Improvisational media

Decomposing Pianos stuns at Modern Fuel with “Regression”

The artists performing at Modern Fuel.
The artists performing at Modern Fuel.
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Decomposing Pianos performed their ethereal experimental musical set “Regression” in an ambient venue at Modern Fuel.

The duo put on the partially-improvised show on Monday night to an intimate gathering of people — the atmosphere was relaxed with the presence of an open bar and nonchalantly strewn seating areas.

Decomposing Pianos officially formed in 2009 and consist of Kingston-based artists Julia Krolik and Owen Fernley. Their music is self-identified as both experimental and improvisational. The duo based their name off of a literal decomposing piano that they keep in a yard, which they used in their first installation performance as a harp by removing the action and the keys and playing the strings directly.

“There was a lot of emotional geography in that room and it was really nice to play because we know it so well — for us it was sort of the end of an era with that space," Fernley said, referring to gallery's upcoming move to the Tett Centre.

The artists have an authentically different process of music-making in comparison to many other artists today.

“[Our music] is improvisational, except it’s within a structured system,” Fernley said.

“The idea is rather than just flat out improvising, which I find can be messy and noisy, we set up boundaries before we start, so it’s collected in there and we experiment freely within those boundaries.”

The boundaries they set are pre-defined, based on ideas they want to explore for a show, he added. Once they decide on those, they give themselves free range while performing.

The artists incorporate interactive projected backdrops in their shows. At Modern Fuel, the backdrops were images of whimsical black cityscape against grainy white backgrounds, which helped set the mellow atmosphere for the show.

“We’ve evolved now to use interactive visuals, so that’s where we’re going now,” Krolik said. “The theme is the imagery we provide and how the instruments interact with the imagery.

Even with “Regression”, we had some ideas of where we wanted to end and begin — it was pretty free-flowing in how it evolved.”

By incorporating home-made audio into their music to scatter over the main instrumentals, the duo paint an authentic picture and experience with each show.

“The majority of the audio we use is all in-house,” Krolik said. “For the “Regression” show I used full messages from my phone to support the imagery of cityscapes and personal touches you get with everyday dialogue.”

Performing in Kingston allows for even more experimental opportunities for the duo.

“The thing about Kingston, is that it’s rich in experimental musicians and there’s an audience for that, which is a gift in itself, and to be a part of that is an ever bigger gift,” Krolik said.

“Audiences are understanding and we can be riskier with our music because of that."

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