Castles and Pianos

Back in the day, when I was an artist kicking around in Amsterdam (and while working at XS4ALL) I used to do this ‘n that with the local arts/activist scene. In one occasion, a friend of mine and awesome NZ musician – Alastair Galbraith – was doing a world tour with Matt de Gennaro. It was very much an indie music tour taking in odd venues in this town and that town across the US and Europe. As it happened, they wanted to come through Amsterdam.

So…first a little back ground on their music. Alastair and Matt had music careers of their own but they had recently (at that time) taken up a collaboration playing a piano wire. They would go to various venues and string up a piano wire very tight across the room and then wax their fingers and run them along the wire. The result was a beautiful ebb and flow of haunting deep and high tonal waves. Absolutely beautiful.

So I undertook to find them a venue in Amsterdam. As it happens I was also doing some work from time to time with the Society of Old and New Media housed in de Waag. De Waag is in the middle of Amsterdam and looks like this:


De Waag means ‘the weigh’ and it was both the place where ships weighed the goods their were carrying for trade, is the oldest non-religious building in the city, and was one of the original gates to the city.

So I rocked up to Marleen Stikker, and friend and collaborator plus head of the Society of Old and New Media, and asked if we might host this event in de Waag. Marleen said absolutely and we went ahead and booked the venue.

De Waag, as it happens, gave us the tower to perform in which is where Rembrandt painted the Anatomy Lesson of Doctor Tulp:


The tower was were such lessons were conducted…. in other words it was what you might call ‘a pretty historical place’.

So, I showed up on the day to set up and I was figuring we would have to construct some sort of temporary post to drill into inorder to put the wire up. I mean, the wire needs to have quite a bit of tension to be resonate when you move your pinched fingers (covered in wax) along it. So I turned up early not really knowing how we do it but figuring de Waag folks had already got something planned…

Well… they did have something planned…they said we could drill directly into the walls… I was kinda stunned… I remember double triple checking that they were ok with this and no one batted an eyelid. They were totally fine with it…. thinking back on it, I’m not sure I’m still ok that we did this, but we did. On the upside was the fact that old wood, when it dries, gets porous. Air bubbles open up in the wood, and this is what, for example, gives old violins their special tone… same with this building. We were setting the wire into a huge acoustic chamber through wood that was centuries old dry.

So, we strung it up and then the audience turned up and they performed …I did the live streaming. It was 2001 – streaming was relatively new and bandwidth was relatively slim so it is what it is, but the coolest of things happened today…I found that someone had uploaded the stream to youtube 🙂 And here it is…

As it happens… Alastair was asked to do a second performance the next day. However Matt had to be back in the US. So Alastair asked me if I would do the performance with him…I can’t tell you how honored and terrified I was. I agreed and the next night performed with Alastair. Unfortunately i don’t think that is online…if you have that them let me know 🙂 In any case… this was an amazing event and I’m very proud to have been part of it!

Rembrandt painting photo from By Rembrandt – Mauritshuis online catalogue., Public Domain,

Photo of De Waag by Zairon [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

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