Our theme for today is: Pianos.
Pianos, and the women who love them.
Pianos, and the abuse to which they are prone at the hands of artists.
In 1932, the first Academy Award for live action short film was presented to The Music Box, in which Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy struggled to deliver a piano up a very long flight of stairs. The stairs, all 131 steps of them, still exist in the Silverlake district just outside downtown Los Angeles.
In a somewhat similar vein, we begin with The Key, a short film by Jeff Desom created to accompany "Children," a piece from Foreign Landscapes, the newest release by Hauschka, aka composer and performer Volker Bertleman of Düsseldorf. The Key is the story of a hard working young woman and her piano—I think of the piano as having the nickname "Sparky" for reasons that will become clear—as they adventure through an Old World landscape and myriad indignities to meet at last with a reclusive musician (Bertleman) and an O. Henry-style twist of an ending.
Although "Children" is mainly a piece for strings, Hauschka's instrument of choice is the prepared piano. In live performance, he inserts and removes objects with abandon, modifying his sound palette on the fly. His method and its result can be seen and heard in a film profile by Andreas Huth: How Much Material is Contained in a Tone?
Jeff Desom, who directed The Key first drew attention with another Hauschka video, for "Morgenrot" from 2008's Ferndorf. More of a mood piece than The Key and largely plotless, "Morgenrot" features a falling, flaming piano which we follow as it falls in flames above and into early 20th century Manhattan: King Kong meets Magritte.
Meanwhile, in the Manhattan of today, the Museum of Modern Art is currently presenting a different approach to the prepared piano from the artistic team of Guillermo Calzadilla and Jennifer Allora: Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on Ode to Joy for a Prepared Piano (2008).
In a sort of pianistic body piercing or perhaps a tribute to the late Gordon Matta-Clark, a large circular hole has been carved through the center of a grand piano. A pianist is inserted, and from within plays an arrangement of Beethoven's setting of the "Ode to Joy," all the while wandering about the gallery space with the instrument.
Calzadilla remarks at the start of this video introduction that for he and his partner "it is very important that a work does not make sense." Success is his.
Allora and Calsadilla video via Hyperallergic.