DB: The simple answer is that Marilyn Nonken requested a politically-inspired work for piano. That said, after careful consideration, the piano seemed like the perfect instrument through which to examine the topic of torture. There is something very machine-like about the piano, from the action of the hammers to its overwhelming size. It isn’t terribly difficult to imagine the piano as some sort of torture apparatus to which the player is attached. This leads to the unique bond between piano and pianist. In the liner notes to the Stress Position CD I wrote: “Pianists spend lifetimes alone in small rooms with antique instruments.” I was attempting to illustrate the confinement, physicality, and intimacy that define this relationship, characteristics that make the piano and pianist prime candidates for this particular piece.
DB: Let me begin by pointing out the incredible difficulty (and perhaps impossibility) involved in creating a piece that functions both as a compelling musical and political statement. My attempt to meld these two purposes centers around the idea of endurance. The pianist must not only play for over nine minutes without stopping, he or she must maintain a steady stream of sixteenth notes that grow louder and denser as the work unfolds. It is a form of virtuosity that demands extreme concentration and, most importantly, stamina. Regardless of the performer’s threshold, there is almost no way that a human can actually sustain the tempo, especially in the last third of the piece. This vulnerability and its impact on the music is a critical part of the experience and, in a way, may generate the empathy you mention.