Listen: This Pianist Plays Just One Note For Three Hours On His New Disc

November 3, 2017
Photo: R. Andrew Lee, pianist 2017
Pianist R. Andrew Lee is a leading performer of minimalist music -- pieces built on space and repetition.

Pianist R. Andrew Lee often plays just a few notes over long stretches of time.  

Lee specializes in music by minimalist composers. The music is built on space and repetition. On his latest disc, Lee plays just seven of the piano's 88 keys,  each a D note in different octaves, for over three and a half hours. 

The piece, composed by Boulder native Randy Gibson, has a lengthy name: “The Four Pillars Appearing from The Equal D under Resonating Apparitions of The Eternal Process in The Midwinter Starfield 16 VIII 10 (Kansas City).”

If that sounds dull on paper, it’s hypnotic for the listener. The tones and textures in Lee’s sparse playing evolve gradually -- and sometimes surprisingly.

The new disc earned positive reviews from the New York Times: "Listeners with the patience for slowly unfolding drones will detect significant changes in texture over the sprawling duration of Mr. Lee’s recorded performance. Both long tones and shorter attacks weave around the steady insistence of his acoustic piano playing — and your sense of where the performer ends and the laptop assistance begins grows pleasingly obscured."

In concert, Lee performs the piece as a duet with Gibson, who feeds the piano notes into a laptop and manipulates the sound electronically.

Lee, who teaches at Regis University in Denver and performs minimalist music in concerts around the U.S. and Europe, talked with Colorado Matters host Nathan Heffel.  

  • Check out our 2014 interview with Lee for more on how he discovered minimalist music and became one of the leading musicians in the niche genre.
  • Check out Lee’s Invisible Rail series, a set of contemporary music concerts he curates and streams online, and more of his recordings of work by minimalist composers.