Long Night   CB0019

The music

Long Night is exquisitely drifting, ever-unfolding music for three pianos that sometimes play independently and at other times in synchronization with one another. Gann calls this “the most successful piece from my early, Brian-Eno-influenced, ambient period, a variable-length piece for three nonsynchronized pianos at different tempos.”

For this recording, all three piano parts were recorded by Sarah Cahill.

The composer writes about the piece:

“I wrote Long Night very much under the influence of the philosopher Martin Heidegger, impressed particularly by his phenomenology of moods and his disavowal of personality as a unified, linear consciousness. I wanted a piece that was a series of moods, connected neither linearly nor abruptly, but in overlapping discontinuity; and a unity that was not felt moment to moment, but that would leap out in unpredictable motives and reminiscences. These were the days, you know, when ambient music was still soft and unobtrusive. Each piano part is constructed in repeating loops, whose lengths can usually be altered at will by the pianists, and the relationship between the pianos is unsynchronized and aleatory – which is why, for a recording, only one pianist is necessary. Part of the discontinuity is that the first four sections are in C, the fifth in A, and the last two in C#. I first performed the piece with friends at Northwestern University, and it was later (last, in fact) played at New Music American 1982 in Chicago.” 

The composer

Kyle Gann is a highly regarded composer, author, and noted critic who has written about new music for the Village Voice since 1986. Gann’s music, viewed as a whole over the past 20 years, might be described as post-minimalist or maximalist or perhaps even idiosyncratic/iconoclastic. Whatever label one may attach to it, it is usually complex, beautiful, moving, and highly unusual. Exploratory in its thrust, it is richly informed by the American experimental music tradition—Ives, Cowell, Nancarrow, Partch, Glass, and others.

Gann’s music has been performed at the Bang on a Can, New Music America, Spoleto festivals, and many similar venues. Recordings of his music have been released by the New World, MicroFest, Monroe Street, New Albion, New Tone, and Lovely Music labels.

Gann is an exceptionally prolific writer who has penned more than 2,000 articles for 40 publications and is a frequent contributor to Chamber Music magazine and the New York Times. He is the recipient of an ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award and a Stagebill Award for music criticism. Gann is the author of a nuber of books, including American Music in the 20th Century (Schirmer Books), The Music of Conlon Nancarrow (Cambridge University Press), and Music Downtown, a collection of his Village Voice articles (University of California Press), Charles Ives’s Concord: Essays After a Sonata (University of Illinois Press), and Robert Ashley (University of Illinois Press). He also writes Minnesota Public Radio’s Peabody Award-winning radio show The American Mavericks. In 2003, the American Music Center awarded Gann its Letter of Distinction.

The performer

Sarah Cahill specializes in American new music and music from the American experimental tradition. Composers who have dedicated works to her include John Adams, Evan Ziporyn, Larry Polansky, and “Blue” Gene Tyranny. She has premiered pieces by Lou Harrison, Terry Riley, Pauline Oliveros, Julia Wolfe, Ingram Marshall, Ursula Mamlok, George Lewis, Leo Ornstein, and many others. Cahill’s recitals have been broadcast on radio throughout the U.S. They have also been heard around the globe as part of WGBH’s Art of the States radio program. Recent concert appearances include recitals at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., the Other Minds festival in San Francisco, and at the Solo Flights Pianorama! Festival at the Lincoln Center. Cahill’s recordings of works by Henry Cowell, Ruth Crawford (“There could be no more intoxicating introduction to Crawford’s music than this superb recording.” —Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle), Johanna Beyer, and Maurice Ravel are on the New Albion label. She has also recorded George Lewis’ Endless Shout for the Tzadik label and Ursula Mamlok’s Three Bagatelles for CRI. For Cold Blue Music she recorded Peter Garland’s After the Wars (CB0044) and a short piece by Read Miller on Cold Blue Two (CB0036). Cahill is a host of the weekly music program Then & Now on KALW in San Francisco, and has written about music for a variety of publications.

“If I had my way, Sarah Cahill would be declared a public treasure and forbidden to ever leave the city limits.” —Berkeley Voice

“Ms. Cahill played all the music with an illuminating clarity” —Allan Kozinn, New York Times

“[Cahill] played with a virtuosity that demonstrated Cowell’s precise command of his peculiar art.” —The New Yorker

“One will not soon forget Cahill’s delicate performance of [Cowell’s] The Fairy Answer“—Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times

“That Cowell’s experiments with piano tone clusters…were not just gimmicks was abundantly clear from Sarah Cahill’s exhilarating performance” —New York Times

“Her examinations had volatility, conviction and a kind of restless originality that served [Debussy’s] ‘Pour le piano’ surprisingly well.” —Washington Post


