Director: Evans Chan
Year: 2004
Time: 63 mins
George Crumb
Margaret Leng Tan
Alex Nowitz
Eye of Sound: Perhaps downplaying their obvious esoteric dimension, Crumb once commented on his two Makrokosmos "books" as an attempt to survey and catalogue all playing techniques and possibilities for the piano. And while no single work can claim to exhaust possibilities in any given domain, Makrokosmos undoubtedly stands out as an impressive survey of the acoustic capabilities of the instrument and the myriad approaches a player can resort to when trying to go beyond conventional playing techniques. Crumb's most notorious compositional trait, his concern with timbral dynamics, is perhaps nowhere else as evident as here; by combining amplification and pedals, Makrokosmos ranges from the barely audible to the dangerously loud, perhaps evoking the creational dynamics implicit in its zodiac-like score design. This chromatic palette is widened by the introduction of foreign objects and the extension of the playing arena: metal chains, drum brushes, paper sheets or simple whistle blows are thrown into the piano to further expand and pervert the instrument's conventional possibilities. Margaret Tan, one of Cage's most renowned performers, delivers the piece with a combination of musical rigour and theatrical performance which seems appropriate for Crumb's choreographic leanings. Finally, Alex Nowitz's contribution is mostly centred on a powerful whistling technique. Despite its apparent freedom and de-structuredness, Makrokosmos is  a work of tight compositional design whose immense rigour surfaces only after repeated listenings, and the fact that Tan's performance is the only one that can boast of having been supervised by Crumb himself has lead critics to consider it  definitive. Otherworldly, radiating with vitality, at times nocturnal and quasi-lyrical, it is a tapestry of intricate modes and colours as diverse and contradictory as life itself.


  1. Terrific version of the Makrokosmos cycle. The whistler is also very nice.

  2. It is indeed a tremendous interpretation and it's fascinating to watch the musicians play.
    Avant-whistling is something to be explored.

  3. More on Alex Nowitz, the whistler:

  4. I am very happy to see this post on Alex and my performance of Crumb's magical Makrokosmos cycles. I would just like to mention that this first ever DVD recording of Crumb's music was released by Mode Records (Mode142) and the DVD also includes a conversation with Mr.Crumb.

    George Crumb also appears in Evans Chan's film, "Sorceress of the New Piano"also on Mode Records:

    Margaret Leng Tan

  5. Thank you very much for your visit, Miss Tan. It's always a pleasure to see the artists around here, especially when they are kind enough to give the blog some support (instead of complaining about copyright issues). It is really appreciated.

    I was considering the possibility of sharing your conversation as well, but decided it was best not to so that people who are interested can still go for the DVD.

    Thanks for the suggestion on "Sorceress of the New Piano". I'll try to get my hands on it.

    Thanks again for the visit and your kind comments.

  6. More George Crumb here: