Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Mechanical Pianos

Speaking of pianolas, or "player" pianos, Jaquard looms, or other manifestations of computer genetic material, I once participated in one of Trimpin's installations.
It consisted of nine computer operated toy pianos arranged in groups of three with a coin operated control panel.
One could stuff a quarter in the slot and select one of about 44 titles most of which were by local composers who responded to a call for scores,
One of them was my own "Slo motion number 9"
Scoring for this ensemble was tricky because, although all 9 pianos had the same limited range, each piano needed a separate line, so some needed to be in the treble and some in the bass clef.
I tried to include a passage in which a rapid line swirled around the room, each note on a different piano. It didn't work. It just sounded like random tinkling, which wasn't too bad an effect on it's own but didn't really fit the rest of the piece.
Not that the music was sophisticater enough for it to make too much difference.
Anyway, the composers got to keep the quarters (I made $10.00)*
But it was fun for all except, perhaps, for some of the Jackstraw employees who reported that the favorite piece of the installation "Alley Cat" was overplayed and got a bit annoying.
If you ever get a chance to experience a Trimpin computer controlled music installation, do it. One of my favorites was the water organ. A room full of water filled buckets had organ pipes lowered and raised into them causing the air to be pushed through the reeds making the sound.
The raising and lowering was controlled by a bank of photoelectric sensors passing over a wall of CD blanks.
A wonderfull sound not unlike being in a cathedral on some distant planet.
You realize that we are on a distant planet?
Way out in space?
Don't you?

* to the IRS; I reported it.

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Blogger butch said...

I hope you appreciate the data I included in my last comments on pianolas. I love this latest posting, big boy. It demonstrates that contrary to your carping diem, you do have fun once in a while. As to Trimpin:

Trimpin (b. 1951 in Istein, Germany) is a Seattle, Washington-based sculptor, musician, and composer, most of whose pieces integrate both sculpture and music in some way, and many of which make use of computers to play these instruments.

Growing up near the French and Swiss borders, Trimpin (who uses only his last name) was the son of a brass player, and as a child had access to old brass instruments to experiment with. He played brass instruments himself, but developed a skin allergy that made him give up playing. Trimpin's father treated him to spatial musical experiences, playing at some distance in the German woods, and young Trimpin also experimented with old radios. He studied at the University of Berlin.

In 1980 Trimpin moved to America because he needed access to old, used technological components, which were difficult to find in Europe; hearing that Seattle was a nice place, he settled there. One of his early installations was a six-story-high microtonal xylophone running through a spiral staircase in an Amsterdam theater, with computer-driven melodies ripping up and down it. Another piece was a water fountain installation in which drops of water, timed in complex rhythmic fugues, dripped into glass receptacles. Trimpin has invented a gamelan whose iron bells are suspended in air by electronic magnets; a photo sensor prevents them from rising past a certain point, and since they don't touch anything, once rung they will sound with a phenomenally long decay. He has invented an extra-long bass clarinet with extra keys spiraled around the instrument for a microtonal scale; this instrument requires a human to blow through the mouthpiece, while the dozens of extra keys are played via computer. In 1987 he met Conlon Nancarrow, composer of experimental player piano music unplayable by a human pianist, and invented a machine to convert Nancarrow's player piano rolls into MIDI information, thus saving their contents from potential deterioration and disaster.

Trimpin has invented machines to play every instrument of the orchestra via MIDI commands. His mechanical cello can achieve virtually unnoticeable bow changes, and his MIDI timpani can be rubbed quickly by the mallet, for a timpani drone unachievable by human hands.

