Pianodrome: the concert venue that's also an interactive sculpture made of disused pianos

This article is from 2018

Pianodrome: the concert venue that's also an interactive sculpture made of disused pianos

Topaz Pauls

The creative team behind a bespoke 100-seater amphitheatre give us the lowdown on what inspired their unique project

Recent visitors to the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh may have noticed an unusual structure taking shape. Built from 50 disused pianos, #pianodrome is a 100-seat concert venue, an interactive sculpture, and a musical instrument, all encased within a geodesic dome. A creative and playful response to consumer culture, #pianodrome is the brainchild of Matt Wright and Tim Vincent-Smith, whose band S!nk curate the venue's evening music programme, #pianodrome Live. Almost every part of the building is made from old upright pianos, from the tiered seating to the pins that hold it together. Throughout August, the space will play host to in-the-round evening concerts, and free daytime community events, recitals, picnics, workshops, and talks. There will be five playable pianos on site, with lessons from internationally respected teacher Mary McCarthy.

The project began, Wright says, when Vincent-Smith noticed that pianos were being discarded at an alarming rate. 'There was a huge boom in the industry 100–120 years ago. Everyone wanted one. Pianos, like everything else, get old and they start to fall apart. They're taking up lots of space in peoples' flats so they get chucked out,' explains Wright.

'What we want to do is upcycle these beautiful machines, which are a bit like mammoths; they have this lumpy magic to them and they're sort of going extinct. The idea is to remind people of this heritage that we have, but also to give people a sense that it's something to hold on to and keep working with because the piano is such a beautiful instrument. We like to think of pianos like people. No piano is wasted, even if it's old and grumpy or a bit shit, we want to respect them all.'

S!nk, whose semi-improvised blend of Balkan and Nordic folk, Parisian cabaret, classical minimalism and jazz has been enchanting audiences for the past few years, will be hosting and collaborating with a range of acts they've met on their adventures. Highlights include Edinburgh youth group Tinderbox Orchestra, Oregon folk duo Fellow Pynins, dance and improv project Something Smashing, Americana outfit Delightful Squalor, and popular Edinburgh group Jemima & The Fuse. The closing weekend sees S!nk joined by Lost Maps pop oddity Ed Dowie, a regular collaborator, and Transylvania-via-Edinburgh singer Lizabett Russo. 'She is extraordinary,' says Wright, 'She has an amaizng voice, beautifully emotive lyrics.'

Although most of the acts are on the acoustic side, Wright promises some noisier eruptions. 'We've got the Brackish coming up from Bristol who are total guitar heroes. They'll be bringing their very meticulous, deep version of prog rock up. We're quite excited about that because most of the other acts are going to be quite acoustic and quite soft and lovely and then when we get the Brackish in it's gonna blow people away.' Glasgow group Painted X-Ray, formerly known as Ilk, are another highlight. 'They have taiko drummers, they're absolutely stunning.'

Of the individuals and groups contributing to #piandrome's daytime programme, BE United perhaps best capture the project's community spirit. 'It's all about exchanging Scottish music with South African music, so they go over there and they invite a bunch of performers over and host them during the Fringe. So there's going to be some Zulu dance and a capella singing. They're just really excellent creative folk who are interested in building communities in a really powerful way.'

As Wright stresses, #pianodrome is not just an installation but a community project. 'What we're hoping is that we're providing a focus point for people to interact with a beautiful heritage, interact with the piano, and interact with each other in unique and new ways.'

#pianodrome, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Pyrus Lawn, until 26 Aug; #pianodrome Live, until 26 Aug (not 13 & 14, 20 & 21), 7pm, £15 (£12).

#Pianodrome Live

Sound Mirror Brilliant multi-instrumentalists S!nk host a nightly cornucopia of new music, movement and more in the world's first ever #Pianodrome. This bespoke 100-seater amphitheatre made entirely out of upcycled pianos appears, serendipitously, under a geodesic canopy in the verdant tranquility of Edinburgh's Royal…