Toy Piano Installation Premieres 24 New Works



Drawing courtesy Jack Straw Productions

Pack a roll of quarters and head to Seattle’s New Media Gallery to experience Seattle-based composer Trimpin’s Klavier Nonette, an exhibit that allows viewers to insert a quarter and choose from 41 compositions for 9 toy pianos that are controlled by a jukebox-like console. The exhibit opens with a free public reception from 7:00 – 9:00 PM on Thursday, January 16, 2003 and will feature 24 world premiere pieces by composers ranging in age from 19 to 70.

The installation was originally presented by Trimpin at the Orange County Museum of Art in 2001 and is comprises 9 toy pianos made by Schoenhut and Jaymar during the 1950s and 1960s, each connected to an electromechanical device that allows them to play automatically like a player piano. Trimpin then runs the pianos through a computer that stores the musical data. After inserting a quarter into the device, audience members will be able to choose from 41 works composed specifically for this configuration. The computer then triggers the pianos to play the selected piece. Each piece lasts about 2 minutes and participating composers will be rewarded from the proceeds according to the frequency that their works are selected.

Trimpin, a sound sculptor, composer, and inventor who is well known for his computerized realizations of Conlon Nancarrow‘s piano roll works, was inspired by the toy piano’s ability to challenge Western notions of intonation. What really informs this particular project, as well as much of his work, is the sonic potential of multiple instruments situated in space. Describing the project he explains, “To achieve certain acoustical layers [with toy pianos], it is necessary to use multiple instruments, (with the same octave range), strategically placed around the room. When the instruments are played simultaneously or sequentially, acoustical patterns, fragments, and other phenomena are perceived depending on where they are standing.” Born in Germany, Trimpin is now based in Seattle. The creation of numerous large-scale, computer-driven instruments form the bulk of his recent work.

When Joan Rabinowitz, the executive director of Jack Straw Productions heard about the installation in California, she became excited about the possibility of re-creating the project in her 400-square foot New Media Gallery. “It really started from me wanting to bring Trimpin in [to the gallery] and then hearing about what he was doing with toy pianos. He does a lot of mechanized things and so much with sound so he is both visual and aural and seemed perfect for our little gallery. And the pianos just seemed like such a natural because it also allowed us to bring the community in by commissioning composers to write short, 2-minute pieces for the pianos.” Jack Straw Productions teamed up with the Washington Composers Forum to make Rabinowitz’s idea a reality.

The community certainly responded with enthusiasm and shortly after the call for scores was posted in November 2002, they had received dozens of entries. “In a very short time, we got about 45 responses.” Rabinowitz remembers. “Twenty of them were from around Washington State and another 20 were from around the country and then there were a few from Australia and France and England. We were just thrilled!” A workshop at the gallery with Trimpin and the pianos was held in mid-December to help the composers conceptualize their works and in the end, 24 new works were selected to be a part of the exhibit. Rabinowitz is delighted that the varied participants include everyone from established professional composers to “a grandmother who wanted to write a piece for her granddaughter.” In addition, 16 pieces from the previous incarnation in California (including works by John Cage and Liberace) will also be available. A complete list of works is included below.

Jack Straw Productions is a non-profit, multidisciplinary audio arts center based in Seattle that has been providing support and opportunities to area musicians and artists since 1962. Almost all of their programs, which include residencies, education, and radio production, include an outreach element, and both Rabinowitz and Trimpin are excited about the possibility of getting young people involved. She believes that the interactive nature of this exhibit paired with the fun factor of toy pianos is naturally appealing to kids. “What can beat putting the quarter in and watching the pianos play? It just shows you about orchestration and groupings. Plus they’re short!” Eventually they hope to incorporate compositions by children and teenagers as the next step in the project.

“It’s just been about figuring out ways to pull people in,” Rabinowitz says. “There’s got to be a way in for everybody and just paying for a ticket and going to a concert is only going to appeal to the people who already are doing that.” But for those who are into concerts, Jack Straw Productions in concordance with the Washington Composers Forum will present a night of Trimpin’s work as part of their monthly Composer Spotlight series on February 12, 2003.

The exhibit will run through April 27, 2003 and is free and open to the public (except for the quarters of course.)

Complete List of Works for Klavier Nonette

1. Bret BatteyQuilcene Terpsichore*
2. Rick BidlackOh No Nonette*
3. Bill Birney – Americus*
4. James Bohnwringer*
5. John Cage – Suite for Toy Piano (Movements 3 & 4)
6. Quinn Collins – Maul of America*
7. Beth Custer – TP Nonette #1
8. Amy DenioLa Tessatura delle Nonette*
9. Christi DentonWaltz*
10. Ellen FullmanUntitled*
11. Rick Garcia – Piano Spar
12. Janice Giteck & Marcus MacauleyBachanalia
13. Kevin Goldsmith- Repitoy*
14. Jay HamiltonMynamar Shave*
15. Chuck HoldemanToy Ploy
16. Josh Humphrey – Omelette*
17. Celeste HutchinsNo No Nonette*
18. Miriam Kolar4 9
19. George Lewis- Sudden Spaces, Breaking Stride
20. Liberace – Alley Cat
21. Allan Loucks – Fugue in G-Minor*
22. Penny Lovestedt – Song for Kiera*
23. David MahlerFor My Daughter, Who Loves to Travel
24. Keeril MakanToy Solace*
25. Bill Moyer3x4x5x12-9 for Sir Trimpin’s Toy Pianos*
26. Shaun NaidooEvil Mbira Music
27. Conlon Nancarrow – Unknown Study
28. Jonathan NortonKitty Waltz*
29. Doug Palmer – Slow Motion, Slow Motion Number Point One*
30. Daniel Rothmanhors de Paris, hors de Paris!
31. Alan ShockleyLittle White House (Underpass to the Foundation)*
32. David SnowOrbits of the Henon Map*
33. Ron SonntagOdd Ball*
34. Allen StrangeJackhammer*
35. Tom SwaffordDC Agitators*
36. Mark D. Taylor – Jaymar’s Joyride*
37. Diane ThomeFragrance of Orchids
38. Mark TrayleRamp and Crunch
39. Alba Triana – Noneto
40. Trimpin – WORXOK
41. Richard ZvonarK-9 Etude

* indicates that the composer was selected through the call-for-scores issued by Trimpin, Jack Straw Productions, and the Washington Composers Forum.

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