Point Conception   CB0028

The music

Point Conception is Lentz’s wild nine-piano tribute to the octave. It amasses and bubbles over with incessant streams of octaves (harmonic and melodic) that run the length of the keyboard. Through a “cascading echo system,” long-time Lentz Ensemble pianist Arlene Dunlap performs all of its parts.

Presented with Point Conception (which was originally issued as a Cold Blue LP in the mid-80s) is Lentz’s previously unrecorded NightBreaker, a kaleidoscopic and explosive tour de force for four pianos. An exciting roller-coaster of a work, it ambles, jumps, careens, pauses, and flings itself forward. Through overdubbing, noted Los Angeles pianist Bryon Pezzone performs all of NightBreaker‘s parts.

Both pieces revel in and comment on the conventions of late-19th-century harmony and harmonic motion.

“Lentz has devised a unique bit of piano literature. It simultaneously glorifies the acoustical grandeur of the grand piano and regales its legacy with technology and sly insouciance. Point Conception is Lentz’s backhanded answer to the cool purr of ambient piano music. Such is the typical Lentz reply; tossing knuckleballs into extant musical traditions, but doing so with disarming grace.”Los Angeles Reader

The composer

Daniel Lentz’s works have been commissioned and performed by noted ensembles and soloists around the world, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, Zeitgeist, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. A prolific composer whose music is often characterized by intricate musical processes, a bit of theater, and an interest in the human voice, Lentz has written large- and small-scale works for most common instrumental combinations, many unique ones, and the many ensembles (usually consisting of multiple keyboards, singers, and electronics) with which he has toured his music throughout the U.S., Europe, and Japan since the early 1970s. Lentz has been the recipient of many awards and grants, including five grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. Video presentations of his work have been seen on Alive From Off Center (PBS), the Preview Pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver, BC, NHK-TV in Japan, NOS-TV in Holland, BBC-TV in England, West German Television, Czech Television, and many local television stations in the U.S. and abroad. Recordings of his music have been released on the New Albion, Angel/EMI, Cold Blue, Fontec, Aoede, Les Disques du Crepuscule, Gyroscope/Caroline, Icon, Materiali Sonori, and ABC labels.

“When it comes to attempts at musical seduction, Daniel Lentz’s music is way out in front.” —Kyle Gann, Village Voice

“By intriguing his listeners at the same time he wreathes them in smiles, Lentz always comes up with something listenable and worthwhile.” — Arved Ashby, Gramophone

“Lentz’s music inhabits what he terms a musical ‘state of becoming,’ where both new and reappearing musical and textual fragments are fused through complex layering processes. However, the real basis of his seductive music may be the dreamy impressionism of Debussy and the lyrical voice and keyboard interaction of Schubert’s lieder.” — John Schaefer, WNYC, New Sounds

“I have heard the music for the new millennium, and it’s Daniel Lentz’s.” —Harold Budd

“Lentz’s works, in their spirited interaction between human performers and products of technology, reaffirm that today, as always in the past, man and machine can make vital music together.” —H. Wiley Hitchcock, Music in the United States, 3rd Ed.

[Read Mouth magazine’s 2014 interview with Lentz]

The performers

Arlene Dunlap has been a member of various performance ensembles organized by Daniel Lentz since the early 1970s. As pianist and multi-keyboard performer, vocalist, and conductor, she has recorded Lentz’s music for seven albums and has appeared as soloist in U.S. and European tours of his music. Music has been written specifically for her by Daniel Lentz, Harold Budd, Garry Eister, Jim Fox, Michael John Fink, Steve Dickman, and others. She has presented performances at The Kitchen, P.S.1, Experimental Intermedia Foundation, New Music America, Acadamie der Kunst, Cafe Einstein, National Gallery (Berlin), Belgium Radio and Television, Radio France. Arlene Dunlap can also be heard performing Lentz’s music on The Complete 10-Inch Series from Cold Blue (CB0014) and On the Leopard Altar (CB0022). When not performing, she composes music for film, video, and dance.

