The Economy on ICE–WQXR

We were really bummed to cancel our concert at Southern Theater (Minneapolis) on April 26th because of economic straits. At a time when many music and arts venues are struggling to stay afloat, ICE decided to bring the concert to curious audience members in a different way—online!  On April 26th, we decided to do a performance/recording session at the Brooklyn ICEhaus that was then streamed by  WQXR. The evening featured two new pieces that I wrote from my ICElab, including Beneath A Trace of Vapor for flute and electronics and Glass Clouds We Have Known for toy piano, bass clarinet, flute, bowls, keyboard,electronics and video. We are unfortunately unable to capture the visual world of this piece without a theater, but be sure to check back and see it’s New York premiere scheduled to take place in November of 2011. The concert also featured works by ICElab composers Mario Diaz de Leon and Steve Lehman.  Thanks to WQXR for broadcasting our performance!

 

Eric Lamb, flute

Josh Rubin, clarinet

Cory Smythe, keyboard

Rob Dietz, video artist

Approximation Festival 2010

I decided to make a mini-tour through Europe after being invited to the 2010 Approximation Festival , a five day piano festival in Dusseldorf. For over a year ago, I had been in email contact with a Hamburg-based pianist Thies Mynther about various creative projects. He found out about my work through Coraline and told me about some of his theatrical pieces using prepared piano. I couldn’t believe that there was actually someone else out there doing something so similar to Coraline. He then wrote a really quirky piece for toy piano and electronics (which I regret that I didn’t play in Dusseldorf.) Just a few months ago, we decided to finally meet in person and he invited me to Dusseldorf to perform with his duo, Phantom/Ghost at the Approximation Festival hosted by Volker Bertlemann (aka Hauschka).

The line-up was filled with interesting musicians–the first night I saw Rachel Grimes (US) and Aki Takase (Berlin/Japan), followed by Barbara Morgenstern (Berlin) and Kathy Supove (NY) the next night. Already it proved to be a unique keyboard festival allowing a large range of keyboard players with different backgrounds and styles to do what they do. I came a couple days early to work on a few songs with Phantom/Ghost. Thies (piano) and Derek (vocals) played their own set, then I joined them for three songs (including Theatre is Fun from Coraline) and played my own solo set. It was great to share a stage with Phantom/Ghost. They write great songs and have a distinctive sound to their style. The experience made me realize that most of the musical endeavors I have are either completely written music or completely unwritten music. My short period of time with Phantom/Ghost was unusual because it was a collaboration that existed in that gray area in between.

If you are unfamiliar with Hauschka’s music, I recommend listening  some of his tracks for piano. I learned on this trip that his music has evolved quite a bit in the last 20 years. It is interesting to ponder the range of his musical background and to know him as a keyboard player now. His solo piano shows often come through New York City and he has recently just released a new record.  He is definitely someone to listen to (or meet up close) because aside from his music, he is a gem of a person too.

Christian Marclay at the Whitney

For those of you who are fans of Christian Marclay, there is a great festival going on right now at the Whitney Museum until September 26th. The fourth floor is dedicated to the ground-breaking work of this great visual and sound artist with a listening lounge for his tracks, a display of his graphic scores and vinyl records that he cut and pasted as a revolutionary turntablist. There is also a piece that is constantly “in progress” on a gigantic chalkboard on the wall that invites visitors to contribute to the score. The best part of this whole festival are the numerous performances going on–usually one or two every day–featuring other musicians/improvisors that worked with Marclay through the years.  I was lucky enough to catch a show of Christian performing on Saturday with Terry Hirsch on voice. It was an improvised show using  photographs of sonic words immersed in everyday life as the “score” for Terry to improvise to.

I am definitely planning on going to several more performances–there were two works in particular that caught my interest. One piece is an improvisation with his collection of one-of-a-kind handbells that are currently on display at the Whitney. The second piece will be performed on a guitar with a bunch of music boxes mounted inside the instrument. All you see on display is a guitar with a bunch of pegs sticking out of it for the music boxes. Not being able to see the mechanism  certainly adds a mystery to the music. There are more pieces of his to be performed until September 26th, so check the Whitney site for more details.

