Toy pianist and artistic director Ju-Ping Song joins her Lancaster, PA based group NakedEye Ensemble for an album of new solos and ensemble works for toy piano by several composer colleagues of hers. From Ge Ganru's Peking Opera inspired "Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!" to Richard Belcastro's gritty duo piece with electric guitar "Knock Em' Back," this recording presents the toy piano at the center of several diverse compositional approaches.
|01||Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!|
Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!
|Ju-Ping Song, voice & toy instruments||12:31|
Gossamer WingsErik Griswold
|Susanna Loewy, flute, Ryan Kauffman, saxophone, Peter Kibbe, cello, Chad Kinsey, electric guitar, Ju-Ping Song, toy piano, Adam Rosenblatt, xylophone & toy drum kit|
|05||Babbling Tower to Tower|
Babbling Tower to Tower
|Ju-Ping Song, toy piano||8:29|
Knock 'Em BackRichard Belcastro
|Ju-Ping Song, toy piano, Chad Kinsey, electric guitar/pedals|
|Ju-Ping Song, toy piano||3:06|
Lancaster, PA based NakedEye Ensemble releases their latest recording, “Toy,” featuring their artistic director, Ju-Ping Song, in works for toy piano that highlight its versatility as a solo instrument, in ensemble, and as a catalyst for experimentation. The repertoire on the recording covers considerable stylistic ground, placing the instrument in contexts that highlight both its capacity for intensity and whimsy.
The recording opens with Ge Ganru’s Peking Opera-inspired melodrama, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!, for voice and toy instruments. The bell mechanism of the toy piano creates a ceremonial atmosphere, as other toy instruments reinforce the setting over which the inflected vocal performance unfolds. Various percussive effects, glissandi on a zither, and a brief toy accordion passage are among the many colorful sounds integrated into this engaging, narrative driven work.
Erik Griswold’s Gossamer Wings includes five other members of the NakedEye Ensemble. Joined by saxophone, electric guitar, flute, cello, and percussion, the toy piano takes a soloistic role in the eclectic piece. The opening movement, “Spinning,” is suggestive of incidental music to accompany a film or onstage action. A wry humorous march anchors the second movement, “Suspended,” and the final movement, “Moon Dancing,” centers on a repetitive groove articulated by toy piano in conjunction with a quirky battery of percussion across different registers, with a middle section featuring the melodic instruments.Read More
Rusty Banks’ Babbling Tower to Tower begins with short improvisatory fragments on the toy piano, before the live sound is sent through a cell phone, as the signal goes out to a third party and then receives it back and acts as a speaker for the processed sound. Percussive effects on the body of the toy piano initially serve to demonstrate the filtering, before Banks reintroduces the musical material from the intro, triggering a unique halo surrounding the performed sound reminiscent of flanger and delay effects from guitar pedals. The musical material becomes increasingly insistent as it reaches a climax, before retreating to the fragmented phrasing of the introduction, alternating between pitched and percussive material.
Richard Belcastro’s Knock ‘Em Back for modified toy piano and electric guitar is emblematic of his joyful embrace of influences from the world of classic rock. The opening movement features fuzz laden bluesy riffs, and the second is an oblique pas de deux between sliding and bent notes with an e-bow and short articulations on the toy piano. A very quick tremolo effect obscures the guitar timbre in the next movement, shading jangly rhythms in the two instruments. Delay effects lay down a heavy pulse in the following movement as the toy piano articulates interlocking rhythms on the keyboard and with auxiliary percussion sounds resulting from the modifications to the instrument. Movement six features glissando effects on the toy piano, with the guitar providing a sonorous pad of clean harmonics. The final movement returns to the distorted sound world of the earlier movements, an angular jousting match between the instruments.
Jan Fedderson’s Ujoforyt closes this recording with a relentless torrent of arpeggiated notes on the toy piano. The composite sound of this level of velocity of notes on the instrument lays bare the percussive mechanical apparatus of this instrument, displaying its capacity to be so much more than a mere toy in the hands of a virtuoso performer and creative composers, such as Ju-Ping Song and her colleagues.
