Sphere, Slowly

During a sweltering July in 2004, I was looking at an old spinet piano a relative had given us. I was staring at it because I couldn’t really play it, as it would no longer hold tuning (not to mention my skills being rudimentary). We’d gotten it tuned a half dozen times and those visits were getting sooner and sooner. I’d called around, hoping to sell it. No value… at least, none to speak of. No getting around it, it had to be junked. I hated the idea. No, it wasn’t particularly special. Wood, ivory (I suppose), iron, wires. But, otherwise, not much. I’d made arrangements to have it picked up in a few days. But, I thought it’d be interesting to break it down and see how it functioned and how it was put together. As I discovered, even this common spinet was put together well (we’d estimated somewhere in the late 30s or early 40s). Some parts were tough to remove. But, eventually, I got it down to a bunch of parts, wooden segments and panels, and the large, heavy soundboard. Exhausted on the floor, I leaned back and studied the soundboard. It was rather beautiful, tilted against the wall. When I’d first moved the piano away from the wall, I found an old tennis ball. It now was beside me. I grabbed it and lobbed it against the stretched strings of the soundboard. It hit somewhere toward the lower range of strings. The combination of notes sounded slightly dissonant and beautiful at the same time. I lobbed it again at another section. Again, beautiful. I was surprised by how long it resonated. Then, I got the notion: I’d make a video of this process.

Choose interesting angles as I drop, skip and roll the tennis ball over the taut strings of the soundboard. Later, edit the shots into some sort of cantata for junked piano and video lens. Early on, I realized that the tennis ball wasn’t visually appealing. I discovered a blue, transparent, acrylic ball from an old trackball mouse to replace it. Its hardness made the sounds even more clear. I shot the entire thing in less than an hour and spent the rest of the day editing it together. The result is the video shown here. But, before the piano carcass was carted away, I retrieved the piano keys. I bundled those into a piece I usually call ’88,’ but have also named ‘Arthritis.’ Recycling, my friends. Recycling.

©2004 Jerry King Musser

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