TOKYO (Agence France-Presse) - A composer who claims to be the world's fastest pianist says tinkling the ivories quicker than the human ear can hear is a surefire route to Nirvana.
Ukrainian Lubomyr Melnyk is working his fingers at a dizzying 19.5 notes per second, and reckons the result - what he calls "continuous music" - is the first innovation in piano playing for more than three centuries.
"The concert pianist is like a propeller aeroplane, but the continuous music pianist is like a jet plane," Melnyk, 65, told AFP in an interview ahead of his first ever appearance in Tokyo. "It's an enormous difference." Melnyk, whose parents fled his home country after World War II, is credited with pioneering continuous music, a technique based on lightning quick notes that create a tapestry of sound.
"Nothing has happened with the piano for 300 years - since 1650, nothing," he said. "What Scarlatti was doing, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev were still doing, 300 years later.
"Finally something new has happened in the world of the piano. It's terrible to think I could be the first and the last to do this." Melnyk, whose long silver hair swishes as he talks, says classical pianists are often gripped by fear ahead of a performance because each piece has to be note perfect.
But, he says, that's not a problem for him.
"In continuous music you can't make a mistake because you are living the music with the piano. My fingers disappear.
"All I hear and experience when I'm playing is the actual music, the sound, the piano. I barely feel anything. I'm barely aware, my mind is racing and I'm just flying through this landscape. It's beyond nirvana." Melnyk says he plays an average 19.5 notes on each hand every second, but the only way of measuring this is to count the number of times over a ten-second period that you play a given passage.
It is not, he says, possible to hear all 19.5 notes.
"The ear cannot hear that, you cannot actually discern the notes at that speed. The natural speed set by nature for pianists is between 13 and 14 notes per second.
"There's a certain physical, mathematical limit to the speed of pianists. There is a limit and it's a limit set by nature, by the universe.
Melnyk, appearing in Japan as part of the annual Red Bull Music Academy, which is being hosted by Tokyo this year, says performances - including of a three-hour composition played from memory - frequently slip into trances.
"When music happens it's a mystical, mysterious, magnificent thing," he smiles through his bushy silver beard. "I've actually fallen asleep while I was playing the piano and kept playing.
"You never get tired of playing - if you can stay awake you can play for 24 hours a day. I'm not claiming my music is as beautiful as Beethoven or Chopin. But I think it's important that it exists." With all the fervour of an evangelist, Melnyk says he is desperate for others to share the joy he feels as his hands work a blur on the keyboard.
"In order to achieve the true power that comes out of the piano, you have to reach that level that you actually go past the sound barrier," he said.
"I want to be like Tinkerbell and wave a little wand with some fairy dust and suddenly people know what it's like to have this ability and speed, to have your body disappear."