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Piano Bob Why?

WRITTEN 1992: Why am I doing this U-JAM/PUBLIC PIANO thing? Why use experimental instruments. Or a prepared-piano, or hide underneath and make noise? Why put it on a web-site? Why bother? I've asked myself these questions as well as whether this is all some kind of altruistic farce. Is my ego really sitting there on my shoulder posing as an angel patting me on the back, tickling me along? Ya, probably, but ultimately, and probably undeniably, I think we all just want to be liked and loved a little. I know I do. What else is there to life? That's sort of it in a nut shell, really. I'd put anything on this web-site that would attract this wonderous thing to me: Music, sculpture, pecan pie recipes.

There are a couple good reasons for experimental musical instruments (EMIs). They're unusual and because of that interesting to look at, their strange shapes and materials stimulate the imagination, and most importantly, the book has yet to be written on how to play them correctly, so of course there's little or no hi-brow intimidation factor. Sure, most EMIs are nothing more than noise makers. But then every instrument in history evolved from some kind of noise maker initially. If you were to study Organology and the origins of musical instruments you'd discover classification systems, each emphasizing different aspects of sound production and the physical properties involved. Without getting to technical here let me just say there are historically speaking four groups of instruments: Idiophones=cymbals, xylophones, usually metallic and beaten, Membranophones=drums, Aerophones=anything wind related, and Chordophones=anything with strings. Most instruments can be grossly categorized into one or more of these four groups or a physics related property and group for instance a rainstick might be considered a graviphone. Many instruments, especially ones from India, are considered compound and fit into at least two of these groups. Even our modern day piano can fit into two of these categories: Idiophone and Chordophone. EMIs complicate matters even further. It's all physics! If you know any physics invent a phone!

If you consider what it might take to attract non musicians on the street to potentially humiliate themselves in front of others I think you'll come to the same conclusion I did, EMIs! It would have to be something so interesting that their curiosity over rode their fear. Once they start playing I think they'll hook themselves, music's magic will take over and override the fear and self-consciousness. The coolest thing is when somebody discovers or rediscovers their misplaced groove. Like something on the top shelf of the closet reclaimed, rekindled, and eventually with the U-Jams available on this web site the jam session itself may be helpful as a key, map or link back to this delicate rediscovered place.

So in essence there are actually two reasons for the UJAM: Number one, bringing strangers together temporarily under a safe umbrella to meet and bond on some level, and two, giving people the opportunity to rediscover, rekindle and reclaim something misplaced or temporarily lost. I've tried the idea out in coffeehouses all around SoCal with some success. coffeehouses really arn't the right venue . People have to much safe space real estate and eating and drinking protocol going on. You can't really engage people in these places with out fear of messing with their dinner biscuit. Out door festivals might be a good venue. Especially weekends on esplanades. People are just walking along looking, searching, potentially open for something to do and being outside they'll always have a comfortable means of escape. There's much less pressure and there's probably going to be numerous other things going on at the same time so they'll feel less on the spot and self-conscious. That might be the only drawback; to much noise and activity may distract, inhibit and limit the experience. Only time and experimentation will tell.

WRITTEN 2009: It's been nearly 20 years since the UJAM idea and I played with it a bit at the Beatnik at something i called "Noise Night" with different themes for noise makers each month. The BIGGEST PROBLEM was finding away to politely restrain INTOXICATED EXUBERANCE. To often people don't realize how fragile experimental instruments are (actually any musical instrument for that matter). I think the UJAM will have it's day in concert with people from the audience performing. I think there would be less chance of an out of control drunk in a concert hall, and maybe the stage would self screen participants. Maybe nobody would get up and volunteer to play ?? Another curious performance art question ????Are people or will people get tired of participation? it almost seems like it's being overused these days ??? na . . . it's always been around in numerous cultures. it's the laughable unpredictable part of the show that everybody loves.