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Images of the Week: Sketches of Dismembered Pianos

What happens when discarded pianos are rejuvenated and extended with technology? It should look something along these lines:

That’s a rough sketch by artist Hugo Solís of his interactive sound sculpture “Metaphors for Dead Pianos,” which opens at the Seattle gallery Jack Straw on January 29 and runs through April 2, 1010.

Photos of two previous public renditions of “Metaphors” from last year (first at the Ex-Convento del Carmen in Guadalajara, and later at Biblioteca Vasconcelos in Mexico City) appear at the website of Eric Thompson (, who assisted in their installation. Here’s one of Thompson’s photos:

The original title of the work is “Metáforas para Pianos Muertos,” in the native Spanish of Solís, who was born in Mexico City and is pursuing his Ph.D. at DXArts in Seattle, aka the Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media at the University of Washington Seattle.

The image of a suspended piano, its innards splayed and connected to a raw grid of electronics, brings to mind David Byrne’s recent work “Playing the Building,” in which an organ is rigged to trigger sounds from inside an architectural site. But whereas Byrne’s piece physically links an antiquated instrument to a building, in the case of Solís’s “Metaphors” the relation of building to instrument is one in which the expansive space allows for the instrument to be taken apart — essentially allowing individuals to move inside the instrument. In that sense, “Metaphors” is in the tradition of the prepared piano, in which the insides of the object are treated with string, tape, metal, and other items in order not only to alter its sound, but to bring to the surface aspects that might have come to be taken for granted, made almost invisible, to the audience.

The brief description at the Jack Straw gallery states, in part,

“The poetical goal [of ‘Metaphors’] is to revive the instruments using a contemporary sonic perspective. The pianos are extended with custom electronic circuits, custom software, microcontrollers, sensors, motors, and solenoids.”

It would be interesting to know if the addition of these motorized, electric components is part of a metaphor intended to depict the piano, and the musical and cultural legacy associated with it, as something in need of life support.

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By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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