Music to My Ears

Na Young Kwon March 17, 2010 Comments Off on Music to My Ears

Photo credit: Milanko.

Something old is new again…This adage could aptly describe “This Old Piano,” a project spearheaded by pianist Tiffany Lin that involves repurposing old pianos to create newly designed instruments. Along the similar vein of the prepared piano (which involves placing objects such as tape woven into the piano strings, thus altering its timbre and percussive qualities) the project strives to push the boundaries of the modern piano’s capabilities.

“I have often wished to escape the constraints of my instrument of choice; its size, its inability to sustain notes or bend notes,” says Lin, a champion of non-traditional repertoire. Veering from the classical piano warhorses of Beethoven, Chopin and Lizst, she has more recently performed works by modern composers such as Henry Cowell and George Crumb. ”As a child and teenager I did study piano privately and in the classical/Western tradition. I was very lucky in fact to have such a strong background, but I fought hard to not play standard repertoire.”

While a student at CalArts and later Cornish Institute, she basked in the opportunity to explore “non-traditional formats” in her chosen medium.

“I saw that a person didn’t have to play on the keyboard to play the piano.”

“This Old Piano” stems largely from this exploration and reframing of the piano, an instrument, according to Lin, that holds cultural significance as a kind of moniker to those of a certain socio-economic status, namely, those with “income sufficient to purchase, move and maintain them, and the concomitant privilege of sufficient space to house them.” A Taiwanese immigrant “growing up bicultural” in the central valley of California, her childhood love of repurposing materials later expanded into manipulating the piano by “inserting eraser, bolts and screws; delving into the instrument’s guts to strum, pluck and bow the strings.”

But even in experimentation, Lin has outlined certain limitations or prerequisites. The pianos used for this project must be free, in disrepair, and at least 10 years old. Most likely the source instruments will be obtained from the classifieds, Craigslist or Freecycle. And the designers must use parts from a single instrument with the end product being portable. Lin poses a relevant question on environmental issues: “…can the piano effectively follow trends of sustainability and contribute to a similar ongoing “green” revolution within the arts?”

The collaborators responded to a public call for submission material regarding “This Old Piano.” Pleased with the wealth of talent and diversity they bring to the project, Lin seems to have found kindred spirits that complement her own artistic needs. “What interested me the most about Tom’s [Baker] work was a piece he submitted…for three cacti and guitar. The use of organic material really resonated with me.”

Lin also adds of composer Jherek: “[He] combines pop song structure with unexpected instrumentation—he also used to skateboard by the piano sculpture on Bainbridge Island as a teenager to throw rocks at it to create massive chords.”

“This Old Piano” will most certainly take you to new places and tangents in rethinking the modern instrument, perhaps even introducing a different forum to engage generations—pre-existing and emerging—of concertgoers beyond the traditional concert halls. Author Don Campbell of “The Mozart Effect” speculates, “Concert halls in the twenty-first century will be different from the ones today, designed to allow individual listeners to find their own unique means of receiving the wisdom and power of the music.”

Other collaborators include composers Tom Baker and Jherek Bischoff, whose works will be featured in performances by Lin at the Good Shepherd Center’s Chapel Space; designers Hugo Solis and Colin Ernst commence with the building process, which will be open to the public in February at Equinox Studios in the Georgetown neighborhood (6555 5th Ave S). Stayed tuned for additional information and related events at http://thisoldpianoblog.wordpress.com and www.tiflin.com.

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