In 2016 a strange, hybrid building-instrument-machine grew out of the forest in the highlands between Stanthorpe and Tenterfield in New South Wales. It was called The Piano Mill, a passion project that brought together the shared architectural, musical and historical curiosity of a group of old friends.
Architect Bruce Wolfe couldn't shake the idea that there were pianos abandoned through Australia's countryside, left untouched in garden sheds, forgotten in storage, sitting ornamentally in living rooms. He wondered what would come of bringing these pianos to one location, how this could work to pay homage to Australia's musical history. He imagined this collection of individual instruments as a complex instrument in its own right.
What kind of building could house that kind of machine? What kind of music would it produce? How would an audience experience this music? Thus began the collaborative project between Bruce, Jocelyn Wolfe, musicians Erik Griswold and Vanessa Tomlinson, and builder Ray Toaldo.
The result is a two story, raised tower built from timber and clad in copper. Internally, two pianos are set against each external wall on the first floor, and the upper mezzanine level. Large vents on the side of the building can be moved by outsize levers on the exterior, modulating the sound. During a performance, this movement adds to the theatrical tension: seated outside, the audience watches the musicians bow to enter the building before beginning the ascent to their individual instrument. Once inside, translucent slots dotted around the building frame the musicians at their instrument and the audience is treated to a unique performance of multiple pianos in chorus, the forest rising around them.
The Piano Mill brings together the stories of this remarkable, truly unique building, from initial conception, to construction, to its opening performance over the Easter weekend in 2016. Through photographs, sketches and personal essays, this book introduces the Piano Mill for the first time in print.