Usually when someone uses the phrase “he abused the instrument” it is intended as an insult. When used in the case of Ant Dickinson it’s used as a way to describe the process for creating this music, and the result of this particular abuse of an instrument is anything but an insult.
There’s no way around it: pianos were harmed in the making of this music. There are four tracks that form the core of “Nothing New” that were played on a piano that spent many months out in a field near Llangollen, Wales. Unprotected and exposed to the elements (heavy rains, snow, large temperature swings), the piano suffered an inevitable breakdown. Dickinson visited regularly and improvised music on the piano in whatever condition it was found.
This is not, however, just a collection of aimless abstract noise. He does great job finding a way to play the piano in its diminishing condition, pulling together interesting tracks that are challenging but with accessible underlying elements and melodies. You can feel badly for the piano that gave its all for these songs, but you will hear that it was for a noble cause.
The first track, “Nothing New Part 1,” starts out cautiously, with some nature sounds and testing of notes on the keyboard. It leads to a nice little melody that sounds collaged together. “Part 2” is a more haunted sounding track, starting with echoes of notes playing off in the distance. Percussion is added (likely also played on the piano) and while occasionally notes sound somewhat “off,” as you might expect, there is a beautiful melodic flow to this track. The piano comes more to the fore as the track moves on, but eventually the percussion subsumes all. “Part 3” has a percussion element that reminds me of Einstürzende Neubauten; meanwhile, plucked strings on the piano almost sound like guitar coming into the mix at times. The piano sounds less stable, and this song uses quiet/loud dynamics to great dramatic effect. “Part 4” has a really good rhythm track, while the piano sounds at its most precarious. The track begins and ends with chirping birds like “Part 1” but the music is a bit more disjointed that the earlier parts.
There are several other pieces that are included as part of this EP. There are two other tracks that may be from the same “piano in a field” source: “Out” is based on percussion, with what sounds primarily like beating on the piano body and lower-end piano notes providing a mix of glitch rhythm and subtle noises. “In” is a short burst that sounds like a kalimba gone haywire. Another track (“Piano Duet 2″) is from a separate project that combines the sound of one piano being dropped from a forklift and one well-maintained piano from a concert hall being played in the classic way. Like all the other tracks, it works really well without being total noise.
“Nothing New” was released through the consistently amazing Pan Y Rosas Discos netlabel. Ant Dickinson’s website has more information on this work along with some wonderful pictures taken by Andrew Gale throughout the process. While the physical presence of the piano may now be gone, this music stays with you.
Ant Dickinson – “Nothing New Part 2”