Personnel: Ross Bolleter (accordion, piano).
Recording information: 1986-1993.
Australian composer Ross Bolleter had a wonderful idea. Trained as an accordionist and classical pianist, he had spent years playing everything from hotel bar fare to free improvisation, concentrating on prepared piano in the latter. But, in 1988, he "discovered a piano that had been left on a tennis court in searing heat and bitter cold (as well as a flash flood) for about a year" and had an epiphany. Why not compose for and perform on these naturally "prepared" pianos? Bolleter chooses to call them "ruined" as distinguished from "devastated" (which are "usually played in a crouched or lying position"), but one might rather think of them as "cured" by weather and the random happenstances of time.
As the listener may expect, the music sounds fairly unique and is not easily categorizable, though certain referents can be heard. Most notably, especially in the pieces involving aged and oft-repaired accordions, one hears echoes of the great Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla, whose darkly romantic approach forms the basis of Bolleter's "Nethermost Parts of the Dark," where he explores the lower reaches of two decaying bass accordions. The piano pieces rarely feature anything that sounds very piano-like. The instruments are so far out of tune that microtonality is a given, as well as buzzes, clicks, dead keys, and even less identifiable sounds. In pieces like "Myo Sei/Dark Sky," for three such animals, Bolleter conjures up a remarkably delicate and evocative soundscape tinged, as the title implies, with an Eastern sensibility. One can imagine that it was recorded in an ancient Japanese royal court, isolated for centuries, the musicians having divined their own techniques and usages for these battered and irreparable pianos.
Bolleter also displays a sharp sense of humor both in his liner notes and in the minute-long piece that opens the recording. Highly recommended to open-eared listeners, especially those interested in contemporary piano music and unusual instrumentation. ~ Brian Olewnick