Look& Listen on Saturday with Karlheinz

12Karlheinz Essl and I had our first meeting for his new piece, Whatever Shall Be, for toy piano, quadrophonic surround sound and gadgets today. After a few hours of trouble-shooting technical issues, we are now finally ready to unleash his new work this weekend! I am so honored that he wrote this piece for me and believe that it will be a real favorite among fellow toy pianists. Aside from some of the experimental and playful techniques he uses, the piece also has a richness and fullness to the sound world that really creates a whole new dimension to the toy piano. Concert is at at the Gary Snyder/Project Space (Chelsea) and begins at 7:30 pm. I will be sharing the concert with So Percussion and Merionalis. Laura Pellegrini will be hosting the concert and interviewing composers throughout the evening.  I hope to see you all on Saturday !

Here are some of Karlheinz’s program notes on Whatever Shall Be:

At the beginning of the 3rd millennium, I had a strange encounter with a strange instrument: the toy piano, which – at the first glance – didn’t attract me that much. On the contrary, I didn’t properly estimate its restricted sound possibilities and regarded it quite uninteresting and boring. My immature prejudice changed entirely when I borrowed a toy piano from Isabel Ettenauer who was asking me since years to write a piece for her. And now, after being forced to dedicate myself to this instrument I soon understood that it has nothing to do with the piano as we know it.

When I hit a key on a regular piano, I am not just hearing a note, but also the whole history of this instrument with its repertory from Bach to Boulez that the piano sound transports. This fact always makes it difficult for me to compose for piano as it always reminds me of historical music that I love – and also abhor.

This didn’t seem to happen to me when I was playing on the toy piano because its sound has nothing to do with a conventional piano. Instead of strings this instrument has metal rods which are hit by a hammer, producing sonic qualities that rather remind me of bells or a celesta, Asian gamelan, or even an African kalimba.

After writing my first toy piano piece in 2005 called Kalimba, I became more and more interested in scrutinizing the possibilities of this instrument. A few months later I composed WebernSpielWerk as a tombeau for Anton Webern. Here, the toy piano was utilized as a carillon – a very tiny one -, and in fact the piece was modeled after the generative sound installation WebernUhrWerk which was played at the 60th anniversary of Webern’s death from a loudspeaker hidden inside a roof at the market place of Mittersill where the composer was shot in 1945.

But that was not enough: In 2008, when I started my Sequitur project for various solo instruments with live-electronics, of course a piece for toy piano was on my agenda. But then, after having written already several toy piano pieces, I met Phyllis Chen in New York. It was a hot and humid summer day in 2009 as we sat together in a tiny park in Midtown, exchanging our experiences with this strange and fascinating instrument. That’s when Phyllis suggested to write another piece, for her. And I immediately said Yes!

In my previous toy piano composition, my aim was always to find a new perspective to this instrument. In order to break up the restricted sound world, I was hiding a tiny loudspeaker inside the toy piano for Kalimba which played back pre-produced sounds. WebernUhrWerk, however, is only played on the keys, and Sequitur V uses live-electronics which create a sonic house-of-mirrors solely from the live input of the instrument.

This time I concentrated on the “ugly” parts of the instrument which are commonly not regarded as musical: the guts apart from the keys – the body of the instrument. So I was approaching the toy piano like an innocent child who looks into the belly of the instrument and starts scratching and knocking here and there. In fact, due to the acoustic properties of the sound boards, this produces very rich and fascinating sounds. Then I mounted a contact microphone on the downside of the the sound board which was connected to a special computer program that I had conceived for this composition: a kind of sonic “particle accelerator” (like the ill-fated CERN in Geneva) which creates a maelstrom of sounds, swirling around the audience.