Bryan Pezzone is a Los Angeles pianist who specializes in contemporary music and film and television soundtracks. He has worked with many noted conductors—Pierre Boulez, Oliver Knussen, John Adams, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Kent Nagano—and performed as a soloist with major orchestras. From 1991 through 1999, he was principal pianist with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. He performs regularly at the Monday Evening Concerts, the Green Umbrella Series, the Southwest Chamber Music Series, and the Ojai Festival and has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, the Joffrey Ballet (soloist in Stravinsky’s Les Noces), and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Pezzone has been the pianist on virtually all of the cartoons released by Warner Brothers and Disney over the past eight years. He is also responsible for recording much of Yamaha’s Disklavier Piano Series. He is a consulting editor for the publication Piano and Keyboard. His recent recordings include works by Steve Reich (Daniel Variations, You Are Variations), Mel Powell, John Briggs, and John Cage. He is heard on seven Cold Blue CDs, performing music by Daniel Lentz, John Luther Adams, Michael Jon Fink, and Jim Fox. He has also performed on CDs from Nonesuch, Eroica, Delos, Albany, New World, Mode, Varese Sarabande, RCA, Decca, and many other labels.


“Two absolutely gorgeous works for overdubbed acoustic pianos—one with four instruments and one with nine.”Electronic Musician magazine

“Daniel Lentz was particularly active and visible in the 1970s and 1980s, as one of the leading California composers of a Minimalist stamp. If Ingram Marshall was the moody, soulful voice of the Bay Area, with its fogs and mists, Lentz (b. 1942) was the L.A. freeway on overdrive: bright, edgy, poppy sounds and rhythms hammered about by mostly electronic keyboards. The music, with its sudden (and often) changes of harmony, felt like a sort of cubistic Minimalism. And its sound was unforgettable.… Point Conception…is a piece for nine pianos…. What makes the piece quite ingenious is that each part plays nothing but octaves, often focused on one pitch. But when combined together, like the dots of a pointillist painting, the result can be dazzling. Aside from the technical trick, this is powerful stuff. The music clocks in at about 37 minutes, and it never lets up. There’s a sense that at each plateau, which could be an ending, the piece picks itself up, takes a breath, and then leaps to a greater height. Its energy and interest never flag.… Nightbreaker is from 1990. It’s a quarter the length of Point Conception, and it starts off as much more languid and jazzy. It picks up the pace, though, to reach a certain frenzy by the end.… It’s appealing; but it pales somewhat in comparison to its big brother.… Point Conception was released by Cold Blue on an LP about two decades ago, and its return in the remastered version is most welcome. Nightbreaker is a premiere recording. Both pieces help to round out our sense of a somewhat mysterious voice in the American progressive music tradition.” —Robert Carl, Fanfare magazine

“First released on LP by Cold Blue Music in 1984, Point Conception was reissued by that same label 25 years later with one extra piece. It is one of Daniel Lentz’s most mesmerizing and endearing works. The original LP consisted of a single track, the 36-minute Point Conception for nine pianos, composed in 1979 and recorded in 1984. (It was presented in two parts on the original LP, reunited into one unbroken track on the CD.) The nine piano parts are set in cannon form, which allows Arlene Dunlap to perform all the parts on her own, with the help of a “cascading echo system.” Each part consists only of octave figures that are introduced by the first piano, then repeated by the next one, and so on. However limited the building blocks, however repetitive the structure, Point Conception grabs you and never lets go. It has the fascinating quality of Terry Riley’s best works, and that peculiar “avant-garde-but-oh-so-easy-to-enjoy” feel one consistently finds in Cold Blue’s catalog. The octaves gallop around your head, and every move from low to high register or from fortissimo to pianissimo goes through a mellowing transitional phase, as every piano “catches up” in turn, a compositional artifact Lentz puts to great use. For the CD reissue, Cold Blue has added a ten-minute piece composed in 1990, NightBreaker for four pianos, but recorded for the first time only in 2008, by Bryan Pezzone. Here, the music is more harmonically complex, as the four piano parts complement—instead of simply echoing—each other. More romantic and a bit more brooding, with a thundering Brahms-esque section toward the end, the piece offers an interesting listen.” —François Couture, All-Music Guide

