Saturday, June 19, 2010

Music Meets Art--In the MIddle of the Sidewalk?

Via Althouse comes word of an unusual art project that involves the installation of 60 pianos in 50 different public places around New York City; anyone will be allowed to play them:
An art installation touring the world is making its first U.S. stop beginning Monday. For two weeks, players can play tunes on pianos all over New York City, at famous landmarks like the Lincoln Center, the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Staten Island ferry terminal and Central Park's bandshell.

The concept, devised by British artist Luke Jerram, has put more than 130 pianos in parks, squares and bus stations since 2008 in cities including London, Sydney and Sao Paulo. And now it's New York City's turn to play, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Thursday.

"There's going to be a huge amount of talent here," Jerram said in an interview. "The piano's actually a blank canvas for everyone's creativity, really, so I just hope that the city enjoys it."
Althouse herself is skeptical, thinking that the sounds emanating from the pianos will not often be great art:

I just hope, if your apartment or office is within earshot of one of those pianos that you like "Chopsticks," "Für Elise," Billy Joel songs, and the way it sounds when someone drags their fingers the full length of the keyboard. Why do Jerram and Bloomberg think that saccharine everyman "creativity" will blossom?
As someone who worked at a music store (and cringed whenever parents let their three-year-olds run loose in the piano section), I can see her point. (She also links to a funny video of a skilled pianist playing things badly--often meaning that the right hand and left hand were a half-step apart from each other--on purpose. That gave me flashbacks to my music store days as well.)

The commentariat at Althouse has quite a good discussion on the subject. Quite a few folks are somewhat cynical regarding the safety of the instruments in NYC, but there are already safeguards in place:
Each of the 60 pianos to be installed throughout New York has its own attendants responsible for its care. That involves unlocking the keyboard at 9 a.m. every day and deploying a heavy tarp over the instrument if it rains.
My favorite comment comes from Donna B., who says, "I'm not impressed. REAL art would be leaving tubas in public spaces for people to play." Now that would be funny.

Luke Jerram's website has some pictures of this installation in previous cities, and it seems like it could be enjoyable. As a few people noted at Althouse, the places that have a public piano (student unions at colleges, etc.) tend to only attract skilled players (probably because of the combination of close quarters and public setting), and this would be a chance for anyone, regardless of experience, to sit down and play. And of course, you might find a real gem amongst the dreck. (But if someone really good did sit down and play, would people notice, or would it be a repeat of Joshua Bell playing in the DC subway station from a few years ago?)

So what do you think--good idea, or bad idea? Will it generate some real art, or will it likely to be "Chopsticks" and "Heart and Soul" played ad nauseam for the bulk of the time that the display is up? Chime in (heh) by hitting the commment tab.

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