Back in 2012, Tim Vincent-Smith inherited a pair of unserviceable upright pianos. He took these to bits, and using "nose to tail carpentry," used their every morsel to build a staircase and mezzanine in box-shaped room. The deconstruction process was an education into the craft, skill, complexity and ingenuity of piano manufacture, and the end result was a gorgeous piece that enriched the life of Vincent-Smith's client, a cellist with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
For one thing it is remarkable to discover, through the process of reverse construction, how much craft and skill goes into making even the most humble piano. The solid maple frame is fleshed out with boards of poplar or birch under a dark swirling skin of walnut or mahogany veneer. Hard, curved beach limbs form the pinblock to space the strings over the thin, flat straight-grained soundboard of Sitka spruce. Metatarsals of hornbeam connect felted hammers through an intricate arrangement of joints and pivots to long fingers of basswood coated with wafer thin slices of white bone ivory and in the gaps between these teeth, black ebony wood.
Separated from the useless bulk of the junked piano and cleaned of centuries of dust the different woods begin to speak of the trees that bore them. Some parts are labelled with a name and date in the deft script of a maker. A fragment of card from a box of screws packing a joint or an old foreign coin under the keys is a seed from which flowery imagined histories grow. A faded paper pasted inside the lid notes that this piano was last tuned on March 11th 1904. Spacers in arrays of green, red and purple felt set the colours of the wood singing. The cast iron harp, the backbone of a piano, despite its delicate curves and spaces is surprisingly heavy and black.
Piano Staircase [Tim Vincent-Smith/Kilometer Zero]
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