All's grist that comes to the mill

by Erik Griswold

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about

The sonic boom of 16 pianos slammed with double forearm clusters; the thick droning of 16 microtonally shifting arpeggios; Honky Tonk pianos gone mad.

The Piano Mill is a steampunk tower in the forest of New South Wales purpose-built to house 16 vintage upright pianos. Created by architect Bruce Wolfe for composer Erik Griswold, the structure is a building and fantastical musical instrument all in one.

All’s grist that comes to the mill is a 48-minute composition in 13 parts, in which Griswold harnesses the unprecedented sound potential of this new mega-instrument, enlisting the expertise of 14 leading pianists, 2 percussionists performing and a eurythmist – a “who’s who” of Australian performers.

Sonic phenomena are at the core of the work. Elemental music materials – a tone cluster, an arpeggio, a soft four-chord vamp – are multiplied by the 16 pianos and interact with the architecture to produce complex acoustical effects. We hear the massive sonic boom of 16 double forearm clusters (Introduction); the droning, chorusing, and pitch bending illusions of 16 slowly shifting arpeggios (The hive); the insane spatialization of 16 Honky Tonk pianos gone mad (Nancarrow); the joyous spectral noise of 16 black-key palm-cluster tremolos (Crashing waves), and the ear-splitting cacophony of three-metre long grader blade chimes struck with hammers.

All’s grist boasts a catalog of avant garde references, with nods to iconic avant garde composers Conlon Nancarrow, Arnold Schoenberg, and soft pop maestro Richard Clayderman, as well as moments of pure, pianistic sound (think Boredoms). A bent nostalgia evokes the colonial history of the pianos, echoed in microtonal quotations of Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy. And the forest’s natural soundscape also informs the work – with birdcalls, frogs, insects, wind and weather influencing the music and literally appearing in the recording (hear the thunderclaps in Three great parlour themes).

This recording of the premiere performance of Erik Griswold's All's grist that comes to the mill is brilliantly captured by engineer Myles Mumford, freshly mastered by Lawrence English, and available for the first time in vinyl.

credits

released March 20, 2020

Directed by Vanessa Tomlinson
Performed by Alistair Noble, Anna Grinberg, Brieley Cutting, Cara Tran, Colin Noble, Erik Griswold, Jan Baker-Finch, Louise Denson, Lynette Lancini, Michael Askill, Michael Hannan, Sonya Lifschitz, Stephen Emmerson, Steve Newcomb, Therese Milanovic, Vanessa Tomlinson, Yitzhak Yedid.
Recorded and mixed by Myles Mumford.
Mastered by Lawrence English.

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Harrigans Lane Collective Willsons Downfall, Australia

Home of The Piano Mill. Creating explorative interdisciplinary projects in rural Australia with a focus on architecture, music, arts, design, and environment.

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