Reaching Out with toy piano

milfordIn the last couple of weeks, I have been doing many outreach activities on the toy piano between some of my solo engagements as well as the Sounding Off tour. I have spent ten years mostly as a piano teacher in my life, but recently I have had the opportunity to do more  presentations and outreaches on the toy piano.

Last week, I did a presentation at a school assembly at Delaware Valley School in Milford, Pennsylvania. First of all, I was really charmed by the town and what Kindred Spirits is doing to bring music to the community. In a 200+ room full of middle and high school kids, I introduced them to my world on the toy piano. After the one-hour presentation, a girl came up to me afterward and handed me a folded piece of paper with her reactions to my music. I think this is perhaps the most genuine “review” I’ve gotten since playing the toy piano. It’s great to see that this music (and music in general) evokes so many reactions in just one hour. In a way, it also reminds me of how much “space” performance gives listeners to wander in their own internal lives, and hopefully still get something out of the experience.

Coraline original soundtrack finally available!

Now that it has been 7 months after my experience with the stage version of  Coraline, I am pleased to find out that the cast recording that we made has finally been released! It was a grueling recording process for me because I play in every single piece (thus every single take.) I still remember that day vividly. The whole crew were such troopers and the Lucille Lortel Theater transformed into a recording studio for 12 hours. Though that sounds like a long time, I’ve never covered so much musical material in a recording session! It was a rough commitment since it was happening on our one day off that week, but now that the recording is out, it makes it all feel worth it. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for a revival…

The New Music Box article and The Memoirist

My new CD UnCaged Toy Piano was recently reviewed in the New Music Box! I want to thank Frank Oteri for taking the time to listen and write about not only me but the toy piano world. I am glad that he was interested in my original works from The Memoirist. Many people have asked me why the CD only includes the first and third parts of this piece and not the second. While making the CD, I really went back and forth on this matter and decided that the second part of this multimedia piece is driven mostly by the visuals (movie). I think the music of the second part (also title The Memoirist) is best described as a live soundtrack to a movie. The style of the music sounds much more like “pop” and there are folly sounds that coordinate with happenings in the movie. This doesn’t mean that I am not proud of the music, but I find it more appropriate when presented with the movie.

The movie portion was created of recycled materials such as felt, cardboard and miscellaneous found objects. Aside from the toy piano in the music portion, I also used sampled bell-like sounds from kitchen utensils such as bowls, tea balls, pan lids and others. I am still hoping to create a DVD of The Memoirist that will finally present the piece as a whole. I have found live performances of the multimedia work to be most effective, but also pretty high maintenance to set up. (i.e.,In The Dream, the video is also to be projected “miniature-style “on a suspended pillow hanging from the ceiling.) Until then, I hope that The Memoirist parts one and three can hold their own as pure music on the CD!

New Multimedia work

phyllis_chenFor most of this past Fall, I have been focusing my energies on a new multimedia piece that Rob and I have been creating named Down The Rabbit-hole for two toy pianos, live electronics, video and amplified objects.  Like chamber music,  I wanted to create something where the video and audio do not cancel one another out, but come together as a whole. The main question I find myself asking is what components of the multimedia piece are absolutely essential? What do we want the audience member to be looking at and at what point? Sometimes it seems that the performer and video can be competing visuals, resulting in a more confused overall statement. I think a lot of our work is aspiring to create a narrative that unfolds through music and images… at certain times the video is what carries the narrative and at others, there are no video but only music.

Now that it is becoming more and more easy to produce multimedia production with computers (and less people), I have found myself as not only the composer/performer, but also the narrator/storyteller. We have become so much more conditioned to take visual and aural stimulus simultaneously that the idea of “multimedia” is perhaps more of a common-life experience. With this in mind, I hope that the immersive environment that is created in Down The Rabbit-hole is one that is completely unique and different than our everyday stimulus.

We did a showing of this piece as a work-in-progress last November at the Flea Theater. Premiere date is yet to be determined.

Sounding Off ends at LPR

sotAfter being on the road for nearly two weeks, Johannes and I finished our tour at Le Poisson Rouge (NYC) last night. The crowd was really amazing and the venue was perfect for the work that we did on Stockhausen’s Tierkreis. For this concert, we incorporated re-conceptualized images of the zodiac signs (made by Rob Dietz) as we performed. While on the road we have tried presenting our rendition of the Tierkreis in a number of different ways. Most of the time we would perform them in either sets of two or three and explain a little bit about them beforehand. I thought yesterday’s take on the piece was the most successful because it allowed us to link together all the signs through images and it saved the interruption of speaking/explaining between signs.  I hope that this provided a live aural experience that transported the audience to many different sound worlds.

While on the road, we got a lot of different feedback for the Tierkreis. Though not all of it was positive, I really appreciated the fact that most people haven’t made up their minds about this music. In playing new music there is always first time listeners and that dynamic makes the performance feel more alive. The idea of fulfilling an expectation is an odd one when it comes to playing new music because hopefully there is less formulaic ideas of what to expect!

Though Stockhausen can hardly be considered new music anymore, the Tierkreis are a very special set of pieces because they are open arrangements for any number of players and instruments. Every production of this piece is different depending on what the performers bring to the piece. It took us awhile to figure out what general aesthetic we wanted to have for our version, but I think we eventually found something that was found sound-based and a lot more improvised. Thanks to these set of pieces, Johannes and I were able to meet somewhere with our odd instrumentation (electric cello and toy piano) and create something that is unique to our musical output. With loose forms for each sign, I felt that we were sculpting sound live in concert. The concert will be streamed on Q2 WQXR so stay tuned!