After finishing school, New England Conservatory of Music graduates find all sorts of ways to collaborate together: orchestras, recording sessions, chamber music, etc. Members of the indie band Cuddle Magicmet while studying at NEC. They’ve taken the classical chops they honed in Boston and brought them into a hybridized chamber pop scenario that owes as much of a debt to Steve Reich and Moondog as it does to Beirut and Animal Collective.
Now based in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, Cuddle Magic is preparing Info Nympho, its third CD, for release on FYO Records. It combines classical instrumentation with a penchant for 80s keyboards (including the vintage Casio seen in the video below), whimsical toy instruments, and honey-sweet vocal harmonies.
Much of this is captured in the close-miked immediacy of apartment recording. But the band has also been recording at Old Soul Studio in the Catskills, enlisting the help of toy pianist extraordinaire Phyllis Chen (video below). They also guested on Chen’s recent Uncaged Toy Piano Festival. Both Chen and Cuddle Magic are able to re-purpose unorthodox materials to create music that employs a light touch, but is never lightweight.
Courtesy of the band, here’s a free download of album track Moby Dickless.
Think the emphasis should be placed on the first word of toy piano? If so, you’re behind the times! The repertoire and the number of toy piano performers are both steadily growing. And manufacturers like Schoenhut are custom designing and upgrading their toy pianos to make them viable for a plethora of special effects (check out David Smooke’s recent blog post over at NMB to learn more about various extended techniques the instrument is capable of enduring).
Phyllis Chen. Photo: Kimono Photography
A commissioning project organized by Phyllis Chen and run since 2007, the Uncaged Toy Piano composition competition has worked on expanding the repertoire for toy piano. On November 29, December 1, and December 3, listeners will get to hear the fruits of the contestants’ labors. The Uncaged Toy Piano Festival showcases new pieces and several imaginative approaches to the baby grand’s spunky smaller cousin. In addition to Chen (and Smooke), the festival will feature toy piano diva Margaret Leng Tan, toy instrumentalist Angelica Negron, improvisorMiguel Frasconi, avant-folkies Cuddle Magic, and Rusty Banks’Babbling Tower-to-Tower for toy piano and cell phones(!).