music, technology & life in pasadena, california

An Experiment

Written in January 2013 when Elise was nine years old

Tonight was an experiment. I asked Elise to accompany me to a Piano Spheres concert featuring pianist Vicki Ray at The Colburn School. It was a school night and the concert started at 8pm, her usual bedtime. On top of that, the Piano Spheres concerts are themselves experimental in nature, offering a collaboration of composers and musicians in contemporary music. She was a good sport about getting dressed up and going downtown, excited to see the town all lit up and the places where I work.

When we got to the school, the person at the box office recognized me from the LA Philharmonic concert of the week before. Elise was very impressed that someone would know who I was. She even asked me if I was famous...uh, no dear, except maybe in my mind. When we walked into the hall she wanted to sit in the third row center. I was a little apprehensive, but went along with it. Elise hasn't had much formal concert experience and I'm a stickler for concert etiquette, but I thought since this was an experiment, why not?

The first piece was written by Chinary Ung, for piano, cello and violin. All the players wore a wireless headset microphone to intone fragments of speech in a language definitely not English. Thick layers of instrumental sound including piano work inside the instrument prevailed along with whistling from the players as well. Elise was a little uncomfortable after her initial curiosity gave way. "That sounds like a fictional language, Dad" and then, "I'm not sure I like this", but she sat through it quietly and applauded at the finish.

The second piece was for solo piano, quite beautiful in its unusual harmony, a contemporary haiku. Vicki played it beautifully and it was very evocative of the title, Flowing Water Caress Fallen Petals. Elise didn't respond to the tone poem aspect and started to fidget slightly. I think it was settling in that the whole concert would be similar and she wasn't necessarily thrilled that she wasn't connecting with it.

The third piece was titled, Rad, played by two players on electronic keyboards. The instruments seemed to be tuned microtonally, sometimes producing a quasi-gamelan effect. It was an extremely difficult piece to play and to listen to. The players wore a small earpiece and my guess is that they were listening to a click track to keep them together. Occasionally they would play with elbows and forearms, but much of it was filled with fast flying notes, at times sounding like rapid-fire conversation between two cartoon characters. I pointed this out quietly to Elise, who by this time would have none of it and was quietly whining about going home and not being able to listen to much more.

I can't say that I blamed her, for it was very difficult, even for a musician accustomed to playing new music. We left at intermission, and had a discussion in the car about how important it is for artists to break new barriers, to always push and experiment. I told her how proud I was of her for coming with me and listening, for her excellent behavior and how important it is to experience everything we can whether we end up liking it or not.

It was a night of experiments.

September 14, 2014 | Link to this entry


Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

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