Chroma part 2

I apologize for the long break in my blogging. The UnCaged Toy Piano concert had such a great first year. Chris Henry is absolutely wonderful for allowing us to use his beautiful space so freely. I felt so happy and satisifed with the new pieces I performed this year.

I apologize for the long break in my blogging. The UnCaged Toy Piano concert had such a great first year. Chris Henry is absolutely wonderful for allowing us to use his beautiful space so freely. I felt so happy and satisifed with the new pieces I performed this year.

I was pretty nervous about premiering “Chroma” for toy piano, projections, sampling keyboard, broken cassette tape player and film dress. A few months ago, I was looking around my home and realized how much clutter I had. I noticed I had a lot of old VHS and cassette tapes of myself playing the piano when I was younger. I decided that I didn’t need these things anymore and felt inspired to make something new with these old materials. Rob and I started experimenting with these materials and we were so amazed by range the of colors that can be found in the metallic VHS tape. I’d say most of the video projection portion of the piece came from our experimentation of the materials.

I decided to use toy piano samples for the electronic portion to accompany an amplified toy piano. I also made a cocoon-like prop that was basically a lot of VHS tape wound into a ball with a broken cassette tape player mounted onto it. I was able to “play” distorted versions of my earlier piano performances on cassette tape by pulling the tape on the tape head manually. As you can imagine, it was a cassette tape mess…with the electronics I added with it, it sounded incredibly “boomy” and angular. Hopefully it came across as a kind of unleashing or birth of the cocoon.

In one of my previous posts I mentioned that I made a garment from a non-fabric material. It took me about two months to make an entire dress woven of VHS film. I liked the idea of wearing my old performances as if I was wrapped or “cocooned” by my history. A video of this premier performance is up on my “Look” page.

Someone in the audience took some great photos: http://flickr.com/photos/j-no/2970130653/in/set-72157608360072531/

Piano Paths?

I’ve been busy preparing for some upcoming concerts I have that are mixed piano and toy piano programs. I generally have kept the two instruments separate, but recently, people have been requesting a “mixed” program. There are also a lot of people who have suggested playing transcription of pieces with one hand on the toy piano and the other on the regular piano, or full transcriptions of regular piano music for toy piano. For some reason, I’ve never really been attracted to any of these ideas. I think the toy piano is interesting enough to stand on its own. It doesn’t always need to make some literal reference to the regular piano in order to make sense. I realize that performing traditional works on piano creates a “foundation” or lineage for the toy piano’s appearance, but I feel like the toy piano is an entirely different instrument and experience. I do find it to be legitimate on its own and the regular piano shouldn’t be justifying the worth of the toy piano or me.

With traditional piano recitals, most of the pieces are familiar to the listener, and as a performer, you kind of hope that the listener has some level of understanding towards this music so that they will have the patience and appreciation for it. However, with the toy piano, people walk in without any expectations at all. They have never had an experience like it, it doesn’t fit into any specific genre,it’s unpredictable and it piques their curiosity. I feel like they draw from entirely different energies, so it’s been challenging for me to feel a sensible flow, particularly when the program alternates toy piano and piano. I’m sure I will learn something about myself doing this too.

Toy piano spotted!

Rob and I went to see Laurie Anderson’s new piece, “Homeland” at the Rose Theater. It was great to see what she is doing these days. I was moved by the sincerity of her songs and loved her quirky ways of storytelling. There were a couple of parts where she put an electronic effect on her microphone and her voice was transformed into a deep male voice. Pretty hilarious. She would talk about politics in a light manner at these moments. She had some great transitions. One of them, she was wearing a pair of white sunglasses with a small microphone attached to it. She was hitting her head side to side and biting her teeth together. The mic could pick up these sounds and it created a really booming rhythmic line.

On our way back to the train we passed by a piano shop and saw three toy pianos in their window. One of them looked like such a gem! It was an antique Winton. (I’ve actually never even heard of that brand.) It is an upright and you can look into the piano because there isn’t a front board on the instrument. It looked like they were felt hammers instead of metal hammers. My fingers were itching! The legs of the instrument were ornate and curved. ‘m returning on Monday to try it out.

Spare a nickel?

Many people have asked me if I have ever busked as a toy pianist. My only real attempt at busking took place on Queens Street in Toronto over five years ago. At that time, I was performing a lot more solo toy piano pieces. I was also prepared to play some transcriptions of Scott Joplin rags, Bartok’s Makrokosmos and Stravinsky’s “Five Finger Pieces.”

I probably played for about two hours and made about $6. Though the toy piano is a strange instrument, it is kind of lost on the busy streets. First of all, it is so close to the ground, when people are walking by, they have to hunch over to see me. The only people I was eye-level with were children and people in wheel chairs. The people in wheel chairs all stopped to hear me play, but not a lot of pedestrians. The other thing is that the toy piano is not a very loud instrument. With all the noise on the streets, people couldn’t hear me until they were a few feet away. It wasn’t until then that I realized the toy piano is a very subtle instrument. There are many expressive elements, but they must be listened to with full attention.

I think this is why it’s uniqueness is magnified most in concert settings. The toy piano pokes fun at traditional concert rituals. This element is missing when busking. It was an interesting experience for me. I think I’ll try again though…maybe this time in the subway car.

A Peculiar Image

dsc_2290I noticed that Rob had placed the bird’s nest we found in Bloomington on top of the smallest toy piano I own. We found the nest on the sidewalk on his last day in Bloomington. We knew that Bloomington is a special place to us, so we thought bringing our “nest” from Bloomington to New York would be a nice symbol. I couldn’t help but to find the nest really large on top of the tiny toy piano. This particular piano has a gold trim, no black keys (they’re painted on), and the white keys are even too small for my fingers. Only a baby could play it!

dsc_2290I noticed that Rob had placed the bird’s nest we found in Bloomington on top of the smallest toy piano I own. We found the nest on the sidewalk on his last day in Bloomington. We knew that Bloomington is a special place to us, so we thought bringing our “nest” from Bloomington to New York would be a nice symbol. I couldn’t help but to find the nest really large on top of the tiny toy piano. This particular piano has a gold trim, no black keys (they’re painted on), and the white keys are even too small for my fingers. Only a baby could play it! There’s also a music box mounted on the back. Oddly enough, this piano produces a lot of low sounds because the high-pitched notes create a lot of undertones. I thought it was a funny image, so I wanted to share it.