Instrumental Parasites: Interfacing the Fragile and the Robust

Paper presented at INTER-FACE, International Conference on Live Interfaces, Lisbon November 2014.

Abstract.

The parasitical relationship between the grand piano and the myriad objects used in its preparation as pioneered by John Cage in the late 1940’s is here discussed from a perspective of free improvisation practice. Preparations can be defined as the use of a “non-instrument” object (screws, bolts, rubbers etc…) to alter or modify the behaviour of an instrument or part of an instrument. Although also present in instrumental practices based on the electric guitar or the drum kit, the piano provides a privileged space of exploration given its large‐scale resonant body. It also highlights the transgressive aspect of preparation (the piano to be prepared often belongs to a venue rather than to the pianist herself, hence highlighting relationships of trust, care and respect). Since 2007 I have used a guitar-object (a small wooden board with strings and pick ups) connected to a small amplifier to prepare the grand piano in my free improvisation practice. This paper addresses the different relationships afforded by this type preparation which is characterised by the fact that the object for preparation is in itself an instrument (albeit a simplified one), and the preparation is ephemeral and intrinsic to the performance. The paper also reflects on the process of designing an interface from and for a particular practice and in collaboration with a guitar luthier.

plankDownload full paper: InstrumentalParasites_Rebelo2014

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