After performing at the Thingamajigs Festival in San Francisco last October, I started to formulate my idea for the 2013 UnCaged call for scores. This year, the call was for either pre-existing pieces or new works using the toy piano and an unconventional instrument. I received a lot of emails asking what I meant by “unconventional” and whether something he/she had in mind would be suitable for this type of pairing. There were some really intriguing and wild ideas out there that I’d venture to say were the first to show up in a toy piano piece….or maybe in any piece for that matter. Some of the highlights of oddities that spring to mind from the call would include a polaroid camera, a raw piece of meat, a bowler hat, a power drill (yes, toy piano and power drill!), a book, a microwave, two ventilators with plastic bags, a hung drum, bicycle bells, pots, bowls, beatboxing, teapots and many more. This year’s call was no doubt a wealth of interesting ideas.
In the judging process, we gave preference to pieces/proposals that seem to have a firm concept on how the unconventional instrument would work and interact in combination with the toy piano. In a toy piano call for scores, we don’t expect composers to have necessarily written for the instrument before, so the work sample was really important to give us a sense of what the composer’s voice is truly like.
There were quite a few proposals and pre-existing pieces that used live electronics in innovative ways (i.e. game controllers or other synth keyboards.) Many of these proposals and pieces were quite interesting, but I feel that the use of computer-generated music is no longer “unconventional,” particularly with a toy piano. Even with some great pieces using this combo, it just didn’t feel right for a computer to get the benefit in the year we were looking for an unconventional instrument.
This year, Tony Marasco builds an aeolian harp/plastorgan hybrid. I’ll leave the explanation to the next blog post written by him regarding the new piece and the new instrument. As a performer, it’s kind of thrilling and terrifying to commit oneself to perform an instrument that doesn’t exist yet. But there’s something very exciting about discovering a new sound or new instrument for the first time and figuring it out. Come out to the festival and we can discover it together!