Randomized piano: Timothy Flood brings some crazy musical instruments to Core

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Timothy Flood is into deconstruction. And right now, he's into musical instruments -- specifically, pulling them apart and rebuilding them into things that basically perform the same tasks, but in radically different ways and for totally different purposes. How different? Try this on for size: One part of the installation consists of a piano rebuilt for a group of people to play from the ceiling, and the other part consists of robot-cellos... that, you know, play themselves. "It's a great way to learn how to do new things," he muses, "to build a project that you have no idea how to start."

That would be in regard to the robot-cellos, which he started researching about three months ago. "I did this fundraiser through Kickstarter," he says. "Without funding, it would have been really difficult for me to not go into a couple of grand worth of debt. So I found the motors I needed, played with a couple of circuit boards and a controller, and then I had to learn how to program it. They're operated by a hidden servo and sense proximity through an ultrasonic range-finder."

Which sounds complicated, but the results are surprisingly easy to comprehend: When left alone, the cellos "are programmed to play a little ditty amongst themselves" (that ditty composed by Becky Christian of Lady Parts, by the way); when approached, their playing becomes increasingly sped up and frantic. "It's meant to convey the impression of nervousness," says Flood. "We're all two people: When we're alone and when we're in public, so it's sort of a cultural self-portrait."

While the cellos are a commentary on the stress of person-to-person interaction, the "expanded piano," as Flood likes to call it, reaches in almost the opposite direction: as an avenue for bringing people together. Basically, it's a drastically altered old upright, where the hammers are connected not to keys, but instead to wooden rods suspended from an overhead structure, spread out over roughly a 12X15-foot area, which people can walk through, pulling on the keys. "I've randomized the keys," Flood notes, "so people don't really know which note they're going to hit." At the piano's first go-round in Colorado Springs, he says, "I had one person who almost learned to play 'Mary had a Little Lamb,' but the keys were too far apart to get to."

But playing it is not really the point.

"The theme that is common in my work," Flood says, "is trying to bridge gaps between people. It's interesting, the gaps that we put between ourselves through technology; we don't connect in person. With the piano piece, adults suddenly become children, and all of a sudden there's a dozen people in the piano and they're smiling and laughing. It really seems to make people happy.

"So I like it," he concludes.

Flood's An Experiment in Space and Sound: Duet opens tomorrow night at Core New Art Space with a reception that includes an experimental performance (that factors in the cellos and piano) by musician Ben Cordes, from 6 to 9 p.m. For more information, call the gallery at 303-297-8428.

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