Ross Bolleter (born 1946, Subiaco, Western Australia) is a composer and musician whose work is focussed on ruined pianos. His recordings are available on Emanem (London), Pogus (New York), New Albion (San Francisco) and Tall Poppies (Sydney), as well as on his WARPS (World Association for Ruined Piano Studies) label.
Career and music
Bolleter studied the music theory as well as its history and composition at the University of Western Australia between 1964 and 1967. This awakened his interest in the music of composers such as Webern,Boulez and Cage. After playing the piano for six years at the Parmelia Hilton, he investigated the non-conventional timbral and rhythmic possibilities of the prepared piano and released a cassette, The Temple of Joyous Bones, which featured the prepared piano. Bolleter found inspiration in the eighties playing and recording improvised music with the flautist Tos Mahoney and the double bassist, Ryszard Ratajczak.
Over the past twenty-five years Bolleter has explored the timbral possibilities of ruined pianos: that is to say, old pianos that have been exposed to the elements of time and weather thus acquiring novel and unexpected musical possibilities. A piano is ruined (rather than neglected or devastated) when it has been abandoned to all weathers and has become a decaying box of unpredictable dongs, tonks and dedoomps. The notes that don’t work are at least as interesting as those that do.
Ross Bolleter has five ruined pianos in his kitchen including the original ruined piano from Nallan Sheep Station, near Cue, 800 km north east of Perth, Western Australia. At Kim Hack’s and Penny Mossops’s olive farm, Wambyn, near York, Western Australia, Kim Hack and Bolleter developed the Ruined Piano Sanctuary, where some forty pianos are ruining in their own ways, and at their own pace, variously under trees, in dams, and on roofs. Bolleter's recent CD Frontier Piano, which represents the best of his work from 2007–2014, is almost entirely devoted to recordings of these dying pianos. Each piano in decay is a long-running composition. Death comes to every piano; each singing a different kind of song.
Bolleter has released more than twenty CDs primarily of ruined piano compositions and improvisations. His CD Crow Country, released on the Pogus label as Pogus 7 6034-21021-2 (New York, 2000.), was nominated as one of the 10 best albums of 1999 by Cadence Magazine (New York) and constitutes the best of his work from 1988 to 1999. Secret Sandhills and Satellites, released on the Emanem label, London, UK (2006), was voted best CD of September 2006 by Blow Up magazine (Italy), and number two CD of the year by dMute Magazine (Jazz and Improvised Music), France. Secret Sandhills and Satellites presents the best of Bolleter's work from 2001 to 2006.
In 1989 Bolleter set up the Synchronicity Project where he devised a series of intuitive pieces where musicians improvised simultaneously but in different centres in Australia and across the world. In several instances these pieces were set up to cast a net for synchronistic events, especially musical synchronicities. The Synchronicity Project produced a series of radiophonic works. The first of these works was Simulplay 1 (September 1989) which had Jim Denley playing flute to a live audience at the B rucknerhaus in the Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria – with Bolleter playing piano and accordion, together with Carol Henning playing plastic trombone, in the ABC radio studios, Perth. The second work, That Time/Simulplay 2 – an intuitive piece for two musicians on opposite sides of a continent, playing at precisely the same time but unable to hear each other, while a radio audience hears both of them – involved Ryszard Ratajczak playing double bass in Studio 210 of ABC FM Sydney with Bolleter playing prepared piano and piano in ABC’s Studio 621, Perth. That Time/Simulplay 2 was released on the Pogus label, New York, as part of the album Crow Country in 2000. <Ross Bolleter and Rowan Hammond:“Improvising with synchronistic experiences” in NMA 9, Melbourne, 1991>
Another radiophonic piece Pocket Sky: a world wide link up between Jim Denley (Radio ORF Vienna), Stevie Wishart (BBC London), David Moss (SFR Berlin), Jon Rose (ABC Sydney), Simone de Haan (ABC Melbourne), and Bolleter (ABC Perth), took place on 21 October 1991. It was released as the CD Pocket Sky (2004) (WARPS W08).
