herself practicing a disembodied version of the work in an weightless afterlife or in a fever dream just on the edge of wakefulness. In his Layerings 3, Eric Kenneth Malcolm Clark builds a kaleidoscopic texture from several recordings of Supové playing the same material. Randall Woolf’s What Remains of a Rembrandt engages with aspects of Debussy legacy that go beyond his harmonic or rhythmic nuts and bolts — his incorporation of stylistic elements from world music, jazz, and other aesthetics and his non-teleological approach to structure. Allusions to Gamelan music, ambient electronica, and stride piano style dot this composition that possesses its own internal, intuitively driven organizational logic.

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Disc 2 opens with Annie Gosfield’s Shattered Apparitions of the Western Wind for piano and electronics as well, and is inspired by Debussy’s piano work, What the West Wind Saw. Gosfield combines pre-recorded fragments of the Debussy work with musique concrète recordings of Hurricane Sandy, which struck New York while she was composing the piece. Toggling between this electronic collage texture and Supové’s live piano, Gosfield creates a landscape that seems to track the dramatic experience of living through a powerful natural event. Daniel Felsenfeld’s Cakewalking for solo piano deconstructs Debussy’s famous, and controversial, Golliwog’s Cakewalk. Felsenfeld quotes from Debussy’s original, but in his reworking, strives to imagine “a 21st-Century Golliwog put through his peregrinations and paces, until he comes out, at the end, somewhat more enlightened.” The final work of the set is Jacob Cooper’s La plus que plus que lente, a title that describes the process through which he most frequently engages the material from Debussy’s original work, La plus que lente — that is, he slows it down against an ambient electronic background. The result is a captivating work that truly seems to inject Debussy into the virtual realm, as his harmonies slowly pulse with the disconnected ache of the digital era.

Recording Engineer/Producer: Sheldon Steiger
Recording location: Western Connecticut State University
Recording dates: 12/2014 (except track 1, 7/2015)

Produced, Engineered and Mastered by Sheldon Steiger
Assistant Engineers: Dan Wabno and Jacob Zonderman
Recorded at Hagman Hall, Western Connecticut State University (Yamaha CFX
Design: Marc Wolf (marcjwolf.com)
Cover Photo: Carolyn Yarnell
Liner notes written by the respective composers
Inside wallet: Photo by Aleksandar Kostic
Scenic Design by Marija Plavsic Kostic
from a live performance of “Storefront Diva: a dreamscape” by Joan La Barbara
at The Flea Theater, NYC
Booklet cover: Photo by Jodi Stern
from a live Installation of “Storefront Diva: a dreamscape”
by Joan La Barbara, Marija Plavsic Kostic, and Aleksandar Kostic
Kathleen Supové is a Yamaha Artist

Kathleen Supové

Kathleen Supové is one of America’s most acclaimed and versatile contemporary music pianists, constantly redefining what a pianist/keyboardist/performance artist is in today’s world. Ms. Supové annually presents a series of solo concerts entitled The Exploding Piano. Through her numerous and varied commissioning projects, including The Debussy Effect, she has been a vital force in creating stunning, important works for the late 20th and early 21st century piano repertory. The Exploding Piano also uses electronics, theatrical elements, vocal rants, performance art, staging, and interdisciplinary collaboration. In 2012, Supové received the John Cage Award from the ASCAP Foundation for “the artistry and passion with which she performs, commissions, records, and champions the music of our time.”




Bandcamp Daily

As she listened to post-concert conversations between the composers involved in a music series she curated at the Flea Theater in New York, pianist Kathleen Supove began to notice how many of them cited the music of Claude Debussy as an influence. Later, while performing Morton Subotnick’s “The Other Piano,” she began to hear the piece as she performed it as something, “Debussy would have written had he been around in the 21st century.” With those ideas in mind, she commissioned a raft of composers to create solo piano pieces, with or without electronics, that conveyed Debussy’s spirit. The exquisite results prove Supove’s instincts were sharp both to conceive the project and to enlist composers that smashed the concept wide open. For “Storefront Diva: a dreamscape,” Joan LaBarbara latched onto a fantasy in the writings of artist Joseph Cornell, a “dream of Debussy playing piano as in a store seen through a spacious window.” The result is an impressionistic gem refracted with electronics, which mute and smear the performance the way glass might. For “Shattered Apparitions of the Western Wind,” Annie Gosfield transforms fragmentary elements of Debussy’s prelude “What the West Wind Saw,” adding electronic effects and field recordings from Hurricane Sandy, which hit New York soon after she had begun working on the piece. The set also includes gripping pieces from Matt Marks, Daniel Felsenfeld, Jacob Cooper, Randall Woolf, and Eric Kenneth Malcolm Clark, all performed beautifully by Supove. - Peter Margasak, Best of Bandcamp Contemporary Classical November 2016