Although his music is computer-driven, Trimpin almost never uses electronic sounds—not because he objects to them on principle, but because he thinks that loudspeaker design, basically unchanged for 100 years, has lagged behind the rest of electronic music technology. His one work to use electronic sounds was commission-mandated, a tornado-shaped column of electric guitars called Roots and Branches, installed in Seattle's Experience Music Project. Difficult to reach, the guitars tune themselves automatically, their tuning pegs turned via computer whenever pitch sensors register too flat or sharp. Beginning in July 2005, several Washington museums engaged in a year-long survey of his work curated by Beth Sellars, with installations and/or performances occurring at the Seattle Art Museum at SAAM,[2] Henry Art Gallery of the University of Washington, Consolidated Works (which dissolved shortly after the Trimpin Exhibit[3]), the Frye Art Museum, Jack Straw New Media Gallery, and Suyama Space in Seattle; the Museum of Glass and the Tacoma Art Museum in Tacoma; the Washington State University Museum of Art (Pullman); and, outside of Washington State, at the Missoula Museum of Art in Missoula, Montana and the Vancouver International Jazz Festival in Vancouver, Canada.[4]

Trimpin was the recipient of a 1997 MacArthur "Genius" Award.[1]

Trimpin in his Seattle studio
© Jim Newman 2000

Trimpin, a sound sculptor, composer, inventor, is one of the most stimulating one-man forces in music today. A specialist in interfacing computers with traditional acoustic instruments, he has developed a myriad of methods for playing, trombones, cymbals, pianos, and so forth with Macintosh computers. He has collaborated frequently with Conlon Nancarrow, realizing the composer's piano roll compositions through various media. At the 1989 Composer-to-Composer conference in Telluride, Colorado, Trimpin created a Macintosh-controlled device that allowed one of Nancarrow's short studies for player piano to be performed by mallets striking 100 Dutch wooden shoes arranged in a horseshoe from the edge of the balcony at the Sheridan Opera House. He also prepared a performance of Nancarrow's studies at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for New Music America in 1989.

Trimpin was born in southwestern Germany, near the Black Forest. His early musical training began at the age of eight, learning woodwinds and brass instruments. In later years he developed an allergic reaction to metal which prevented him from pursuing a career in music, so he turned to electro-mechanical engineering. Afterwards, he spent several years living and studying in Berlin where he received his Master's Degree from the University of Berlin.

Eventually he became interested in acoustical sets while working in theater productions with Samuel Beckett and Rick Cluchey, director of the San Quentin Drama Workshop. From 1985-87 he co-chaired the Electronic Music Department of the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam.

Trimpin now resides in Seattle where numerous instruments that defy description adorn his amazing studio. In describing his work, Trimpin sums it up as "extending the traditional boundaries of instruments and the sounds they're capable of producing by mechanically operating them. Although they're computer-driven, they're still real instruments making real sounds, but with another dimension added, that of spatial distribution. What I'm trying to do is go beyond human physical limitations to play instruments in such a way that no matter how complex the composition of the timing, it can be pushed over the limits."


Born in the Black Forest, educated in Berlin, and with a work history so long he only uses the last ten years so that it will fit on his two page resume, Trimpin looks very comfortable sitting in his Wallingford studio. On the shelf behind him are mechanical dolls. Above him hang horns which are perhaps 15 feet long, and around them are timpani drums. A wooden shoe with a mallet and a solenoid mounted inside rests atop one of his mechanical inventions for driving an acoustic piano - 88 solenoids with felt tips which press down on the keys.

It was in this studio in 1989 that the "America-Holland Line" performance occured, in which two acoustic pianos were played simultaneously via Satellite connections. One phone line carried audio, while another carried MIDI. Trimpin invited about 12 people over to sit in his studio and listen. In Holland, a couple hundred people attended the performance. This was different in concept from the Electronic Cafe experiments, in that, as usual, Trimpin created acoustic music on both ends, not electronic, although his machines were triggered through MIDI.

That same year he created "Floating Klompen" in which a bunch of clogs like the one on the shelf were set afloat on a pond, clicking in response to a sequencer or interactive human control.

He has also created water percussion instruments that are as beautiful to look at as they are to hear. One can be found at the Museum Technorama in Switzerland just outside of Zurich.

Most of Trimpin's work these days is for museums and galleries. In the past about half of his pieces were for music festivals where he would make an interactive musical installation and then come in and perform on it.

At age 10 Trimpin started music lessons. He even had his own workshop as a boy and was always building interesting things. He collected tube radios and at one point took the cases off several of them, stacked them, and hooked up a pulley system between the knobs so that by tuning one radio, he would effect them all. He was always interested in kinetics.

