Meet 2017 Toy Piano Festival Participants – l’Artiste ordinaire

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l’Artiste ordinaire Photo by: Aleksandr Karjaka

Established in January 2016, l’Artiste ordinaire (l’Ao) is a collaborative partnership between composer-performers Melissa Grey and David Morneau that has launched electronic performances and Soft Series, a concert series dedicated to presenting soft premieres. Live electronic performances include 7^3 [M] (Benjolin synthesizer, Game Boy), Gadget Berry Dimple: A Glossary of False Translation (Benjolin, Merlin, Spoken Word) for Hans Tammen’s Rakete bee bee? Rakete bee zee! 100th Anniversary of Dada at Spectrum NYC, and Hyperlocal 2.0 for Thomas Piercy (Bass Clarinet, Sine Waves, Beats). l’Ao is developing Photon Ecstasy, a concert-length performance project that engages music, sound, and science fiction to address the hubris of certainty, which will premiere at the University of Pennsylvania Special Collections Library in conjunction with the exhibition of artist Dan Rose’s DNAPhoton Project (October 2016).

Composer Melissa Grey’s works have been described as “elegantly diabolical…strikingly eerie and captivating” ( Her recent projects include blur (after blue hour), a kinetic score based on Renaissance combinatorial memory wheels, created for Payton MacDonald’s Sonic Divide project. She is currently developing a soundscape that will broadcast in the gallery space for the exhibition curated by artist Angela Grauerholz, Michèle Lemieux | The Whole and Its Parts, From drawing to animated films, to be shown at the Centre de design, Université du Québec à Montréal in September 2016. With artist and animator Nicole Antebi, she has ongoing animation-sound projects that include live performance and processing with Grey performing a vintage Merlin music machine: Procrustean Bed, composed for violinist Lynn Bechtold, premiered at the New West Electronic Arts and Music Organization Festival in San Diego; and Magic Square, a triple collaborative effort with Antebi and synthpop pioneer, Vince Clarke, premiered at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, New York. Grey is an Associate Director of Composers Concordance and a Member of the Board of Directors for Miolina, the violin duo of Lynn Bechtold and Mioi Takeda. She teaches Sound Studies at the School of Media Studies at The New School in New York City.

David Morneau is a composer of an entirely undecided genre. Described by Molly Sheridan as a “shining beacon” of inspiration, his diverse work illuminates ideas about our culture, issues concerning creativity, and even the very nature of music itself. His eclectic output has been described variously as “elegantly rendered”, “happily prissy”, “impressive”, “unusual, esoteric, and offbeat”. His chiptune album, Broken Memory, “absolutely wrecks shop.… For that, David Morneau wins.” His current projects include Not Less Than the Good, a secularized morning prayer service based on Henry Thoreau’s Walden, which is being composed for New Thread Quartet (a New York based saxophone ensemble) and will include field recordings made at Walden Pond and read excerpts from Thoreau’s book; and Vintage Machines, a series of pieces utilizing vintage video game systems to make music. Morneau is composer-in-residence with Immigrant Breast Nest, a New York City netlabel.

What sparked your interest in toy piano?
We are interested in Elizabeth’s relationship to the toy piano. She has written that her “obsession” with this instrument is rooted in her ability to connect it to electronics and “create massive walls of sound that are completely unexpected from such a tiny instrument.” As she explored the possibilities inherent in her approach she realized that “our eyes create a judgment of how a particular object should sound. When that object fails to live up to our expectations, it is unexpected… it plays with our emotions…. It is another secret garden an unexpected oasis that one did not even know they were craving.” This echoes the experiences that we have had while discovering how to make music with our own sound-making toys. Melissa performs using a vintage Merlin handheld computer game, set to music machine mode. As a child, she played with a Merlin for many long hours, drawn into the sonic world it offered. Recently reconnected with a Merlin, Melissa has been exploring new possibilities for creating music. The addition of an audio-output jack that connects the Merlin to her laptop and a volume control allows her to develop original performance techniques, transforming Merlin from a toy to a generator of new sonic worlds. David performs using an original Nintendo Game Boy. His interest in this object is rooted in his love of video games as a child, and his delight at the subversion of the technology in order to make music. His explorations are motivated by the sense of surprise that can be found within the constraints of this technology. He strives to create sounds that defy everyone’s expectations of what the Nintendo Game Boy can be, even die-hard chiptune aficionados.

What do you hope to achieve artistically or educationally from your participation in the festival?
With Photon Ecstasy, we are building a catalog of sonic messages, broadcast to the distant star systems in the Milky Way galaxy. Certain broadcasts will require additional sound specialists to work alongside l’Ao technicians. Our broadcast to DP Leonis b will be strengthened and will achieve a higher likelihood of success with the inclusion of Elizabeth A. Baker. She will be able to create vibrations naturally sympathetic to the constellation Leo–in which the star system DP Leonis is aligned. Our goal for broadcasting with Ms. Baker for the 2017 Florida International Toy Piano Festival is to align our vibrations with hers so that we can all exist in the same sonic world for just a little while.

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