Monday 28 September 2009

Bristol Improvisors Zariba & The Public Piano Project: September 2009

In September 2009, a number of upright pianos were installed in various public spaces around the city of Bristol, as part of a project entitled 'Play Me, I'm Yours.' A few days before they were due to be taken down, members of Bristol Improvisors Zariba spent a day travelling between several of the instruments for a series of collective improvisations, recordings of which can be listened to at

Free improvisation, a supremely interactive music, is too often restricted to taking place in environments that are either closed and private or simply too hidden away for most people to be aware of what's going on just round the corner: in small rehearsal cabins or pub back-rooms, rooms whose size precludes attendance by much more than a small crowd of accolytes and enthusiasts, or maybe even just the musicians themselves. The 'Play Me I'm Yours' project thus seemed the perfect opportunity to take the music to the streets and parks of Bristol, in a situation which was more part of the continuing unfolding of city life than a foregrounded 'performance' or 'event'; as joggers and cyclists and skateboarders came by along the pavement, a few people would be clustered around a piano, sometimes leaving so much silence and playing so quietly that people thought they had not even begun, at others more obviously playing what one passerby called "weird modern music." As well as the pleasure of simply playing, improvising outside came with the added benefits of opportunities for interaction with environment (birdcalls, gusts of wind through trees, police sirens) and for people within that environment - whether the reactions involved were bemused, vaguely hostile, or even intrigued. One teenager came over with his mates just as we were finishing one piece; we offered for him to sit down and play something, which he did, at first in an attempt to mock it, but then really getting into it, at which point his two friends slapped him on the face and headed off. Anything outside the normal patterns of existence quickly gets slapped down; even the piano project, something of a social experiment, was managed within certain limits. Thus, playing after certain hours was prohibited in some cases, despite the sound of the piano being quieter than the constant sound of the city nightscape, with its sirens and helicopters, or the jazz band playing in a trendy bar.

Below is a video of one of the Zoriba Improvisations: this one took place at the Castle Park piano sometime after 2pm. The performers are Mark Anthony Whiteford on saxophone and David Grundy on piano. Also below, a short clip of Bristol Improvisors Zoriba performing inside a regular rehearsal cabin, later the same day: the performers are Mark Anthony Whiteford (saxophone, electronics), David Grundy (percussion, flute), Stuart Chalmers (electronics) and Donovan Hawley (trumpet).