A few years ago, the pianist and toy piano virtuoso Phyllis Chen performed a piece of mine that included an invented instrument. We didn’t have time to meet before the concert. When she began to play, she twirled the instrument—which had once broken and flown into an audience—enthusiastically above her head. I like to think that it was due to her special abilities with unusual instruments that nothing went wrong that night. In this playlist, she presents some of her favorite music for ruined pianos, stone xylophones, and more.—Jeffrey Arlo Brown
Daniel Jodocy – for bellerina
Dan is an all-around instrument whiz whom I met here in New York. There I came across a bunch of his music boxes, which he calls musical suitcases, with his own invented mechanical instruments inside. I invited Dan to perform on his bellerina for a concert I was curating at the Look & Listen Festival. He was unpacking his playing musical suitcase for the entirety of the piece.
Jen Shyu – “Song for Naldo” for voice and Taiwanese moon lute
I saw Jen’s premiere performance of “Solo Rites: Seven Breaths” at Roulette in New York. The style of storytelling was captivating. I’ll never forget this exceptional one-woman show.
Nick Yulman – “Study for Books No. 1” for Index Organ
I was introduced to Nick recently for his Bricolo Kits. The kit has a bunch of mechanical modules that users can attach to any instrument. At a recent studio tour, I saw numerous unlikely objects firing off into a grand orchestra, so to speak. This is a work that plays a bunch of different books. I’ll most definitely be ordering my own Bricolo Kit to play with at home.
Ross Bolleter – “Secret Sandhills” for six ruined pianos
Ross’s work with ruined pianos has left a deep impact on me as I am a pianist by training. Every time I come across an abandoned piano I think of its possibilities, just the way it is.
John Tilbury and John Lely: “Line with Accompaniment” for clavichord and electronics
I inherited a clavichord a few years ago and decided to search out some new music for the instrument. This entire album is beautiful, featuring improvisations and compositions by Christian Wolf, Dirar Kalash, John Tilbury, and John Lely.
Michael Pisaro – “Ricefall” for rice falling on objects; Greg Stuart (Director), International Contemporary Ensemble
Mike Pisaro is a former professor of mine at Northwestern whom I’ve been following pretty regularly. This is from a live performance with the ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) from last fall. The instrumentation is grains of rice falling on objects. Another version, “Ricefall (2),” is available on Gravity Wave and is 72 minutes long with 64 different tracks.
Terry Dame and the Electric Junkyard Gamelan Ensemble – “Life on Marz Intro” for invented instruments
I first met Terry when we were co-billed for a concert and asked to play a brief improvisation together with her Electric Junkyard Gamelan. That must’ve been one of their last concerts because they haven’t been active for a few years. Since then Terry has still been making tons of homemade instruments. She also curates Weird Wednesdays, a once-a-month series that showcases instrument-makers. I was always proud to be one of her Weird Women.
Tim Phillips – “Rotating Metallaphones” for reclaimed waste pipe
I’ve never met Tim, but I love the playfulness of his “Rotating Metallaphones.” I’m fascinated by the idea that an acoustic instrument like this is always in flux—such a game changer!
Nathan Davis – “Talking to Vasuveda” for stone xylophone
Nathan is one of my dearest colleagues in the International Contemporary Ensemble. Though I’m sure this isn’t the first time stones have been sourced to make a xylophone, I find his use of them in this piece to be exceptionally beautiful. He told me he gathered these stones along a creek in Vermont. ¶