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The machine doesn't want to take my money (2022)

for grand piano and financial resources
 - 8 minutes
written for Tina Reynaert

Hey Jana, I'm looking for special, crazy, innovative compositions by female composers who are now working and creating. Have you already composed something for a pianist? Or would you like to do it? You can take it broadly: pianist, speaking pianist, performance—the piano as a whole.

This was the premise of The machine doesn’t want to take my money. Perhaps it does seem like a bit of a weird choice that I decided to work with money as a central topic. But since I had been a freelancer for about half a year at that point, I got to dive into the world of funding, tax declarations and the financial reality of beginning artists. A reality many creative minds have and had to deal with.

Picture of pianist throwing coins in a grand piano

I came up with the title when a candy machine did not want to accept my coins, and I felt the frustration of not getting the chocolate bar I was so desperately longing for. The sentence was written down somewhere, waiting to be used to name a piece. When I came across it again, I thought it fitted perfectly with my state of mind at the time: the struggle of wanting to create art with an unoccupied mind whilst having to deal with the demands of adults in our society; the happiness of being asked to compose a piece, but the dilemma of whether or not it is okay to do an underpaid job. Art and money have a stormy relationship, and in the end, money itself is mostly not brought onto the stage.

Grand piano preparation with coins

So instead of avoiding it, I made money the star of the show. In this composition, different forms of money are used to prepare the piano. The instrument is divided into three sections for these preparations: In the low register, the pianist is asked to use their credit card; in the middle register, coins are bouncing on the strings, creating a metallic sound with a little bit of a natural delay; in the high register, bank notes are woven between the strings, creating a characteristic (and slightly irritating) sound effect of the bank notes quickly vibrating against the strings. However, at what point the pianist plays in which section was determined by an external source: the stock prices of the Belgian BEL20 from January 1991 until March 2022.

I took the values from the beginning of each month (resulting in around 370 notes) and mapped them onto the 88 keys of the piano. This became the skeleton of the piece. I then added more melodic and rhythmic structures to build the whole framework. Interestingly, events such as the financial crisis in 2007/08, the COVID pandemic, and the general unpredictability of the stock market made for fascinating developments. I amplified the erratic character of these data with surprising switches in tempo and style and other monetary events that I will not reveal yet.

The machine doesn’t want to take my money was premiered in May 2022 by Tina Reynaert during the Piano Viva festival in Schoten (Belgium).

Pianist scraping low strings with credit card
Bank note weaved through piano strings
Tina Reynaert playing a high chord
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