Ghost in the Machine

My new piece Ghost in the Machine is made for electric keyboard, household rubbish, and amplified grand piano resonance. The piece is about exploring unwanted, unpredictable, unrefined noises that distort the tuned resonance of a grand piano. The score I created is a cut and paste collage, using a photocopier to repeat phrases, and a variety of cut out images to suggest performance instructions.

Musical instruments are crafted with precision in mind – the brackets, braces, finely tuned strings, and polished veneer of a grand piano are intended to seal its sound in a carefully managed wooden box. Keeping the mechanism in tune, and in “good” working order, means letting in some sounds and keeping others out; this is done by tightening and loosening strings, oiling pedal levers and protecting the wood from warping or degrading. Left untended, a piano gradually slips into a very different auditory world – unpredictable harmonies resonate from stretched strings buzzes and creaks escape from the wooden frame; all accompanied by scrapes and clicks from pedals and keys.

I used found objects (crumpled paper, paracetamol packets, sugar packets and old plastic document wallets, empty shampoo bottles, together with everyday objects like keys and credit cards), all placed freely over the strings of a grand piano, to modify its sound. The presence of these objects is enlarged using amplification, as though magnifying the grain of polished wood to reveal its imperfections…

Rather than attempting to directly operate and control the piano itself, I used an electronic keyboard, with a speaker propped underneath the base of the piano, with its sustain pedal depressed – the keyboard resonates the piano, letting it sing independently. The ordinarily controlled mechanism becomes inhabited by my sounds, filtered through the unpredictable array of objects placed across its strings – ghosts in the machine.

JTB March 2013

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