“In one 25-minute exhalation, Long Night never strays very far from its quiet, resigned opening. As it progresses, single notes gather together and build into entrancing patterns. Brief lines begin only to be folded into others, then reappear on another of the three pianos. Many of these phrases bounce slowly from piano to piano, slightly out of synch with each other and overlapping like little, cushioned waves. Even when he starts up a section with more of a pulse it’s way over on the subtle side. By the end, all of these slow-moving lines are crossing over, above and around each other, making a soothing mix. Bay-Area pianist and new-music heroine Sarah Cahill gives a thoughtful reading to the piece, never hurrying, always relaxed and placing the notes into the air ever so slightly, often sounding like she’s off in Keith Jarrett-improvisation-land. The gorgeous sonics make clear which piano she’s playing, and if this is a long night, let it go on and on.” —Marc Geelhoed, Time Out Chicago

“Composed in 1980-81, Long Night was intended to evoke Martin Heidegger’s phenomenology of mood swings. Three unsynchronized piano lines flow parallel through sections of indeterminate length, overlapping like ripples from raindrops splashing into a pond in slow motion. Structurally, the 25-minute piece suggests Brian Eno’s ambient loops rustled by unpredictable breezes; sonically, it recalls pianist-composer Harold Budd’s limpid reveries. New-music champion Sarah Cahill plays all three parts on this economical CD single, heightening the music’s gentle equanimity.” — Steve Smith, Time Out New York

“Best Albums of 2005…. The composer-turned-critic dusts off a minimalist piano sketch from his apparently not-so-misspent youth.” —K. Leander Williams, Time Out New York

“Pianist Susan Cahill performs the three looping parts of the drifting, 25-minute Long Night (for three pianos) by composer, author, and critic Kyle Gann with elegance and control. Ruminative and impressionistic, the pianos sometimes play independently and at other times synchronize with one another. Heavily influenced during the compositional process by German philosopher Martin Heidegger, specifically his rejection of the idea of personality as a unified, linear consciousness, Gann’s work likewise presents a series of moods in ‘overlapping discontinuity.’ Occasionally the pianos cluster into dense pools while at other times singular lines briefly rise to the surface.” Ron Schepper, Signal to Noise (summer ’05) Textura (May ‘05)

“It’s a beautiful and original piece, with ‘family’ links to such composers as Harry Partch, Henry Cowell, Conlon Nancarrow, and John Cage, and with allusions to ‘nature’ and the ‘East’. Over long pedals, it begins rather like an alap section of a classical Indian raga: slowly, tentatively, without metre, outlining certain characteristic notes and motifs. Gradually the piece develops more definition and a freewheeling sense of momentum, to set up a delicate skein of tiny, luminous melodic phrases that recur continuously and weave paths through different registers and different pianos. These phrases eventually change or give way to others—but the stylistic principles, and hence the broad identity of the piece, remain the same. Since the relationship between its instruments is asynchronous and aleatory, this meditative work often sounds almost like a pianistic version of an ensemble of wind chimes.” —Christopher Ballantine, International Record Review

“The musical ideas are tonal, tranquil, hauntingly lovely…a drifting, dreamlike, ever-changing sea of notes that still somehow maintains its lilting pulse; out of it, salient ideas emerge once in a while to be echoed and extended, then sink back into the ambient sonic ocean. The composer has written that his intention was to convey the unpredictable flow of perception and reminiscence in human consciousness, and the listener can easily hear this in the piece. But there’s something else, too—an elegiac quality, a sense of infinite mystery and womblike darkness—that makes us think of the ‘long night’ whence we came and whither we must all return.…The music is beautifully played and recorded with stunning realism. I’ve seldom if ever heard a piano sound richer or more sensuous.” —American Record Guide

“I like Long Night, a 25-minute piece for three pianos whose mobile layers and loose, undulating lines suggest a half-dozen CDs of Erik Satie’s melancholy Trois Gymnopédies dissected and layered in ProTools.” —Christopher DeLaurenti, The Stranger (Seattle)

“The piece has a rippling quality, like soft light illuminating a quiet room off an antique mirror, on a cloudy afternoon just before Easter, on the way down stream to later. Ambient without being minimal, classical without the powdered wig and contemporary without being electronic.” —David Beardsley, Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter

“I played this piece maybe five times in a row last evening. Every time when it was over, I turned it back on…the gentle sounds just filled the early evening beautifully. The sun was disappearing and the night was slowly coming, with a nice spring air filling and mixing the room with this music.” —Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly (The Netherlands)

“Written in 1980-81, Long Night owes something to the quiet ambient music compositions of Brian Eno and others, but Gann’s music never allows the listener to be lulled into complacency. As the three independent layers of music in Long Night rub up against each other, sometimes smoothly and at other times abrasively—heat and light of various intensities are produced; it is not merely pretty. The music never takes the listener quite where he or she expects it to.” —Raymond Tuttle, Classical.Net

“Gann is an aficionado of Nancarrow, and Long Night‘s multi-tracked pianos—though mostly gentle—might recall the keyboard-based process forms of the American-Mexican maverick.” —Arved Ashby, Gramophone

“The bard of bloggers (get it?) serves up this half-hour post-minimal opus for three pianos. Gann’s piece is hip in a lonely, meandering-through-city-streets kind of way. It’s not all atmosphere though: throughout the work I was convinced I was hearing melodies, yet, when I tried to fix my ear on them, they kept slipping through my hearing like water through my hands. In other words, Long Night is subtle work, even if it’s a bit Zen for my taste.” —Sequenza21

