To read Time Out Chicago's complete review, go to http://timeoutchicago.com/music-nightlife/opera-classical/14431225/phyllis-chen-mesmers-album-review
Praised by the New York Times for her “delightful quirkiness matched with interpretive sensitivity,” Phyllis is a pianist,toy pianist and multimedia artist that performs original multimedia compositions and works by contemporary composers. The Oregonian states “her captivating performance was animated by unbridled inventiveness, the kind of joyous creativity that playing with toys is meant to inspire.” Phyllis’ artistic pursuits take her in numerous directions as a toy pianist, pianist, and composer, leading to her selection as a New Music/New Places Fellow at the 2007 Concert Artist Guild International Competition.
Phyllis founded the UnCaged Toy Piano, a composition competition to further expand the repertoire for toy piano and electronics. The competition has received works from composers all around the world and these compositions become an integral part of her repertoire. A strong interest in interdisciplinary work led her to collaborations with video artist and electronic musician Rob Dietz with whom she created multimedia works such as The Memoirist, Pearlessence, Chroma and Carousel. The two of them are interested in co-creating new works that rethink the idea of live art and performance using music and visuals.
Playing an instrument that has no set boundaries or genres, Phyllis has been invited to perform at a large variety of festivals and concerts. Please visit www.phyllischen.net to find out more about her and to see her performance schedule.
In the last couple of years, I have composed several miniature works using toy pianos, music boxes and bowls. Only in retrospect have I discovered that many of them have been inspired by a circular gesture that has often been said to characterize my piano playing. Colure and Double Helix were composed using mixing bowls performed with my left hand. I found several of the bowls while I was living in Indiana and completed my percussion set at a housewares store in Tokyo. As the only solo toy piano piece on the album, Hypnos is built upon a meditative and ever-changing left hand figure. This piece is named after the God of Sleep who is often portrayed as a man sleeping in a land of Eternal Darkness.
It seems natural to love music boxes as a toy pianist; Both instruments are made of metal tines and rely on a resonating chamber to sound. When I acquired my first hand-cranked music box with punch tape, it was as if I was falling in love with the toy piano all over again. As the punch tape rolls through the mechanism, a tine is struck for every exposed hole…I couldn’t help but to think of carousels when cranking it. Both Carousel and Cobwebbed Carousel are composed from the same punch tape strip, but Cobwebbed Carousel uses the punch tape upside-down in the mechanism. In this counter-piece I attempt to capture a more mysterious feeling to such “child-like” things as carousels. Cobwebbed Carousel was written for Margaret Leng Tan.
The other pieces included were inspired by distant lands or experiences that found its way into a musical piece. My love for folklore, ghost stories and fairy tales grew tremendously when I visited Iceland. According to Norse mythology, Munin Raven (Norse for “memory”) is one of a pair of ravens that fly across the world to bring information back to the God Odin. The found sounds of water and stones were recorded from my trip along waterfalls and beaches of the western peninsula. Across the globe lies Taroko Gorge, one of the most breathtaking sites in the world located in Hualian, Taiwan. Walking through the gorge, I felt complete wonder and fear by these majestic rocks that were far too much for my eyes to comprehend. Despite the scale and size, I transferred some of these images into a miniature piece for music box.The score to Taroko was created by drawings of the place on music box punch tape from my memory. After making the drawing, I followed the lines to punch out holes so that the music was a result of the image’s contour.