I have recently been contacted by many composers and toy pianists around the world expressing their enthusiasm for the little instrument. It very much reminds me of what I was like many years ago when I realized that there is a small but dedicated toy piano community out there in the world. As many of you know, I host a toy piano composition competition every year called the UnCaged Toy Piano. I am looking to expand this competition into a more involved festival with more performances, workshops and events, composer chats,etc. If anyone is interested in being involved in any way, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Performers, composers, volunteers, music enthusiasts, radio DJ’s, presenters, promoters, are all welcome to contact me if they are interested. I would love to put something together at the Big Apple!
I have recently started working on a new piece written for me by the Austrian composer/performer/improviser/educator Karlheinz Essl. I first heard of Karlheinz from the Extensible Toy Piano Project in 2005 where I performed one of his pieces, Kalimba, for the festival. Since then, I have played numerous of his works for toy piano including Kalimba, Sequitur and WebernSpielWerk. In fact, at most of my concerts I’m playing one of them. After playing so many of his great pieces, I am so honored and happy to be premiering his new piece , Whatever Shall Be (for toy piano, gadgets, live-electronics and surround sound) at the Look & Listen Festival in May. Without giving too much away, I am extremely excited to be performing a piece that asks for such unconventional approaches to the instrument.
The festival is a great annual new music event that happens in galleries around the Chelsea area. I am thrilled that Karlheinz will be in town for it!
A couple of nights ago, I decided to go busking at a couple of NYC subway stations on a Friday evening. Rob had a megaphone that we used as a low-quality amplifier that seem to work perfectly for the occasion. Contrary to the PA systems I use for multimedia shows, the megaphone amplification made the toy piano sound tinnier than usual. We started out at the Grand Central stop and then moved to Union Square. This was my first time taking the NYC subway with the intention of spending time in the station. It is an entirely different experience once you are trying to stay there and listen/observe what other music is going on underground. Some people make eye contact, others seem to just play for themselves. Underground, I shared a “venue” with a jazz fusion guitarist, an African xylophone duo and a classical violinist.
How much are people really listening anyways? Even during concert? We hope that people are coming with open ears but most likely they walk into concerts with their days’ thoughts, worries and varied energy levels. What really makes people stop and listen?
I made my way into the subway system for a video piece that Rob has been making. It’s been really interesting to follow him around with his camera looking for buskers. This piece will be made into a video installation at the Baby Grand opening in mid-April. I will write with more details!
I am now back in New York after a really great trip to London. Our last gig was part of the Limelight series that happens at the 100 Club in London. It was a really busy and bustling area right on Oxford Street. We knew that we were sharing the concert with Jacaranda, an ensemble of principals from the Brandenburg Symphony Orchestra, who sport a range of unusual instruments such as the alpenhorn and the didgeridoo. (They were a really fun group!)
After getting all of our gear in place, setting up instruments and electronics, I needed to re-start my computer to open ableton/live software program. Well…basically my computer never was able to find it’s hard drive again right then and there. I kept re-starting my computer and getting an empty grey screen with a question mark on it. It was basically one hour until show time and Jacaranda hadn’t even sound checked yet. I was using my computer in the hotel just minutes before, why was this happening??? I knew that my computer was getting old and it had survived all sorts of odd technical problems for me, but I had a feeling this was its last breath of life.
The people from Limelight told me that there was an apple store a few blocks away so I walked there hoping that one of the people at the Genius Bar could find some sort of solution for me. Like all apple stores, there is a lot of attention to service but I knew that if this store was anything like the one in New York, there would be long lines. And I was right–I got to the genius bar (where someone in a blue shirt sent me) and I was #24 in line. There was no chance of getting this figured out. Finally, I found a young guy working on the floor and told him my situation. He said even though he’s not one of the geniuses , he would try to take a look. When I told him what happened and showed him the empty grey screen he basically said that my computer was unsalvageable. (I have everything backed up on a hard drive at home, but no chance of getting it in such short notice.)
He was a very punky kid with really positive energy, so he started cracking me up by giving me a ridiculous pep talk. I guess that was my therapy for the moment for losing my computer (essentially my brain.) I was reminded of how much information we keep on our computer. It made me feel like I was about to start over again.
I walked back to the venue and Johannes and I made some adjustments to make some portions of our performance possible by running things off of his computer as well. It was unfortunately additional last-minute work for Johannes to cover my sorry situation, but I’m glad that it was more or less OK.
The venue was really great and the turn out was also very friendly. Johannes and I wrapped it up and went our separate ways afterwards. I’m glad that Johannes and I still managed to have a good time given the situation. It was a last-minute surprise but we still pulled through!
In just a couple of hours, I will be hopping on a plane to London for two more Sounding Off gigs at King’s Place and Limelight. I am excited to spend some time in London and to have two more shots at our program. I am happy that we will be adding one of the 3rd UnCaged Toy Piano Competition selections, Ananta by Ryan Manchester on our program at King’s Place. The piece is written for toy piano, cello and tibetan bowl.
I am also bringing my mixing bowls to play Double Helix and Hallucinate. We also use the tibetan bowl in one of our arrangement of Virgo from Stockhausen’s Tierkreis. I am realizing that playing mixing bowls is just as essential to my musical voice as the toy piano. I am looking forward to writing more works with it, particularly in an upcoming collaboration I have in April. Keep posted and I’ll write in London!