Second Inversion

Debussy’s music has a certain effect on people—a quiet way of enveloping the listener in its chromatic waves and cloudy washes of color. It’s a captivation that is difficult to put into words exactly; it’s almost as though his music softens the surrounding world and transports its listener into a hazy memory.

New York-based pianist and performance artist Kathleen Supové explores our collective fascination with Debussy in her newest album, The Debussy Effect. No stranger to new music, Supové has carved out a name for herself in New York and far beyond as an artist who is continuously pushing the boundaries of creation, composition, and even costume in classical music.

Perhaps best known for her performing enterprise the Exploding Piano, Supové’s performances consistently feature cutting-edge new music paired with electronics, video, costumes and theatrical elements, visuals, speaking, and even choreography. The Debussy Effect, though perhaps more introspective and impressionistic in nature, boasts every bit as much personality.

For this two-disc album Supové enlisted the talents of six composers to create brand new works inspired by Debussy and written for solo piano or piano with electronics. The resulting music spans the gamut from Gamelan to ragtime, bowed piano to ambient atmospheres, musique concrète to sound paintings, a sprinkle of stride piano—and a whole lot of sparkling virtuosity.

The album opens with Joan La Barbara’s “Storefront Diva, A Dreamscape,” inspired not only by Debussy but also by journals of artist and sculptor Joseph Cornell. Scored for piano and sonic atmosphere, the piece unfolds like an oceanfront dream, the hazy piano melodies twinkling amidst a tangle of bells, breath, chirping birds, ocean waves, Tibetan cymbals, and surreal storm clouds. Short flurries of bowed and plucked piano string embellishments blend the raw timbres of the piano right into the natural world around it.

It’s followed by a more cinematic (but no less dreamlike) take on Debussy: Matt Marks’ “Dr. Gradus vs. Rev. Powell.” The piece is a duel, of sorts, between Debussy’s virtuosic “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” and the 1955 film noir The Night of the Hunter. Lofty piano melodies dance amidst patches of Debussy’s harmonies and time-stretched clips of Robert Mitchum with Lillian Gish singing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”

Eric Kenneth Malcolm Clark’s “Layerings 3” evokes the living, breathing nature of Debussy’s works: the piece layers a number of different recordings of Supové performing and interpreting the piece in full—and never the same way twice. When superimposed on one another, these distinctive recordings blend into an entire kaleidoscope of sound, the piano melodies ringing and reverberating in ever-changing harmonies and rhythmic textures.

Randall Woolf’s “What Remains of a Rembrandt” explores the elusiveness of Debussy’s music—the way it floats dreamily from one idea to the next, drawing from sources as wide-ranging as Indonesian Gamelan, early jazz, and in this case, ambient electronica. Supové’s nimble fingers dance up and down the piano keyboard in gorgeous washes of sound which valiantly defy all traditional Western notions of structure and musical form.

An electroacoustic storm gathers in Annie Gosfield’s four-movement “Shattered Apparitions of the Western Wind,” a piece which combines fragments of Debussy’s dramatic piano prelude “What the West Wind Saw” with musique concrète recordings of Hurricane Sandy, which struck New York while Gosfield was composing the work. The two sound sources are intertwined and electronically morphed, creating an eerie soundscape that oscillates between tumultuous winds and ghostly silences.

Daniel Felsenfeld’s “Cakewalking (Sorry Claude)” takes a more lighthearted approach: in three short movements he deconstructs Debussy’s famous Children’s Cornerclassic, “Golliwog’s Cakewalk,” and turns it into a brand new swirling, twirling jazz tune with cheeky references to the original. The album draws to a close with Jacob Cooper’s “La plus que plus que lente,” a twinkling dreamscape which incorporates time-stretched fragments of Debussy’s dazzling waltz “La plus que lente.” Supové’s fingers glide effortlessly across the densely textured piano melodies, each note sparkling like a star amidst a glittering night sky.

