It’s sort of funny, in a way, that he is known for piano études, because he doesn’t even consider himself a piano player, really, but there it is. I think it went this way: he wrote an étude (by which I mean a short piece that focuses on a particular skill among the generalized skills putatively required for good piano playing, in order to hone this particular bit of muscle memory, or perhaps, more simply, a piece that has a monomaniacal skill-oriented focus) for a friend, enjoyed it, and wrote another (each of them hewing to the following requirements: that it must be written in under six days, that it is not allowed to be “precomposed” or “preconceived” except during the six days, and that it cannot be revised, unless abandoned and started over in a different way), and somewhere during this rampage, he became shockingly good at writing piano études, and is now perilously close to having written a hundred of them. After which he claims he’s going to stop. Many of the études require some superheroic ability (or, viewed differently, some superheroic limitation). There’s a Rakowski étude that requires the player to bang with her fists, one that requires the player to play with his nose, there’s a left-handed étude, a right handed étude, an étude to be played inside the piano (called “Plucking A”), an étude for pedaling, an étude for a single note, and so on.
Rick Moody on David Rakowski, at the Rumpus.