Playing Piano by Marla Hlady @ YYZ
January 12 – February 23, 2008
By Isla Craig
I’m in 401 Richmond to have my portfolio reviewed at a print shop. I’ve been out of the art loop for about a year now, and to tell you the truth, I have lost a lot of love for art in that time. I think this is what five years of art school can do to you, but I’m here, on my way back up. Fighting for my right to make meaningful stuff and still trying to figure out just what that means in the process.
After my interview, nerves a little more calmed, but heart racing a little more, I venture down to gallery YYZ to check out a Marla Hlady installation. Hlady works as a kinetic sculptress/ electronic sonic inquisitor, and admirer of mechanized things. Prepare to expect to see the things she has laid her hands on in a new light, for it’s a theme in her work to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. Hlady’s pieces are incredible in that they make you realize that even the simplest of things has incredible potential to become sonically innovative and subtly reinvented.
Player pianos are a 19th-century invention where the music is transcribed on a roll where perforations act as a musical binary. Hlady’s piano has been extrapolated to display all of its interior functions. All the meat and bones of the piano have been turned inside out and put on display. The reel has been lifted to the top of the piano, displaying a circulatory system of tubing and wires that carry out the various musical alterations Hlady has engineered. The piano plays a dirge-like, molasses-slow piece, once again affected by Hlady from its original state. The strings are struck with new devices adding an element of titanium twang to the pre-ordained piece.
Pianos are like the peanut butter and jelly of instrument land: everyone likes them. They can be used ornamentally or sonically, and make a pretty useful shelf space as well. Growing up with an affinity for the instrument (my mother being a piano teacher and me an avid player), I am compelled to sit with the piano for quite some time. I am alone with the piano for 15 minutes or so, and everything about it enthralls me. For a while, I’m thinking that the footsteps echoing in the room are an addition to the piece, alas, it is just the echo-y nature of this old wooden building in which I sit. I used to take the covers of the piano off when I played, just to watch it work. I have romantic notions when it comes to machines. I understand next to nothing about the mechanics involved but love the machine aesthetic.
As each note rings out in the gallery space, I sink deeper into a meditative calm. In addition to the visual spectacle involved in this piece, I am digging on the musical vibes.