In fact, the whole album glistens. Supové brings personality, precision, charisma, and boundless creativity to each work, crafting a distinctly 21st century dialogue with the unforgettable work of Debussy. Equally at home in the soothing, calming color washes as she is amidst the stormy, chromatic chaos, Supové pays tribute to Impressionist master while also exploring the furthest reaches of his musical influence.

The effect Debussy has on listeners is difficult to describe—but this pianist just may have put her finger on it. - Maggie Molloy, Second Inversion, 11.21.2016



Kathleen Supové gave the seven composers whose works are featured on her double-CD release The Debussy Effect the best possible direction: “write something for solo piano (with or without electronics) based, in some way, on Debussy, and make a piece that would bring him into our century”—a brief that's ideal in providing a clear focus for the composer without imposing creative constraint upon the imaginative possibilities. Taking her direction to heart, the composers produced pieces for her that are respectful of Debussy but not overly reverential and irreverent but not disrespectful. Many works are distinguished by an appealing playfulness, with Matt Marks' Dr. Gradus vs. Rev. Powell and Daniel Felsenfeld's Cakewalking (Sorry Claude) offering inspired riffs on “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” and “Golliwog's Cakewalk” from Debussy's Children's Corner.

Inspiration for the project came from a couple of sources. When curating the NYC-based Music With a View series, she was struck by the fact that almost every composer interviewed at the event cited Debussy as an influence, no matter how different they were from one another; perhaps even more importantly, as she performed Morton Subotnick's work for solo piano and sound processing, The Other Piano, she found herself thinking that it sounded like something Debussy might have written were he alive today.

Supové's a theatrical performer, something clearly shown by a simple image search, yet while she is flamboyant, she's also one of America's most acclaimed pianists and a champion of contemporary composition (indicative of the regard with which she's held is Felsenfeld's comment that “with this piece I am proud to join the ranks of so many composers who have written pieces for Kathy, a hero of us all”). She's known for an annual series of solo concerts called The Exploding Piano that showcases her theatrical side in adding vocal performances, electronics, and performance art to the piano presentation. Certainly her future-thinking attitude regarding the keyboard's sound-generating potential is well-served by Joan LaBarbara's Storefront Diva: a dreamscape in the way it embeds the piano within a painterly soundscape. Featuring everything from storm sounds and Tibetan cymbals to bowed and plucked piano timbres, the sixteen-minute setting is an encompassing exploration that sees Supové fully embracing the experimental possibilities such material affords.

Electronics play a bold part in many other pieces, too. During Annie Gosfield's four-part electro-acoustic work, Shattered Apparitions of the Western Wind (inspired by Debussy's stormy prelude “What the West Wind Saw”), on-site recordings of Hurricane Sandy interweave with Supové's live playing, resulting in an oft-turbulent, violently churning swirl. For his haunting Dr. Gradus vs. Rev. Powell, Marks drew for inspiration not only from Debussy but the predatorial preacher played by Robert Mitchum in Charles Laughton's Night of the Hunter. In fashioning the material as an imaginary battle between the two, Marks juxtaposes elegant Debussy-esque pianisms and dream-like atmospheres sprinkled with the ghostly presence of Lillian Gish, who shields the children from the preacher's advances in the noir classic. For his What Remains of a Rembrandt, Randall Woolf poses an answer to the question “What does it mean to be like Debussy?” by blending into the classical realm associated with the composer elements of ambient, Gamelan, and stride piano, and by adopting an open-ended, intuitively driven approach to the work's structure.

Elsewhere, Eric Kenneth Malcolm Clark makes good on his Layerings 3 title by weaving multiple Supovés into an ever-tinkling colossus that alternately dazzles, shimmers, and blurs. Similarly dense is Jacob Cooper's La plus que plus que lente, whose endlessly rippling, ‘Continuous Music'-styled shimmer temporarily transforms Supov into Lubomyr Melnyk. Echoes of "Golliwog's Cakewalk" conspicuously surface within Felsenfeld's Cakewalking (Sorry Claude), even if, as the composer states, his deconstruction imagines “a 21st-Century Golliwog put through his peregrinations and paces, until he comes out, at the end, somewhat more enlightened.” Composition aside, one of the most pleasing things about the piece is that it presents the piano sans electronics and thus affords the listener a chance to hear Supové's playing in its purest form.

