As a MacDowell Fellow and Cultural Envoy for the US State Department, a Bachelor of astrophysics and a 30-year student of piano, Dan Tepfer has distinguished himself as “one of the moment's most adventurous and relevant musicians” (New York Magazine). In the eight years since his last full-length solo release, however, he’s composed – and coded – the future. Today, he announces the multimedia, multisensory album Natural Machines, out May 17th on Sunnyside Records.
Using Yamaha’s self-playing Disklavier piano as his only instrument, Natural Machines sets a new framework for how humans can make meaningful art by rethinking the boundaries between the mechanical and the natural, and how algorithms can help humans create something both intuitive and adherent to structure. The 11 songs, simultaneously written and recorded in single takes, are all products of Tepfer’s improvisations interacting with computer programs he’s invented. His algorithms process the music he sends them to instantly create counterparts, triggering the Disklavier’s keys to express them as sound.
Tepfer explains, “I’m not writing a piece as much as I’m writing the way the piece works. The music I love lives at the intersection of the algorithmic and the spiritual. It’s intuition working in tandem with structure. There’s a current of anti-intellectualism, anti-science — even anti-truth — running through the world today. Natural Machines kicks against that.”
The music is only half of it. Accompanying each performance are live visuals rendered by Tepfer’s playing in real time. The projections take the sonic data from the Disklavier to represent foundational aspects of each piece – pitch, dynamics, rhythm, harmony, and more – in both two dimensions and virtual reality.