The soot-damaged piano, obtained free of charge from Utica’s piano merchant Stage Music & Sound, had been recently rescued from a chimney collapse and, although tuned, was deemed “unfit-for-sale.” Oddly enough, this unique history with fire became the refrain for a project that followed the “watercourse way” by flowing and unfolding into unforeseen territories of the local area.

I engaged in the constant process of covering this piano’s keys with sets of soft hand-sculpted porcelain keys that  I wheeled around the community, allowing bystanders to play until the keys were fused together (as if melted). I then peeled the clay keys off at the studio and replaced them with a new covering of clay keys so that I could repeat the process. This push of traditional materials and aesthetic values into an innovative zone defamiliarized both the activities of piano-playing and traditional hand-modeling. These porcelain “recordings” provided an awareness of the piano playing activity from the perspective of the keys that is simultaneously destructive to each key’s unique musical contribution: fused together in a cacophony, resisting each key’s nature to be struck and let go.

A single set of keys is fragile and thin, but as I produced the fresh recordings, I pressed them into the previous sets, until they accumulated into a monolith that held itself together. I culminated the project with their bisque firing in which the piano itself was sacrificed as fuel to fire the keys solidly together, thus creating an incongruity that gave music’s transitory nature a bold permanence.

For months prior to my arrival I had been obsessively trying to reach two-time Grammy-winning pianist Peter Serkin, re-known for his Bach renditions, to be a part of the project. Recognizing my obsession synonymous to one of an overly zealous Brittany Spears fan in the wrong world, I exhibited all correspondence attempts; including, to much joy, his hand-written response (albeit in decline). However, one of my favorite project moments was, when situated at an overpass where graffiti read, “sing your melodies,” two neighborhood teens showed me how to play Debussy.

I am thankful for the partnerships of Sculpture Space, Stage Music and Sound, Kirkland Art Center, jazz pianist Carleton Boone, John Von Bergen, and many others that made this project possible.

Copyright © 2010 - 2017 Marin Abell.

becoming piano

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marin abell