Frozen Piano on Lake Nipissing

Ice Follies, North Bay, Ontario, February–March 2014

Presented by the Near North Mobile Media Lab with thanks to Dermot Wilson and Holly Cunningham

This installation combines two pieces that I have installed and developed in a number of locations over the years: the Long Aeolian Piano (begun in 1984) and A Piano Listening to Itself (begun in 2010).

A piano is transported onto the ice of frozen Lake Nipissing, and 220-foot-long piano wires are stretched across the ice-scape and anchored to a trailer positioned on the ice specifically for this purpose. Inside the trailer are an audio player and amplifier, that send audio recordings to six small motors, each attached to the ends of the six long piano wires. The motors reproduce the audio signals and send those vibrations into the long wires, which transmit them to the soundboard of the distant piano. The audio recordings consist of 26 re-composed works of Frederic Chopin, and 11 original and re-composed works of Henry Cowell.

In addition, aeolian tones are created when wind blows across the long piano wires, and this happens quite often. When a breeze blows mildly across or obliquely to the wires, the result is a blend of prerecorded transmissions and aeolian tones; when the wind blows directly across the wires at low, medium or strong velocities, the aeolian tones dominate and the prerecorded sounds are (mostly) drowned out. The piece runs 24 hours a day.

Thus, a musical composition of quasi-indeterminate form is realized. A man-made physical structure is constructed to interface with natural forces so that spontaneous musical forms are manifest. These spontaneous manifestations are the result of a physical sculpture reproducing prerecorded audio signals that are unpredictably interacted-upon and dominated by wind-generated overtone vibrations.

Additional Install Assistance: David Merleau

Gordon Monahan 2014