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My Burning Pianist - 2022

Mediums and Methods

Standup Piano, brass, copper, propane, microcontroller, custom control electronics, software in c++


Portland, Oregon



My Burning Pianist is a highly modified stand-up piano converted to MIDI control and appointed with a variety of high- and low-pressure propane flame effects with associated plumbing and electromechanical control hardware and software. Affixed along the full length of the upper back of the piano is a hand-built brass Rubin’s Tube on brass brackets into which is fed a low-pressure supply of gas and acted upon by a speaker converting the amplified notes struck on the keyboard into soundwaves propagating though the propane within the tube. As the excited gas escapes through a series of hundreds of spaced holes along the top of the tube and burns the waves of sound being played are visualized in a hypnotic dance of combining and resolving waves. In addition to the Rubin’s tube is a large brass faux candelabra splitting and terminating in two ‘poofer’ candles with small gas pilot lights simulating the candle’s flames. Each of the two candles is plumbed into a high-pressure propane accumulator tank via an electrically actuated high-speed valve. As the performer plays the piano the onboard control software is constantly checking for matches to a list of predefined combinations of MIDI notes that have been associated with one or both candelabra poofer valves. As those combinations are keyed, and for as long as they are held, the associated candle launches a high-pressure burst of billowing flame ten feet off the top of the piano. As I am not a musician myself, I worked closely with Will McKinney, an amazing improvisational keyboardist, and a key member of Portland’s own March Forth Marching Band, to develop the musical vernacular that was encoded into the MIDI sequences such that any well-versed pianist could fire the poofers at moments necessitating flaming punctuation. The piano was publicly unveiled at Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square during the opening night of the 2023 Portland Winter Lights Festival. During the festival, My Burning Pianist was played by several world-class musicians to great success and audience delight.

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