“Daniel Lentz was one of the most intriguing young composers to emerge on the California New Music scene in the last quarter of the twentieth century, although he has lived in the Arizona desert since the early ’90s. (His has always shown a sensitivity to landscape, and his music underwent a stylistic shift after his move.) Lentz’s 1979 Point Conception graphically and creatively evokes the turbulent waters surrounding Point Conception, a crescent-shaped headland on the California coast that marks the geological and climatic divide between Southern and Central California, which is notable for its unusually tumultuous waves. Lentz uses the simplest of conceptual means: the piece is scored for nine pianos, and each piano plays only ascending and descending octaves. It’s not a process-generated piece, though; Lentz’s development of his material is largely intuitive and has the characteristic exuberance of many of his California works. The accumulating layers add timbral, harmonic, and rhythmic complexity and create a wonderfully churning, whirling, oceanic soundscape that occasionally calls La Mer to mind. Listeners’ reactions to the piece will probably hinge on their appreciation of early post-minimalism; Lentz’s voice is his own, but Point Conception is clearly sonically related to trends of the era, and to John Adams’s far gentler and less unpredictable Phrygian Gates and China Gates. Arlene Dunlap plays all the overdubbed piano parts with appropriately feral abandon. NightBreaker, from 1990, uses only four pianos and is much freer, more emotionally mercurial, and more stylistically eclectic, but like the earlier work, it puts the composer’s rhapsodic extroversion on full display, and Bryan Pezzone plays all the piano parts beautifully. The engineering in both pieces creates a vivid sense of separation between the pianos.” —Stephen Eddins, All-Music Guide

Point Conception…starts off transparently, as if thinking about Terry Riley’s In C, but the harmonic and rhythmic textures soon thicken. The mood is inexplicably heroic. As a result, Point Conception sounds like Conlon Nancarrow rewriting the last movement of John Adams’s Grand Pianola Music… and that’s OK!… Following 36 minutes of ‘chortling’ octaves (that adjective comes up more than once in descriptions of Lentz’s music), NightBreaker (1990) almost sounds like a titbit by Ravel…. Limiting itself to four pianos, NightBreaker is 75 per cent shorter than its disc-mate, but it includes 400 per cent more information, now that the embargo on anything but octaves has been lifted. That doesn’t mean that NightBreaker is better than Point Conception, just that it is more sensuous, and that there’s more of it crammed into a smaller space…. The words ‘relentlessly pretty’ apply to both works. That’s OK too!” —Raymond S. Tuttle, Int’l Record Review

“Daniel Lentz’s Point Conception is realized in a bravura thirty-seven-minute performance by Arlene Dunlap. Composed in 1979 and recorded and released on Cold Blue five years later, the piece is scored for nine pianos, with each part—using a ‘cascading echo system,’ Dunlap performs all nine—consisting only of individual octave figures, both harmonic and melodic. Those figures are introduced by the first piano, and the remaining eight pianos follow in ‘loose canon configurations.’ Incessant showers of notes and patterns dance throughout, with billowing sprinkles in the upper register counterbalanced by rippling clusters in the lower. Despite being the product of a single instrument, Point Conception generates a kaleidoscopic effect, with the stately lockstep of the ivory army—all 792 keys of it—kept in remarkably tight formation by Dunlap throughout. There’s a grandeur to its shimmering sparkle that might remind some listeners of John Adams’ Grand Pianola Music (even if Adams’ two pianos are no match for Lentz’s nine) and a strong kinetic motion that makes its thirty seven minutes transpire quickly. That Dunlap’s performance is so commanding doesn’t wholly surprise, given that she’s been a member of various Lentz ensembles since the early ‘70s and has recorded his music for seven albums. For this CD re-issue, the 1984 recording of Point Conception is joined by a 2008 recording of the previously unrecorded 1990 composition NightBreaker. Scored for four pianos, the ten-minute piece was performed by Los Angeles pianist Bryon Pezzone using overdubbing. Lyrical and ruminative at one moment, lunging forward in dazzling cascades and sweeping glissandi the next, NightBreaker is a compact tour-de-force that showcases Lentz’s powers of invention and command of dynamics as much as it does Pezzone’s jaw-dropping performance.” —Textura