“Pianist Sarah Cahill creates a mood that is at once calming and unnerving. There are a lot of minute nuances flying in this music. The piano work is superbly underplayed. Even when the ambience seems to be delicate on the first listen, that’s only an illusion. There is depth and gorgeous hidden treasures…each piano is heard in crystalline fashion. The repetitiveness of the piece itself is hauntingly mesmerizing and draws you in immediately.” —Tom Sekowski, Gaz-Eta (Poland)

“The music is of a soft character…melodic atmospheres that come and go…. The work maintains a certain melancholy air, perhaps hinted at by the slow cadence of the music.” —Amazing Sounds (Spain)

Long Night is a long-form (maxi-EP) composition.. performed by pianist Sarah Cahill…. Throughout the piece’s twenty-five minutes, Cahill can be heard solo, as a duet, or even as three pianos, playing either in harmony or following three different musical threads, as it were. The music itself is quiet, minimal (for the most part) and deeply introspective…. The emphasis here is not on recognizable refrains or even particularly overt melodies, but more on tone, nuance, and notes strewn together to yield evocative snap shots of emotions, usually the more somber ones…. Cahill’s talent and technique brings beauty to every piano key played as she gently wrings emotional resonance from both the most minimal passages as well as the multi-tracked trio sections. Long Night is not particularly sad or dark, yet it’s not happy, joyful, or bright either. On the other hand, it is not overly abstract, distant, cold, or concerned with itself. I heard a distinct human connectedness between music and performer at almost all times (admittedly, some of the more adventurous passages lean more toward the intellectual than the soulful). Mostly, Long Night felt like the soundtrack to late urban nights, looking out over the city below as lights wink on and off in buildings across the landscape…. I solidly recommend it to fans who seek a piano album that avoids both the sterility of some more overt ambient works yet rejects the avant-garde stylings that alienate lovers of melody and structure.” —Wind and Wire

“Pianist Sarah Cahill plays all the three different overlapping manual loops that form the tranquilizing architecture of Kyle Gann’s Long Night.… Casual intersections of modulating chords…the Satiesque peacefulness of Cahill’s keyboard painting, with its beautiful natural resonance.… The thin air moves in and around this mature evocation of events definitively entrapped in a past from which they can no longer return; just being able to have a peek at them through this ancient looking glass brings long nights of aural fascination.”— Massimo Ricci, Paris Transatlantic

“Very ‘discreet’ music, with clusters of notes and recurring patterns layering and going adrift—much as when you try to remember a beautiful and long-lost melody, its contours and details blurred and faded.” —Eugenio Maggi, Chain D.L.K. (Italy)

“The performance is remarkably introspective and ruminative. Cahill’s gorgeous playing fully illuminates the exquisite clarity of Gann’s inward journey.” — Jason Victor Serinus, Common Ground magazine

Long Night is a slowly building and hypnotically churning work 25 minutes in length. There is no melody, per se, but within quasi-improvisational playing, a motif reoccurs. It is developed obsessively, fractured and recombined, like troubled thoughts keeping a heavy conscience up at night. The perpetual bubbliness of the accompanying texture is attractive in its own right. Layer upon layer of chords and notes gravitate diatonically, but not tonally, to each other.” —Andrew Druckenbrod, Albuquerque Tribune

“The Cold Blue series of CDs gives us access to many interesting works in an ambient, ‘radical tonality’ soundscape zone. Today, one in their singles series, a 25-minute piece for three pianos by Kyle Gann. Long Night (Cold Blue 0019) features the totally appropriate playing of Sarah Cahill, who overdubs all three parts. The music is a slowly unfolding, minor diatonic sonic map. It is as if you are traversing a landscape dotted with multiple features, each feature a note series. The three piano interplay has a post Satie-esque gentleness. At first a very slow ostinato pattern underpins the diatonic melodic simultaneity and it reminds in some ways like the slowly random dripping of rain from a roof after a storm. The ostinato has slow tempo regularity and the melodic figures occurring on top are nicely random in terms of periodicity. The ostinato and its recurrence has a quasi-drone way about it that gives this music an almost Indian classical quality, like the slow alap section of a raga only less purposive. From the initial ostinato comes new figures that play against the raindrop melodics. But it all flows together as a processual experience with a singleness of musical personality. The sound is somehow like something out of nature, random seeming yet saying in the realm of the minor diatonic tonality consistently. Then, towards the middle, the key shifts and with it the melodic figures become more dense. It changes the music up nicely and allows our ears a refreshment that moves things forward…. Long Night opens up an ambient world that one can inhabit frequently as a place to repose, perhaps meditate on life. Well done.”—Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

“Although it certainly does have a beginning and an end, it seems to be a composition without either, more or less existing in cyclical free space, sometimes converging into a unified direction, other times scattered in many. Through it all, many moods are traversed in something of a free-floating dreamworld of twinkling tonal color, the three piano parts often coming together into leading and support roles to create defined melodies or, just as often, forging outward into their own separate direction. Haunting and transcendentally beautiful.” —Peter Thelan, Exposé magazine

“Ah, music that makes us think.” —Gordon Rumson, Music & Vision