But there is yet another story which I have to mention in the end: When experimenting with the entrails of the toy piano, I realized that its sound board acts as a splendid amplifier for tiny sounds and noises. When putting a small music box inside, its lanky sound becomes strong and mighty, mixing nicely with the key sounds of the toy piano. That happens at the very end of the piece. And in fact everything that is heard before – rhythmical cells, melodic motives, even the harmonic structure – has derived from this little music box melody which arose from the great movie “The Man Who Knew Too Much” by Alfred Hitchcock. And the refrain of the song reads: “Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be.”

Notes by Karlheinz Essl on his new piece,Whatever Shall Be

I am very excited to premiere Karlheinz Essl’s new toy piano  piece “Whatever Shall Be” at the Look and Listen Festival. Read below for his program notes on the new work. He also speaks about his history with the toy piano. I will perform this on May 8th in NYC so please come out–this piece is not to be missed!

At the beginning of the 3rd millennium, I had a strange encounter with a strange instrument: the toy piano, which – at the first glance – didn’t attract me that much. On the contrary, I didn’t properly estimate its restricted sound possibilities and regarded it quite uninteresting and boring. My immature prejudice changed entirely when I borrowed a toy piano from Isabel Ettenauer who was asking me since years to write a piece for her. And now, after being forced to dedicate myself to this instrument I soon understood that it has nothing to do with the piano as we know it.

When I hit a key on a regular piano, I am not just hearing a note, but also the whole history of this instrument with its repertory from Bach to Boulez that the piano sound transports. This fact always makes it difficult for me to compose for piano as it always reminds me of historical music that I love – and also abhor.

This didn’t seem to happen to me when I was playing on the toy piano because its sound has nothing to do with a conventional piano. Instead of strings this instrument has metal rods which are hit by a hammer, producing sonic qualities that rather remind me of bells or a celesta, Asian gamelan, or even an African kalimba.

After writing my first toy piano piece in 2005 called Kalimba, I became more and more interested in scrutinizing the possibilities of this instrument. A few months later I composed WebernSpielWerk as a tombeau for Anton Webern. Here, the toy piano was utilized as a carillon – a very tiny one -, and in fact the piece was modeled after the generative sound installation WebernUhrWerk which was played at the 60th anniversary of Webern’s death from a loudspeaker hidden inside a roof at the market place of Mittersill where the composer was shot in 1945.

But that was not enough: In 2008, when I started my Sequitur project for various solo instruments with live-electronics, of course a piece for toy piano was on my agenda. But then, after having written already several toy piano pieces, I met Phyllis Chen in New York. It was a hot and humid summer day in 2009 as we sat together in a tiny park in Midtown, exchanging our experiences with this strange and fascinating instrument. That’s when Phyllis suggested to write another piece, for her. And I immediately said Yes!

In my previous toy piano composition, my aim was always to find a new perspective to this instrument. In order to break up the restricted sound world, I was hiding a tiny loudspeaker inside the toy piano for Kalimba which played back pre-produced sounds. WebernUhrWerk, however, is only played on the keys, and Sequitur V uses live-electronics which create a sonic house-of-mirrors solely from the live input of the instrument.

This time I concentrated on the “ugly” parts of the instrument which are commonly not regarded as musical: the guts apart from the keys – the body of the instrument. So I was approaching the toy piano like an innocent child who looks into the belly of the instrument and starts scratching and knocking here and there. In fact, due to the acoustic properties of the sound boards, this produces very rich and fascinating sounds. Then I mounted a contact microphone on the downside of the the sound board which was connected to a special computer program that I had conceived for this composition: a kind of sonic “particle accelerator” (like the ill-fated CERN in Geneva) which creates a maelstrom of sounds, swirling around the audience.

But there is yet another story which I have to mention in the end: When experimenting with the entrails of the toy piano, I realized that its sound board acts as a splendid amplifier for tiny sounds and noises. When putting a small music box inside, its lanky sound becomes strong and mighty, mixing nicely with the key sounds of the toy piano. That happens at the very end of the piece. And in fact everything that is heard before – rhythmical cells, melodic motives, even the harmonic structure – has derived from this little music box melody which arose from the great movie “The Man Who Knew Too Much” by Alfred Hitchcock. And the refrain of the song reads: “Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be.”