Cornish Playhouse resident artists Ruth Marie Tomlinson (faculty), Fritz Rodriguez (alumni), John David Tomlinson, and Tania Kupczak have been deconstructing, cataloguing, rebuilding, and constructing fables of a Sohmer & Co. Baby Grand piano. The deconstruction began in November of 2016 and will culminate over Memorial Day weekend with a closing reception on May 25.
What do you do with a decommissioned piano? At Cornish College of the Arts, you turn it into art. In particular a visual, audio, and time-based media project that has occupied one corner of the Cornish Playhouse's lobby for the academic year. Beginning with “Cupid’s Last Night” in November and progressing through this month, “re:88 / fables of a decommissioned piano” has attracted attention from both casual walkers through the Seattle Center grounds and audiences attending productions. People peer through the window at the ongoing artistic process and follow the fate of the Sohmer & Co. Baby Grand online.
Cataloging as a way of understanding is not new to faculty member Ruth Marie Tomlinson. In charge of “Fable One,” she has taken the piano apart piece by piece. Her work is methodical, slow, and ultimately transformative. A broken object became more than a set of classified parts. As she touched each part multiple times, she considered everything about it: shape, color, material, function, history. The process of deconstructing our Sohmer Cupid piano* has raised the question for her; “What does each piece of a piano know?”
“Fable Two” was making each archived piece available to Cornish graduate Fritz Rodgriuez ’16 and John David Tomlinson. For Rodriguez, the “re:88” is a continuation of his previous instrument building. Some of the parts extracted from the piano were being reformed into small instruments used for amplified performances in the space. These instruments are intuitively conceived of and primarily percussive. The work also drew on both John David Tomlinson’s engineering and musician selves. He started with research about how to take a grand piano apart. In the process, he realized certain subsets of components could be removed intact and the possibilities for what might be constructed with those parts exploded. Tomlinson, who is a keyboard musician, has always dreamed of being able to bend the pitch of a notes on a piano, much like a pedal steel guitar bends notes. He tried out that dream with the construction of a reduced piano keyboard with bendable pitch made from the parts of our 1920s Sohmer Cupid piano.
Tania Kupczak took charge of “Fable Three,” the video documentation of the project along with a collaboration with a choreographer to create a dance film set in the studio. Kupczak describes herself as a visual artist by training, a film professional by trade, and a discourse surfer by necessity. Her focus in this project combined the forces that a human body and an instrument exert on each other in uncommon ways.
A closing reception will be held on May 25, 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., to share and conclude this work. From John Cage’s prepared piano work for Cornish dancer Syvilla Fort in 1940 to today’s deconstruction and reconstruction of the Cornish Playhouse piano, such interdisciplinary work remains at the heart of the Cornish experience.
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