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Listen to Three Hours of Music, From a Single Note

Mr. Lee said in an interview that in an early part of the work, “Establishing,” the piano’s middle D gave him “these two particular overtones that just dance back and forth,” creating “a wonderful little melody above the single strike of a note.” During the section’s higher D notes, Mr. Gibson’s electronic filters respond with a chirping realization of the overtones, evoking a maniacally picked string instrument.


R. Andrew Lee performing the world premiere of Mr. Gibson’s work in Boulder, Colo., in 2014.

Randy Gibson

Nearly midway through the work’s penultimate section — the hourlong “Roaring” — Mr. Lee’s journey to a low D results in one of the piano’s most dramatic interactions with the electronic setup. With Mr. Gibson’s laptop producing sampled callbacks to frequencies highlighted earlier in the performance, Mr. Lee’s move to this particular D reveals one of the work’s most arresting — and, yes, roaring — overtone clouds.

“I never wanted it to feel like ‘an electronic element,’” Mr. Gibson said in an interview, referring to his acoustic-meets-digital design. “Just more like an extension of the piano.”

Raised in Boulder, Colo. (he writes on his website of “traveling into the high mountains to look at the stars and the Milky Way and meditate on the expanses of life”), Mr. Gibson spent two weeks in an undergraduate music program there before realizing he wanted to pursue a less traditional educational path. He moved to New York in 2001 and since 2003 has studied with the composer La Monte Young, one of the founders of Minimalism, and the visual artist and musician Marian Zazeela. Whether acoustic or electronic in nature, Mr. Young’s compositions often employ unconventional “just intonation” tunings and extended durations. Like Mr. Young and Ms. Zazeela’s collaborative installations, Mr. Gibson’s live performances tend to involve dreamy, meditative visual accompaniment.

Reviewing a 2015 performance of a three-and-a-quarter-hour Gibson drone epic for The New York Times, Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim noted his debt to Mr. Young, as well as his ability to create a mighty effect out of the simplest materials. A cello’s switch from single notes to a double-stopped fifth, she wrote, “registered as a gesture of monumental significance.”

Mr. Gibson and “The Four Pillars” don’t require a piano; his use of electronic filters has allowed him to produce his preferred tonal relationships using other instruments, too. At a recent concert at the Wild Project in Manhattan, the percussion trio Tigue used the “Four Pillars” tuning, playing tam-tam gongs that were hooked up to Mr. Gibson’s electronic design. Amy Garapic, a member of the ensemble, said in an interview that reading the work’s instructions on the page was one thing, and realizing its goals in a live setting was something else entirely.

“Being able to hear the filters and the tones coming out definitely requires a different kind of deep listening than I think any of us had done in the past,” she said, “which was a really unique, challenging and exciting experience.”

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