Sudhu Tewari has a knack for taking completely ordinary things and transforming them into anything but. His Prepared Player Piano Pinball System (PPPPS) is one of his wackier inventions. Tewari describes it as “a self-governing, robotic” machine, but admits that description merely glosses over its madness.
The piano can play itself. An elevator constructed from a bike chain drops ping pong balls into a system of gears, levers, and foosball players that punt the balls around, hitting the strings or sensors that cause the orchestra of sound and light.
“Elements of the system have conflicting purposes so each device is trying to get a simple job done, while others mess up the process. Contact microphones on the soundboard and frame of the piano amplify everything,” Tewari explains. “Not artificial intelligence. Cybernetic dumbness maybe.”
Tewari got the idea during his residency at Recology in San Francisco. “I rescued a baby grand piano that was headed for the landfill!” Tewari said. “I started messing around with piano preparations with a friend, a composer named Cenk Ergun. Cenk threw a few ping pong balls onto the strings and the idea was born!”
Tewari explained that most of his projects come to life organically, without much forethought — he enjoys experimenting and improvising. Without strict timetables, most of his projects are built in creative spurts over months or years. He started working on the PPPPS in earnest back in 2011, and returned to the project whenever he was inspired. He officially unveiled it in 2015, in the Center for New Music’s Window Gallery.
Although currently stored away, Tewari admits that he doesn’t think he’ll ever truly finish the PPPPS, and will keep “adding elements to the system to make it even more complex and unpredictable.” He has recently constructed a second percussion instrument, the Yasmin Electro-Mechanical Rhythm Sequencer, which he unveiled at the Exploratorium’s AfterDark event in May 2017.