From his early years as a boy Trimpin has been interested in the aspects of spatialization of natural sounds. He had to develop his own machines to drive acoustic instruments which were mounted in different locations in a room. This was before computers, and so to drive rapid sequences which could pan quickly about he would punch out disks which would affect hammers in a manner similar to a player piano.

Other than computers, which are used only as a tool to distribute data to his acoustic instruments, electronic musicians won't find that they have equipment in common with Trimpin. Trimpin works only with acoustic sounds. No amplification, synthesis, speakers or any other unnatural manipulation of sound is allowed.

In order to feed his passion for acoustic sound spatialization Trimpin has had an extensive and broad education. He had formal music training from 1958-1970. He had an apprenticeship in school for Electro-Mechanical Engineering from 1966-1973, and he holds a Masters degree in Sozial Pädagogik/ Music and Art from Berlin, where he lived for 10 years.

He moved to Seattle in 1979 because he wanted access to Hi-Tech junk. At that time in Germany he was not able to find the right sources for electronic parts, and it was hard to find used computers. Here in Seattle he found junkyards and shops that carried just what he needed. Trimpin showed me a photo sensitive controller he had built using parts out of a card reader from a computer.

At our next meeting, Trimpin will talk with us and share some slides of his installations. If you would like to see Trimpin perform, you can catch him at the Random Access show at COCA on Saturday, August 6th, and you can see an installation of his this September at Beyond Fast Forward.

Man, I would have loved to hear that water organ recital. I guess I need to watch the recital section in the Friday paper, or you can alert your readership to a Trimpin concert whenever it reappears, right?

Remember, fine sir, that metaphysically this plane of existance is the only place in the universe where everyone is not automatically plugged into the Music of the Spheres. Music in the universe is a universal constant, like elements, and gravity, and photosynthesis. My supervisor here at the VA clinic where I work has a musical prodigy son. He sat down at a grand piano at four or five years old and started playing classical music. The doctor and her husband have no musical background or talent, so they were blown away. By 7-8 years old, the boy was giving concerts. When he was working with a music teacher, he was bored, and preferred to play by memory or ear. Now, hell, he did not get a vibe off a toilet seat. His abilities were genetic memories of a past life. Futurists and new agers believe that all musical composition is just "remembering" music you have heard before in a past life, or in some other dimension. So I guess, in terms of our species being in lesson on this planet, there is some "reason" for why we are so isolated from other life forms, except multidimensionally, spiritually, in a medatative state, or under the influence of a substance like mushrooms or LSD. But not everyone believes that we have had alien encounters from our earliest history, that every advance we have ever had, tools, the Bronze Age, the Industrial Revolution, the atomic age, the nuclear age, computers; all this stuff is, or was alien in origin, just introduced to us in a rapidly ascending spiral of activity. I have seen a UFO on the deserts of Southern CA, near Area 51, near China Lake Naval Weapons Center, near Edwards AFB --but that is another story.


1:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Glenn, for more VERY interesting and (for music lovers) useful info!!!
I also would like to know about any more of his concerts, sculpture exhibits, etc. Also, WHERE is the "COCA"; please let me know when I see you with Margrit, who,. sadly, will no longer be in Seattle for the 9 Aug concert.
An idea: Obtain Trimpin as the "Schirmherr" (basically "Godfather" in German) for YOUR "Composers' Workshop" and thereby decimate Benaroya's ranks!!

2:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Butch said" Trimpin was born in "Istein" in 1951. The year may be OK, but there is no such town, village, or evenj cross-roads named "Istein" in ALL of Germany, East or West. I have an atlas that has "all of the above" in its index, and "Isten" is not in it. There is an "Idstein" in the Taunus mountains, about a third of the way between Frankfurt (Main) and Cologne, but that is NO where near the Blacki Forest, let alone in it. There is also a "Isny" in the same state as the Black Forest (Baden Württemberg), but also nowhere near the B.F. Let's ask Trimpin at his concert about the exact spelling and location of his birthplace (that's the concert on 6 Aug (BUT WHERE IS IT, PLEASE??).

1:48 AM  

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