Interview with Tiffany Lin
Piano player, Tiffany Lin has been sitting at the keyboard fumbling for the right notes since 1986. Influenced by her classical training during her formative years, Tiflin now plays music in many genres expanding her language as a musician and as a pianist.
Born in Taiwan and raised in the Central Valley of California, Tiflin resides in Seattle, WA where she plays a variety of solo and ensemble projects using Casio keyboards, toy pianos, pocket pianos and regular pianos. She teaches, performs and composes.
Tiffany, how did you first get started in music?
Tiffany: Well, I’d have to blame it on my mom. I was one of those kids whose parents were a little insane on the extracurriculars – gymnastics, tap, ballet, painting, piano, cello, and orchestra.
Those were my activities for a few years until it became clear that piano was something I was better at than the rest. I did do a pretty nice cartwheel though.
I felt that it would be an interesting thing to take some of the free pianos and see how instrument designers could manipulate them into other objects/instruments.
You perform solo but also with “The Toy Boats” and “Crosstalk.” Can you tell me about these groups?
Tiffany: The Toy Boats is a quartet made up of small and/or toy instruments. We play original pieces as well as arrangements of Hungarian/French/Polish Folk Songs and some Nino Rota and Bregovic film scores. The idea originated from a funny idea I had of an ensemble playing the funeral march on toy instruments for a kid’s pet funeral where we are all fitting in a bathtub. You know the kind where the goldfish gets flushed down the toilet? Anyhow, since most parents don’t hire a funeral band for their kids pets, The Toy Boats are playing some more uplifting songs in venues that don’t have toilets. Not to say that we wouldn’t if you needed us to.
Crosstalk is made up of a more traditional instrumentation (clarinet, piano, upright bass, drum set). It’s mostly a blend of traditional jazz, chamber music and sound art type compositions mostly by the clarinetist of the group, Jesse Canterbury. There’s notation mixed in with improvisational elements in each piece, and that’s what makes this group interesting. Also, the best part for me is I’m working with three other performers who have a rich history in jazz and improvisational styles and getting a chance to flex my reading skills and improvise with these guys is a real treat.
You are presently working on the “Tiny Song Series” where you perform arrangements of piano pieces on toy pianos. How did you begin playing on miniature instruments?
Tiffany: I get asked this question often, and I’ve formulated a couple of answers. But, the best answer is that I just got excited about toy pianos. They’re small, they’re mostly affordable, the old French ones sound great, and I get to play using just one finger sometimes. You can keep track of my Tiny Song Series (which includes ordering your very own tiny song) on my blog.
Your performances, at times, seem to bridge musical performances and sight and sound. Like “This Old Piano” where you deconstructed an old piano to create a new instrument or your audio and visual piece “Has Fallen Into the Well” where you had a paper-constructed box bolted to the wall with a hole in the bottom for the viewer to “step into the box.” Tell us about these projects.
Tiffany: I have a real love for visual art, so sometimes I try to combine my music practice with some of that. This Old Piano was a project in response to my frustrations in acquiring a piano. Instruments are, basically, objects and they range from being free to being almost unaffordable because they are so expensive. The piano is one of those instruments, so expensive sometimes but also largely free because they become cumbersome to maintain and house. And compared to other musical instruments, they are massive, with beautiful pieces of wood and sometimes ivory keys, etc. So, we all know what happens to those really expensive pianos. But what about the free ones that seem useless? I felt that it would be an interesting thing to take some of the free pianos and see how instrument designers could manipulate them into other objects/instruments.
‘Has Fallen into the Well’ was a quite a challenge. I’ve never done 3D installation work before. The general idea was to make a simple device which reflected some of my childhood memories – mainly the idea of only using what I had on hand. In this case it was paper, glue, tape. Then I positioned the box so that it would be perfect for me to step into and view. Of course this made it either awkward or difficult for others to ‘step into’ the box. I wanted to talk about flexibility and awareness with this piece.
Who are your musical influences?
Tiffany: That changes from month to month, or year to year. When I was younger my family didn’t really have the means to buy me lots of CDs or tapes, so I feel like I’m catching up on a lot of listening. Currently, I have a mad obsession with Roberta Flack and Nina Simone. I’ve been listening to First Take (Atlantic, 1969) Roberta’s debut album. Just thinking about Ron Carter’s bass playing gives me the chills. She has such an elegant touch on the piano in this album, it’s orchestrated so well and really speaks to me about how simplicity can say so much. And, Little Girl Blue (Bethlehem, 1958) Nina’s debut album. If you haven’t heard this pick it up somewhere and take a listen.
On a side note, we just got our listening station setup with tube accessories, so I’ve been basking in the glory of LPs and all tube amplification.
If there was an artist you could collaborate with, who would it be?
Tiffany: Living? Han Bennink, Bjork, Joshua Bell, Peter Serkin, TV on the Radio. Naming one is too hard!
You are about to leave for Europe with The Toy Boats with performances in Poland, France and the Netherlands. When are the dates for the shows?
We will be in Poland on:
9/30 in Wroc?aw on the rooftop of a museum
10/2 in Warsaw @ The Ministry of Culture
10/5 in Kraków @ The Alchemia
Then in The Netherlands on (all shows are with an awesome band, Spoetnik Orkestar):
10/14 in Alkmaar @ Cafe de Odeon
10/15 in Castricum @ De Bakkerij
10/16 in Bergen @ De Taverne
Afterwards to France:
10/19 in Lille
10/23 in Toulouse
10/25 in Montpellier
10/27 in Carcassonne
10/30 in Paris
Aside from your music you also are a graphic designer. What type of design do you do?
Tiffany: I’m a self-taught designer, just kinda slowly tip-toeing into this fast past world of design. Currently, I’ve worked with a lot of musicians doing design for CD Albums. Because I’m a self-taught designer and freelance musician, I like to focus on working with organizations and individuals who also have a passion for entrepreneurship. My design work is in hopes of inspiring dialogue between my client and their audience.
What advice would you give to young artists out there that may want to follow in your footsteps?
Tiffany: Don’t! I mean yes, it is important to see that one can learn from anyone and anything. But, don’t get stuck on replicating or trying to fit the mold. Generate your work from who you are, not what other people want you to be.