– D. Lippel
An eclectic eight-member electro-acoustic ensemble with classical, rock, and jazz DNA, award-winning NakedEye Ensemble commissions and performs seminal works by cross-over and cutting-edge composers. Presenting music of the imagination utilizing acoustic, electric, toy, kitchen, and noise-making instruments, NakedEye’s body of repertoire reflects the group’s mission to innovate and explore musical expression outside of convention. From notated works to guided improvisations for flexible instrumentation, the group has established a new music presence in its home city from which it collaborates with composers and performers to import and export musical works in a rich, ongoing artistic exchange. NakedEye believes in the power of new music to surprise, uplift, and change. Commissioned works have received first prize at NYC’s UnCaged Toy Piano Composition Competition (2011) and grants from New Music USA (2014, 2017). NakedEye's mission is supported by Thomas A. and Georgina T. Russo Family Foundation, Pennsylvania Council of the Arts, and individual donors. Based in Lancaster, PA, NakedEye Ensemble is led by pianist Ju-Ping Song.
Pianist Ju-Ping Song is internationally recognized as one of today’s champions of contemporary music. Her colorful and beyond-the-recital format performances have won her praise from critics as “an extraordinary pianist” (Boston Globe). In the process, she has inspired the creation and commission of new works by today’s under-40 and distinguished composers. Concerts and masterclasses take her to Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy, Taiwan, Japan and the U.S. throughout the year, and she has been guest artist at Darmstadt Contemporary Music Workshop, Bogotá New Music Festival, Tanglewood Music Center, Florence Youth Orchestra Festival in Italy, Akyoshidai New Music Festival in Japan, Klub Katarakt Experimental Music Festival in Hamburg, Germany, and Chautauqua Music Festival in New York State, Omaha Under the Radar 2016, New Music Gathering 2016, among others. Ms. Song is the founder and artistic director of NakedEye Ensemble, a flexible new music group based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, whose mission is to promote works by living composers. She is also a founding member of FLAME Ensemble, an eclectic group of 25 musicians who host and perform in the annual FLAME Festival in Florence, Italy. Ms. Song has taught at New York University, Manhattan School of Music, and Hunter College. In 2008, she was on the piano faculty and head of new music studies at Pennsylvania Academy of Music in Lancaster, PA, before serving as Dean in 2010. She holds a B.A. from Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University; a M.M. from Manhattan School of Music; and a Ph.D. from New York University. Ms. Song lives and works in Lancaster, PA.
The toy piano is an ambiguous Victorian invention. Is it a tool for learning? A child’s plaything? A novelty for adults? It’s an inherently limited device: with metal tubes instead of strings, it is difficult to tune with precision. It’s an imperfect mimic of the grown-up instrument that looms over it. However, like any limiting medium, the toy piano was biding its time, awaiting some creative genius to flourish under its constraints. John Cage famously composed music for this instrument, and others have followed suit. The “UnCaged” and “Non-Piano / Toy Piano” festivals are among an international network of events and organisations dedicated to this music.
Based in Pennsylvania, the NakedEye Ensemble are a motley crew of musicians and composers, founded and directed by pianist Ju-Ping Song. This release centres on her virtuosic exploration of toy piano and other non-traditional instruments. It makes childish fun of the sombre classical world; but then it elevates child’s play to serious art.
The opening track is a recording of “Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!” by Ge Gan-Ru. Ubiquitously billed as the first avant-garde composer of China, Gan-Ru’s works include “Fall of Baghdad” for string quartet. Written for Margaret Leng Tan, “Wrong!” is a kind of mock-heroic spin on Peking opera, with a solo performer employing voice, toy piano, and other novelty instruments. Peking opera is a formalised display of cultural heritage. But Gan-Ru’s piece is an irreverent, postmodern collapse of the past into the present. Song’s playing is by turns enchanting and absurd. In her singing, the practiced annunciation of opera is replaced with anarchic eccentricity.
Next up is “Gossamer Wings”, a triptych of miniatures composed by Erik Griswold and named for a Cole Porter line. This composition was also premiered by Leng Tan, whose shadow Song triumphantly emerges out from. Accompanied by her ensemble on flute, saxophone, cello, guitar, and percussion, Song leads Griswold’s flight dextrously. The musicians of NakedEye balance the classical and jazz elements of the piece with great skill: from the tremulous “Suspended”, they segue neatly to the catchy groove of “Moon Dancing”. Adam Rosenblatt’s xylophone is especially striking. Has he ever taken up the vibraphone in a jazz setting?
The remainder of the album showcases work composed specifically for Song or the ensemble. “Babbling Tower” by Rusty Banks is an angular, staccato piece for toy piano and cell phones. Richard Belcastro’s “Knock ‘Em Back” is a short suite led by Chad Kinsey’s jamming electric guitar. These in-house compositions are successful and energetic, but they are given a tough job following the soaring rendition of Griswold’s “Wings”.
