Study:  Daphne May - Permutations

Study: Daphne May - Permutations

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From 500 Albums You Should Avoid, If At All Possible (Polyhedron Press, 1989):

No. 273:  Permutations (Daphne May, 1980).  What happened to Daphne May?  A teenage prodigy, pianist May was a promising soloist in the classical repertoire, most notably with the Philadelphia Orchestra (she was particularly renowned for her interpretations of Rachmaninoff’s études).  However, in 1975, following ingestion of what has been described as “bad kefir,” a switch was thrown.  She all but abandoned classical music, gravitating toward the avant-garde, conceptual and minimalist strains of piano that had been percolating for almost two decades.   After two years of intense study and reflection, she felt ready to compose her own masterwork.  The result, Permutations, is barely listenable in its math-based construct.  In part, this is due to the grating clash resulting from the too-repetitive stabs of her partner-in-crime, cellist Anders Mertens, and May’s apparent insistence on playing as little as possible.  For example, the side-one closer “3:14, Prime 3X (B♭m)” apparently resulted from May deciding to play the same chord at predetermined intervals based on the product of the first 20 prime numbers times three (as measured in seconds).  Huh?  While the initial 30 seconds shows promise—and the duo’s timekeeping is uncanny—three-plus minutes is simply too much.  (Rumor has it that May initially wanted to completely fill an entire side of the album with the piece—all the way up to prime 211.  But on the one 22-minute studio take, Mertens struggled through a debilitating hand cramp and May fell asleep between chords with a sandwich in her mouth, so they abandoned that iteration.)

Avoidance Rating:  ☟ ☟ ☟ ☟

Album Track:  "3:14, Prime 3X (B♭m)


ink and gouache on paper

9" x 9"

item no. 202

after a photo by Alexander Krivitskiy

(to inquire, contact Bart:   214.862.2344 or