Skipping Rope

This past year, I hosted the first UnCaged Toy Piano Competition, a composition contest for toy pianos and electronics. This was the first time I hosted and judged a competition. We received over fifty entries from the US, Germany, Croatia, Australia, Mexico, Japan, Norway and Italy. We were thrilled with the general turn out! It was difficult to judge because all of the pieces are so different from one another.

Though he was not technically named a “winner,” I was pretty charmed by Ross Manning’s piece “Rotation” for toy piano and electric fan. It is more like an invention than a piece. The insides of the toy piano are exposed and a heavy rope lies across the toy piano beams. The rope is attached to a fan, so when you turn on the fan, the rope jumps and bounces around on the metal rods. This creates a pretty alien and unpredictable sound effect. The piece can be played as long or short as desired. “Rotation” will be set up as an installation for the UnCaged Winners concert in September. (more details soon)

Ross is from Australia and a member of the Clatterbox. I found him on their website for inventing the bass toy piano. Read and listen to it at the Clatterbox website.

A “Tinny” Tune

The moving truck finally arrived yesterday afternoon! Rob and I packed a ridiculous amount of small trinkets that most reasonable people would probably throw away when moving. Yesterday Rob showed me a toy stuffed cat that makes a purring sound when you shake it. I had no idea that was coming to NY with us. We certainly have a lot of chime toys, and I guess this stuffed cat is yet another variation of them.


I had miscounted the number of toy pianos I own. There are three on loan at the moment…and I have eight in my new home right now. That means I have eleven! I’m a little embarrassed that I lost track. I was also surprised to see the number of music boxes in the house. I have eight music boxes–six that actually have a wooden body on them. I was trying to get them all playing at the same time this evening. Some of them you have to keep cranking yourself. All the songs were blurred together, but the timbre of one particular music box stuck out. I have one that is very old without a wooden box. It was playing “Toyland” from Pinnochio.


This particular music box mechanism sounds more “tinny” than others, and depending on what surface you place it on, it can sound either loud or muted. I can hear the rust on the teeth of it. I think that’s what makes it sound tinny. Tonight I had the idea of using these music box parts inside of a regular piano. This way, the regular piano could be the resonating chamber for these mechanisms. I haven’t gotten around to trying it, but it will most likely be an activity for tomorrow.

Funny how these objects make me feel at home.

A much-needed concert

Rob and I went to an incredible electro-acoustic ambient music concert last night featuring pianist Sakamoto and guitarist and renowned electronic musician, Fennesz. They played pieces from their new album, “Cendre.” The free concert took place at the World Financial Center Winter Garden. The venue was a large domed arena with tall fake palm trees in the court yard. There were hundreds of people sitting in the dark room listening and watching the abstract video projection in the background. It was a great open space for such spacious music.

I haven’t been to many concerts that bordered on ambient or “new-age.” I felt that it was kind of like a sonic bath. I loved watching Sakamoto relate to his piano sounds. Somehow, sound became more lucid and took a life of its own with the electronics.

Rob and I walked up to the second floor to listen to their last encore. To our surprise, the glass window on the second floor overlooked ground zero. I haven’t been there since 9/11. This image really heightened the musical experience. To see the large hole in the ground with sleeping construction equipment in it made the music seem even more calm and peaceful. As I was leaving the concert, I thought how this music must have such a different effect on people in New York than in Bloomington, IN. The sounds that we hear everyday in New York tend to be noises of construction, cars, trains, yelling people, etc. In Bloomington the sounds we hear are birds, lightning bugs, frat boys, bad 80’s music blasting from fraternity houses. It wasn’t until then I realized the necessity of listening to peaceful music. When we walked out of the venue, we heard construction workers with a jackhammer. It was such a sad palette-cleanser for our ears.