Skip to main content

Raydale Dower - Piano Drop

“Anyone who has ever played a piano,” Tom Waits declared in a recent
interview, “would really like to hear how it sounds when dropped from a
twelfth-floor window.”

Waits probably hasn’t heard of Raydale Dower, but if the gravel-voiced
troubadour can bring his wonkily-inclined junkyard orchestra over to
Tramway this week for the Glasgow-based artist and musician’s new
three-dimensional audio-visual installation, he might just be able to
find out. As its title suggests, Piano Drop is a Sensurround record of
what happened when Dower let loose a winched-up keyboard from the
venue’s ceiling, filming it as it smashed into a million match-stick
size pieces.

The result, slowed down by up to forty times and relayed through a film
loop and an ambisonic speaker arrangement, aims to enhance the hidden
musicality of such a seemingly destructive action.

“It was a simple piece of musical curiosity,” Dower explains of Piano
Drop’s roots, “just to explore the straightforward absurd and anarchic
enjoyment of dropping a piano. It’s like a performance piece, but
without any performer, so it becomes this gesture. The only other way
you could do something like this would be in a war-torn city, where you
could push a piano off a building, but you’re not going to be able to
document it in the same way. My sole interest was to find out what
happened sonically if you dropped a piano. I just wanted to hear it.”

Enabled by a Creative Scotland Vital Spark award and with Tramway on
board, Dower teamed up with Glasgow School of Art’s Digital Design
Studio world renowned sonic consultants, ARUP Acoustics.

“That’s when it became a much bigger event,” Dower says. “Dropping a
piano all happens in a few seconds, so you want to slow it down so you
can witness it in full and explore the repercussions. So we brought in
these really fast cameras that take a thousand frames a second. What’s
funny is you start with an absurd proposition, and you end up with this
near scientific documentation of what I think of as a sculptural
composition.”

Both Waits’ comment and Dower’s action echo the words of proto
Surrealist Tristan Tzara, who in 1918 grandly pronounced that
‘Musicians smash your instruments’. Other precedents come via Fluxus
artist Nam June Paik destroying a violin, Al Hansen’s similarly
inclined Yoko Ono Piano Drop, and even Jimi Hendrix’s very public
burning of his guitar. The Who’s Pete Townshend, meanwhile, had already
looked to Gustav Metzger’s notions of auto-destructive art by reducing
his own guitars to splinters.

Yet the smashed piano is also something of a slapstick staple. On more
than one occasion in their prolific film career, iconic comedy double
act Laurel and Hardy explored the perils of piano removal to hilarious
effect. The appeal of watching buildings being demolished is another
form of spectacle informing Piano Drop. Dower also mentions the power
of dub reggae sound systems, the covers of classic Blue Note jazz
albums and Samuel Beckett as influences on Piano Drop.

“Slowing sound down isn’t the same as slowing images down,” he says.
“An image freezes, but with sound, you just get this kind of sub-atomic
rumble. It’s like a catastrophe. You’re exploding the moment. Then when
you see it at normal speed, it looks like a Charlie Chaplin film.”

Piano Drop isn’t Dower’s first artistic exploration of sound. His first
solo show, On Memory and Chance, at Stirling’s Changing Room gallery in
2010, used chance compositions. Dower had also previously piled four
pianos on top of each other at the Talbot Rice.

In terms of events, at last year’s Glasgow international Festival of
Visual Art, Dower created Le Drapeau Noir, an ad hoc avant-garde social
space that became the festival’s informal hub. Prior to this, Dower was
bass player with Glasgow-based raw blues hollerers Uncle John &
Whitelock, and currently provides clarinet and other noises for the
more experimentally inclined Tut Vu Vu.

“I wanted to make a visual equivalent of music,” Dower says, “then I
went to art school and came out with a bass guitar and started a band.”

Dower recently found out from his mother that, as a child, he couldn’t
talk properly. To explain the world around him, he made noises,
impersonating the sounds he heard around him. Dower may be
hyper-articulate today, but Piano Drop is a logical extension of his
early behaviour.

“It should sound like an earthquake,” he says, “which is a fairly
primitive thing to hear. I want it to have an impact.”

Piano Drop, Tramway, Glasgow, November 3-6
www.tramway.org

The Herald, November 1 2011

ends

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Peter Brook – The Prisoner

Peter Brook is no stranger to Scotland, ever since the guru of European and world theatre first brought his nine-hour epic, The Mahabharata, to Glasgow in 1988. That was at the city’s old transport museum, which by 1990 had become Tramway, the still-functioning permanent venue that opened up Glasgow and Scotland as a major channel for international theatre in a way that had previously only been on offer at Edinburgh International Festival.
Brook and his Paris-based Theatre des Bouffes du Nord company’s relationship with Tramway saw him bring his productions of La Tragedie de Carmen, La Tempete, Pellease et Mellisande, The Man Who…, and Oh Les Beaux Jours – the French version of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days – to Glasgow.
Thirty years on from The Mahabharata, Brook comes to EIF with another piece of pan-global theatre as part of a residency by Theatre des Bouffes du Nord, which Brook has led since he decamped to Paris from London in the early 1970s. The current Edinburgh residency has alr…

Romeo And Juliet - Shakespeare's Globe Comes to Glasgow

Open-air Shakepeares are a summer-time perennial of the theatre calendar, attracting picnicking audiences as much as midges. More often than not, such romps through the grass are frothy, heritage industry affairs designed to be accompanied by strawberries and cream and not to be taken too seriously. Shakespeare’s Globe theatre company look set to change such perceptions when they open their outdoor tour of Romeo And Juliet in Glasgow next week as part of the West End festival.

For the two young actors taking the title roles of the doomed lovers, it will also be something of a homecoming. Richard Madden and Ellie Piercy both studied in Glasgow prior to turning professional. Indeed, Madden has yet to graduate from the acting course at RSAMD, and, as well as facing the pressures of playing such a meaty role in close proximity to the audience, will have the added anxiety of being assessed and graded by his tutors.

“This is the end of my third year,” says Madden following a Saturday mornin…

Suzy Glass – Message from the Skies

Freedom of movement matters to Suzy Glass, the arts and events producer currently overseeing the second edition of Message from the Skies.This animated literary derive around the city forms part of this year’s Edinburgh’s Hogmanay programme, and runs right through till Burns’ Night. Glass’ concerns are inherent in the event itself, which has commissioned six writers from different disciplines and experiences to each pen a love letter to Europe. Each writer has then paired up with a composer and visual artist or film-maker, with the results of each collaboration projected in monumental fashion on the walls of one of half a dozen of the capital’s most iconic buildings.
With venues stretching from the south side of Edinburgh to Leith, and with one city centre stop requiring a walk up Calton Hill, there is considerable legwork required to complete the circuit. It shouldn’t be considered a race, however, and audiences are free to move between venues at their leisure, visiting each site on d…