News / Blog

Travel Log: How to Build a Pianotron

TCP was in Colorado this past month for a week and a half of performances and masterclasses throughout the state.   The Rocky Mountain State (aka the land of Green Chili and Subaru’s) provided us with many amazing experiences, topped off in Boulder, CO where we were given a very old and wheezy upright piano to nip/tuck into Pianotron v2.0.   The first Pianotron was the brainchild of Clay Condon, and made its debut back in 2009 on a performance of Louis Andriessen’s Workers Union as part of TCP’s Chicago Concert Season.  Since then, we’ve made it part of our John Cage repertoire in the third movement his early work Quartet.

Step 1: Sedate and prep patient for surgery.  We dig our piano out from a dusty basement corner and move to the CU Boulder student commons.  We check our surgical tools.

Step 2: Begin with incisions to the sternum, exposing arteries.  Remove Arteries.

Step 3: Ask Clay and Rob to help (Dave has a phobia of blood.  He aced the MCAT’s but just couldn’t cut it in the OR…. he sucks it up to take some photos…..).  There are a lot small bones in the way.  Get rid of them, you don’t need them.  We find 88 bones in all and give them away as souvenirs.

Step 4:   New plan: lay the patient down and break out out the larger tools.  Cue crowbars.

Step 5:  Almost done, just have to trim a little more fat off the edge.

Step 6:  Success!  Move patient to recovery room before the debut performance.

There’s something about a piano – it’s that one instrument that we all have some personal affection towards.  It’s the instrument you grew up with, it was part of your home.  It sat in your living room, it was part of the family.  You and your siblings learned to play on the same piano that your mother or father did.  It was passed down from your grandparents to your parents to you.   A piano brings out all of these memories in us and to destroy something so cherished brings out some interesting emotions in people.   But, really, making a Pianotron isn’t destroying anything:).  It’s bringing a new life to a broken instrument – reappropriating a thing of the past that’s no longer useful and bringing it back to it’s most important purpose: making music.

In writing this, I’m reminded of an article and video from the New York Times I read over a year ago about “where piano’s go to die”.  Check it out:  For More Pianos, Last Note is Thud in the Dump

More people should make Pianotron’s:).

We loved our new instrument.  The shows were fantastic and we laughed as faculty and students at CU Boulder haggled over who got to keep the pianotron after it was all done.  Many thanks to everyone at CU Boulder for their assistance.  A special shout out to Hunter Ewen, the mastermind behind the event at the Atlas Theater.  It’s so great to work with people with the mindset that anything and everything is possible:).

-PJM

Posted in News
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • MySpace
  • Pinterest
  • Email

TCP Travel Log: South Bend, IN

TCP has been traveling across the country this Fall.   Below are some highlights from our 6 day trip to South Bend, Indiana for the world premiere performance of Augusta Read ThomasResounding Earth, commissioned by Third Coast Percussion along with the Debartolo Performing Arts Center, the VCU School of the Arts, and Chamber Music America.

We rolled into South Bend on September 25th.  A truckload full of gear to unload, Clay parks the company Lambo* and we set up in the Debartolo Performing Arts Center on the campus of Notre Dame.

*We do not have a company Lambo.  Clay has been trying to work it into our budget, but for some reason the numbers don’t seem to add up….  We do humor Clay by allowing him to squeeze his Ducati into the back of our moving truck, between the 6 giant racks and the cases of Thai Gongs.   More info on TCP’s apparent obsession with Italian sporting vehicles in a future blog post by Clay Condon:).

The hall at Debartolo is gorgeous.  It really doesn’t get much better than this.  Amazing space, fantastic crew, we set up Resounding Earth and prepare for a week of performances, outreach activities, and recording.

Photos by Peter Martin

We had some fantastic experiences interacting with students from Notre Dame and area public schools while we were there.  A big shout out to the Debartolo Center, Anna Thompson, and Sean Martin for setting the entire residency up for us!

Photos Copyright DeBartolo Performing Arts Center and Kirk Richard Smith

We had a 2 day recording session for an upcoming CD/DVD release of Resounding Earth.  With us at the session as always was Dan Nichols (Audio Engineer) and Rosse Karre (Video).   We also had the luxury of having the composer, Augusta Read Thomas, produce the session for us!  Recording sessions are always crazy, particularly when you add video into the mix.  Thanks to everyone who worked on the session, we got everything in the can ahead of schedule and started prepping for the premiere performance.

The concert was fantastic.  A packed hall with an enthusiastic audience playing amazing repertoire.  What more can you ask for? Check out a nice preview of the show from the South Bend Tribune as well as a great review from I Care if You Listen.

Photo Copyright DeBartolo Performing Arts Center and Tadashi Omura

As I write this post, TCP is gearing up for 2 more performances of Resounding Earth in California over the next 2 weeks.  Check back for more news and photos from our Travel Log!

-PJM

*Be sure to check out the complete photo gallery from our week at Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

Posted in News
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • MySpace
  • Pinterest
  • Email

Travel Log: Florida, September 2012

TCP landed in Tampa, FL last week – 5 days in the sunshine state culminating in our performance at New Music New College on Saturday, the 22nd.