“American composer Daniel Lentz is fond of at least two things: the piano—his tool of choice—and expanding instrumental possibilities through multiplication. These two items form the very essence of Point Conception.… Point Conception explores the sumptuous aspect of the octave, immersing the listener in a torrent of notes organized around driving melodic phrases that are piled over one another through refined repetition and superimposition processes. Written as a canon for nine pianos, the 36-minute work is entirely performed by Arlene Dunlap using a ‘cascading echo system’ that must be some kind of real-time multitracking. One can only acknowledge the great clarity in writing and execution, the obvious mastery of tempo, and the ability to make musical structures constantly evolve with perfect fluidity.” —Jean-Claude Gevrey, Octopus (France)

“The music is highly dramatic, emotional despite its intellectual character.… The notes cascade with a spry delivery, accumulating to express an intricate composition that persists in expanding and seeking thrilling new variations.… The second piece (Nightbreaker)…is more sober and pensive, reflective…. The mood may be nocturnal, but it is hardly dark.” —Matt Howarth, Sonic Curiosity

Point Conception is quintessentially accretive music in the number of instruments and notes played, all clockwork jumping octaves and weaving melodic fragments, continuing to pile up across its 36 minutes, finally achieving a density that remains just this side of calamitous. NightBreaker is the same, but rather than stacked, the fragments are set end to end, creating a staggering sense of alternating between marching and swimming.” —K. Leimer, Exposé

Point Conception…might be thought of as an example of maximalist minimalism; an intoxicating construction built out of layer upon layer of lines awash in octaves. The piece might not feature the insistent plinking associated with minimalism, but the repetition, accretion, and subtle shifting that are emblematic of the style are strongly in evidence. On this recording, Arlene Dunlap is the sole pianist: she’s been overdubbed again and again to create a dynamic tower of sound. The album’s other track, the previously unrecorded NightBreaker (for four pianos) is performed by pianist Bryan Pezzone. When I played the piece in the store where I work, a customer asked if the music was by Scriabin. Fair enough, it has some of the wild and wooly quality of the Russian composer’s pianistic flights. Here it’s clear that Lentz has moved beyond minimalism as he reworks the great 19th-century piano tradition in unusual ways.” —Fred Cisterna, Signal to Noise magazine

“Using the whole potential of the piano, the composer constructs daring sound structures…a varied narrative tapestry, at times hypnotic, calm, at other times frantic.”Amazing Sounds (Spain)

“Lentz will be known by many as one of the best of the second wave of minimalists. He comes through with flying colors on this one. The title work [Point Conception] (1979) is the main event, with Arlene Dunlap realizing the nine piano parts. Each part calls for octave figures, which when played together gives you a kind of canonic sonics that has the flamboyance of a romantic piano concerto cadenza fragment as viewed under an aural microscope, evolving into masses of modulating, harmonically shifting clusters of sound that convey a kind of elation, and more a feeling of constant motion than repetition. The work builds to a rousing climax and one is left with a feeling of satisfaction at the originality, the flow of the work, the excitement generated…. Nightbreaker (1990) follows, a shorter work for four pianos realized by Bryan Pezzone. It combines octaves, arpeggiations and cascading figures that modulate fairly rapidly. There are contrasting punctuation sections that break the flow and give you pause. It is a work of brightness and waterfall-like expressiveness…. That in essence is what Point Conception holds in store for you. It is music to stimulate and delight. There are spectacular sonics to be heard here—a kind of multi-piano emblazonment, a heaven of keys and emboldened sounds. It will appeal to those who love the piano and seek something different. It will appeal to those who want a break from their usual fare. Recommended!” —Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review