Closing the album, Jan Fedderson’s “Ujoforyt” is a short but memorable abstraction. Song’s piano is relentless, repetitious, and mesmerising. This finale makes it certain: listeners will never again doubt the mature capacities of this diminutive instrument.
-Samuel Rogers, 8.29.19, A Closer Listen
“Toy” is out on “New Focus Recordings”. Album was recorded by “NakedEye Ensemble”. All music is produced and arranged by ensemble’s artistic director Ju-Ping Song. An ensemble is featured figure of contemporary academical music scene. Ensemble was formed in 2009 and leaded by pianist and artistic director Ju-Ping Song. All members of this ensemble are experienced and talented musicians – music is performed by Susanna Loewy (flute), Ryan Kauffman (saxophone), Peter Kibbe (cello), Chad Kinsey (electric guitar), Adam Rosenblatt (toy drum set & xylophone) and Ju-Ping Song (toy piano & toy instruments). Interesting combos, original and bright stylistic allusions, expressive and enchanting musical language, inventive and innovative instrumental section, pleasant gorgeous surprises – all these elements are the main part of “NakedEye Ensemble” music. Musicians are always trying to create something new – their music is bright, exciting, driving and expressive.
Innovative ideas, radical decisions, inventive, extended and modern ways of playing are joined together in “Toy”. The music is a great and organic mix of contemporary academical, experimental, modern classical and free improvisational music. The innovations of academic avant-garde contain the base of the compositions. Synthetic form is used everywhere. Musicians are balancing between strict, awakening and dramatic playing and incredible spontaneous improvisations. All the members of ensemble have a bright and exclusive playing style, expressive manner, innovative conception and modern point of view. They’re open to new ideas, shocking decisions and stunning experiments. That’s the reason why their music is alive, energetic, perturbating and dynamic. Musicians got together and make an exclusive instrumental section. Sonoristic experiments, expansion of technical abilities, special effects and innovative ways of playing contain the main base of it. It’s gently fit together with conventions and classical playing techniques related to academical music. A gorgeous background is filled with all kinds of textures, ornaments, abbreviations and other coloristics. Certainly, bright, expressive and dramatic melody line is the main accent of whole musical pattern. It’s moving, dynamic, vivid and unpredictable. The melody line is kept by different instruments in various compositions. Sometimes it’s furious, frantic and bright saxophone, soft and gentle flute, playful, vivid and expressive toy piano or melodic remarkable cello. Saxophone brings passionate, luminous and vivacious mood to the compositions. It’s [the] source of strange timbres, rare stylistic allusions, sudden changes and bright contrasting episodes. Here dynamic melodies meet roaring thrills, striking wild blow outs, frantic and furious culminations or pass through light, gentle, subtle, solemn and relaxing pieces. Flute is another one important instrument of reeds section. Its murmuring subtle tunes, gentle interpretations are changed by impressive culminations, whistling, buzzing frulato and dramatic riffs. The flute is used in various combos – it’s gently fit together with toy piano, eclectic and dynamic saxophone, moving trembling guitar and other instruments. Remarkable and eclectic tunes of electric guitar make an effort to bright, vivid and expressive sound. Toy piano brings original and innovative sound – its solo episodes or the duos with guitar and flute are the most remarkable and impressive episodes of whole album. It’s the source of wide range of colors, tunes, chords and timbres, gently brought together to one place. Solemn, deep and heavy tunes which grow out to frantic, wild, blowing, passionate and expressive culminations are the main basics of cello’s melodies. It has suggestive, expressive and innovative sound. Toy drum set and xylophones are used as the coloristics – it brings playful, childish and light mood to the compositions. All music of this album has a driving, expressive and innovative sound – it’s a great mix of innovative contemporary academical and experimental music.
-Avant Scena, 8.24.19
Ah, the move from fantasy to reality. Back In the 90s, there was a record purported to be Snoopy playing kids classics on toys. Flash forward, here we have a toy piano at the center of this set being taken seriously as an instrument. And there’s some pretty high minded stuff covered along the way. Amazingly, one of the ways you can take this set is to introduce junior to classical music much the same way Bugs Bunny introduced you. For fans of unbridled creativity that does color inside the lines, this is one seriously wild excursion. Check it out.
-Chris Spector, 7.1.19, Midwest Record