First order of business was to refuel and recharge at a local eatery, Skippers Smokehouse, thanks to the solid research of TCP’s culinary adviser, Mr. Robert Dillon.  

Yes, that is a tree growing out of the restaurant.   Other observations include the reaffirmation that many things taste like chicken, including Alligator.

We stopped by University of South Florida for a Masterclass on the music of John Cage with student percussionists before loading a truck full of gear and heading down to Sarasota.

Many, many thanks to Bob McCormick and his wonderful students at USF for a great discussion and their assistance with all of the instruments.

After unloading at New College.  We spent the next few days setting up, sound checking, working with students, and falling in love with a new piano.

Yamaha has a new competitor in the auto/instrument business!  In all seriousness, 9 times out of 10 when TCP is on tour we end up playing on a $100,000+ Steinway D piano.  Problem is, these instruments don’t really work for our repertoire (Cage’s 2nd ConstructionCredo in US).  The issue is with the structural braces inside the piano that hold everything together.  In 100% of the 9 ft. concert grands I’ve encountered, there is a structural beam located right on top of the specific strings I have to mute with one hand in Credo.  Structural beams also interfere with Clay’s preparations in 2nd Construction and his ability to create the unique sounds (harmonics, etc.) of his part.     For some reason, the engineering on this axe is about as perfect as you can get for TCP’s performing.

Nothing says “New Music Diva” like when a presenter shows you a beautiful concert grand and you complain about not being able to shove screws into it effectively:).  So Clay and I generally keep our mouths shut, suck it up and fine unique ways around problematic sections.  Not the case with this instrument!

Horowitz used to travel with his own piano – now that would be cool.   I’m not sure if the same is going to happen with TCP, especially given the rest of the gear we haul around on a daily basis.  But we will be keeping a look out for Hyundai’s in the future.

Our show in Sarasota was fantastic and the New Music College students who joined us for a performance of John Cage’s Radio Music did a brilliant job!  Check out a recent review in Arts Sarasota.   A special shout out to Stephen Miles for bringing us down to New Music New College and Ron Silver for his amazing talents and assistance with audio and lighting!

After 24 hrs back home on Monday, Third Coast is back on the road, currently in South Bend, Indiana for the premiere performance of Augusta Read Thomas’ Resounding Earth and a short residency at University of Notre Dame.  Stay tuned for more musings from the travel log.

-PJM

Posted in News
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • MySpace
  • Pinterest
  • Email

We are thrilled to announce the launch of our brand new website!

This summer has been an unprecedented time of growth for Third Coast Percussion. We released of our first full-length album, played concerts in New York, Washington, D.C., Austin, and Chicago, concluded a 3-month-long community residency, received lots of great press attention, and somehow still found time to completely remodel our rehearsal studio, workshop a major new work with composer Augusta Read Thomas, and put together a new website with the help of the brilliant folks at Bark Design.

This website features all new ways to see, hear, and read about what Third Coast has been up to and what’s on the horizon. We hope you enjoy checking it out, and we hope you’ll stop back by again soon!

Posted in News
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • MySpace
  • Pinterest
  • Email

JLA’s Inuksuit in Chicago

…you do an outdoor show involving 99 musicians traveling from across the country to Millennium Park, Chicago.   It starts to rain…

…a storm is brewing, scheduled to peak right at the downbeat.    You decide to wrap your drums in cellophane (doesn’t sound too bad actually – think of it as a double ply drum head)…

…the show is about to start, it’s raining, but not too bad, so you throw on a few more trash bags, put on a poncho, grab some mallets…

…first 20 minutes are just fine.   It’s raining, but the audience has showed up with some umbrellas and everything is going fine.   You play your first notes on the drums and suddenly the sky opens up and dumps on you.  Torrential downpour – it couldn’t possibly be raining any harder.   The music keeps going, the water splashes in every direction from your drums as you play.  Between phrases you wipe puddles of rainwater from your bass drum…

It’s been about a week since Third Coast participated in one of the most unique concerts of the summer in Chicago.   Directed by Doug Perkins and Eighth Blackbird, 99 musicians performed John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit as part of the Loops and Variations concert series on Sunday, August 26th.  None of us really anticipated the massive weather accompaniment and, while they weren’t the most immediately desirable conditions, the result was one of the most memorable performances and musical experiences I’ve ever had.    Performers and audience alike knew that they were part of something extremely special that day.  Check out the Chicago Sun-Times review of the show.

As I looked across the lawn with all of the carefully wrapped instruments, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Land Art works of Christo and Jeane-Claude, with their wrapping of monuments and landscapes.

I also thought of Walter de Maria’s Lightning Field (1977) with hundred of metal poles scattered across a remote part of the New Mexico desert.

While there was no lightning last Sunday at Millennium Park, the connection between art and nature couldn’t have been more vivid.  I couldn’t help but be consumed by the connection between the music and the storm, and how it couldn’t have been more perfectly combined.  While a performance of this piece anywhere would be amazing – this one , for everyone who was there, was something truly special.

-PJM

Posted in News
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • MySpace
  • Pinterest
  • Email