Though Supové's virtuosic command is evident throughout the ninety-seven-minute collection, her playing isn't marked by self-indulgent displays. Instead, she unwaveringly uses the piano as a means by which to realize a particular musical end in keeping with the composer's vision for the piece in question. For Supové, it's all about achieving the intended effect. -- Ron Schepper, November 2016


The Whole Note

A century ago we removed the boundaries that defined the general order of things in our world. Notions of social class, religious belief and art all flowed into a sea of mixing currents as we challenged ourselves to be comfortable with things much less clear than once had been. Composers, like painters, developed a powerful, post-Romantic language that guided the human experience of art beyond intellect and emotion and into something of an altered state. Less concerned with linear argument than impression, composers like Debussy mastered the vocabulary of other worlds and left us a creative legacy that has scarcely aged a day. So it seems natural that a contemporary musician like Kathleen Supové should commission a project from a group of seven 21st-century composers asking how the music of Claude Debussy has shaped their art, The Debussy Effect (New Focus Recordings FCR170).

Listening to these works in this context, they are all clearly tributes to the French impressionist, although some more tenuously than others. Still, there’s plenty of originality in this repertoire and Supové plays wonderfully, whether with or without electronic effects. Jacob Cooper’s La plus que plus que lent slows down Debussy’s waltz significantly as it plays with fragments of the original. Cakewalking (Sorry Claude) by Daniel Felsenfeld is especially creative in its unmistakable rhythms and occasional quotes from Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cakewalk.

The most effective work may well be Randall Woolf’s What Remains of a Rembrandt. Here the composer argues that the essence of Debussy is the element of mystery. Supové’s playing demonstrates a complete understanding of how Woolf sets out to render this element and achieves exactly what both he and Debussy would have intended.

The Debussy Effect is a bold and creative project that is as admirably clever as it is superbly performed. — Alex Baran, The Whole Note, 1.24.2017


New Music Buff

Increasingly it seems that new music performers take on a persona which includes a unique selection of repertoire and frequently a distinctive physical presence. Kathleen Supové is a fine example. Her distinctive physical appearance and attire becomes a metaphor for her very personal and intelligent choice of repertoire which sets her apart from her peers. In addition to unquestioned virtuosity and beautiful interpretive skills her persona takes on an adjectival quality which prompts this reviewer to ponder the “Supovian” experience.

I may live to regret that neologism but the present album is offered as exhibit one (of about 20 albums) attesting to the distinctive choices of music that characterize her work. This two disc album, The Debussy Effect, is a very modern homage (even sometimes with apologies) to the impressionist master. Twelve tracks on the two discs feature seven contemporary composers. Only three tracks are for solo piano. The rest involve electronic enhancements and or “soundtracks”.

Initially I had hoped to be able to say something useful (if not particularly insightful) to prospective listeners/buyers of this album about each of the pieces here but after several listens I can only reliably say that the material makes for a great and entertaining listening experience. It harbors complexities that cannot be fairly recounted in such a brief review. (And this reviewer has a limited knowledge of Debussy as well.)

Here are works by some of the finest of the New York “downtown” music traditions that reflect some amazing and very deep appreciations that will likely change the way you hear Debussy.

Here is the track list:

Disc One

1. Storefront Diva: a dreamscape by Joan La Barbara

2. Dr. Gradus vs. Rev. Powell by Matt Marks

3. Layerings 3 by Eric Kenneth Malcolm Clark

Disc Two

1-4. Shattered Apparitions of the Western Wind by Annie Gosfield

5-7. Cakewalking (Sorry Claude) by Daniel Felsenfeld

8. La plus que plus que lente by Jacob Cooper

All are engineered by the wonderful Sheldon Steiger for the New Focus recordings label.

So the take away here is as follows: If you are a Debussy fan you will want to hear this album. If you are a Kathleen Supové fan you will want to hear this album. It is the second reason the seems the most salient here. I expect to be listening to this many more times. Enjoy.

— Allan J. Cronin, New Music Buff, 6.19.2017

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