Conlon Nancarrow (October 27, 1912 – August 10, 1997) was a United States-born composer who lived and worked in Mexico for most of his life. He became a Mexican citizen in 1955.
Nancarrow is best remembered for the pieces he wrote for the player piano. He was one of the first composers to use musical instruments as mechanical machines, making them play far beyond human performance ability. He lived most of his life in relative isolation, not becoming widely known until the 1980s.
Zappa and Nancarrow
"If there's any influence in Uncle Meat it's from Conlon Nancarrow. He's a composer who lives in Mexico, but was born in Kentucky. He writes music for player-piano that is humanly impossible to perform. He writes all these bizarre canons and weird structures – punches them out on player-piano rolls. The stuff is fantastic; there are a few albums of it. If you've never heard it, you've got to hear it – it'll kill you. Some of it sounds like ragtime that's totally bionic." (Zappa in Zappa, 79/8)
Zappa's Synclavier compositions were inspired by Nancarrow's works for player piano.
Mentioned in "Peaches III" on Tinseltown Rebellion: "Let's hear it again for another great Italian. Conlon Nancarrow, ladies and gentlemen!"
Groening described the sound of Civilization Phaze III as "Stravinsky-esque orchestral tunes with Conlon Nancarrow tireless forward propulsion presented with the most cutting edge technology" (Groening in A different Zappa emerges in epic 'operapantomime')
Extract from interview
Den Simms: Would you say that Conlon Nancarrow is the predecessor of what you do with the Synclavier?
Frank Zappa: Not completely. Certainly there's a huge influence, conceptually, in what Nancarrow did. In fact, when Nancarrow was in southern California, I tried to get him to come over, so I could demonstrate the machine to him, because here's a guy who pioneered a type of sequencer music, using a player piano, but it's a limited timbre. It's only the sound of that one instrument ...
Den Simms: Right. That's right.
Frank Zappa: ... and I just thought that the way his mind works, if he would learn how to use the Synclavier, [he] would be able to hear all different kinds of things out of it, but I never got him to come over, and I doubt whether he's ever gonna get into it, but, y'know, I have to tip my hat to him, certainly.
Den Simms: He lives in Mexico City, doesn't he?
Frank Zappa: Yeah.
Den Simms: Yeah, he's come up with some interesting stuff.
(Quoted from They're Doing the Interview of the Century, Part 2)