Bolleter’s 1996 piece Left Hand of the Universe CD (WARPS W02)) linked up Michal Murin and other Slovak and Czech musicians in Bratislava, and Stephen Scott and various musicians at Colorado College, without recourse to radio. All the musicians were playing ruined instruments, or were in the process of ruining them. Left Hand of the Universe was released on CD in 1997 as WARPS W02.
Bolleter's output also includes two CDs of café music: Paradise Café and Café Sophia which feature him playing the accordion, his film music, and his songs. Bolleter's songs, sung by Anthony Cormican, are also featured on their CD Songs from the Third Watch. This CD includes Bolleter's setting of Kenneth Slessor's 1937 poem Five Bells and Cormican's setting of Billy Strayhorn's Lush Life.
Bolleter has performed with a variety of artists including Kavisha Mazzella, Tos Mahoney, Ryszard Ratajczak, Mark Cain, K.K.Null, Jim Denley, Jon Rose, David Moss, Simone de Haan, Michal Murin, Zdenek Plachy, Milan Adanciak, Stephen Scott, David Kotlowy, and Richard Lynn – as well as with bands such as the Black Eyed Susans. From 2000 to 2014, he worked with producer/composer Anthony Cormican in a collaboration uniting Anthony's work with the music editing program Protools with his own ultra-low tech ruined pianos. Since 2010, Bolleter has collaborated with the visual artist and composer Antoinette Carrier in work which includes her woven pianos as well as her creation of the first urban Piano Sanctuary in Bedford, Western Australia. Carrier's CD Nothing as a Thing was released on the WARPS label.
Bolleter has performed at the Adelaide Festival, the Australian National Academy in Melbourne (ANAM, 2009), Ten Days on the Island (2008) and in Tura New Music’s Totally Huge New Music Festivals under the artistic direction of Tos Mahoney. Bolleter’s work is regularly featured on ABC’s Radio National and ABC FM.
Film maker Robert Castiglione is making a film of Bolleter’s work with ruined pianos entitled Invitation to Ruin. It is due for release in 2014. Andrew Ford, in his book In Defence of Classical Music<ABC Books><Sydney, 2005> has a chapter on Bolleter's work entitled Things fall apart in the music of Ross Bolleter.
Bolleter is an Australian Zen Buddhist teacher in the Diamond Sangha tradition, who trained with Robert Aitken and John Tarrant between 1982 and 1997. In 1992 he was authorised to teach by John Tarrant and received transmission from Robert Aitken and John Tarrant in 1997. He teaches primarily in the Zen Group of Western Australia and has also taught extensively elsewhere in Australia and in New Zealand. He has successors in both places. His book The Five Ranks of Dongshan: Keys to Enlightenment is published by Wisdom Publications, Massachusetts (2014)
Fremantle Press published a volume of Bolleter’s poems, Piano Hill in 2010. His earlier book of poems All the Iron Night was published by Smokebush Press in 2004. His third volume of poems Average Human Heart, which includes sixty-odd left hand stories, was finished in May 2014.
Night Kitchen, Emanem 5008, London, 2010
Secret Sandhills and satellites, Emanem 4128 (London), 2006
Crow Country, Pogus, New York, P21021-2,2000
Country of Here Below, Tall Poppies TP045, Sydney, 1993
Frontier Piano (2014) WARPS W20
High Rise Piano (2013) WARPS W19
Ross Bolleter and Anthony Cormican Songs from the Third Watch (2013) WARPS W18.
Antoinette Carrier: Nothing as a Thing (2012) WARPS w17
Music of Chance WARPS W16 (2011, 2013)
Gust (2011) WARPS W15
Solitary Light (2011) WARPS W14
Ross Bolleter & Anthony Cormican Spring in Iraq (2nd edition) (2011) WARPS W13
Piano Dreaming (2nd edition) (2011) WARPS W12
Five by Five (2009) WARPS W11 DVD of 5 pieces in 5.1 Surround.
Intimate Ruins (2009) WARPS W10
The Well Weathered Piano (BOOK and CD) WARPS W09
Pocket Sky (2004, 1991)WARPS W08
Satellites (2002) WARPS W06
Secret Sandhills (2002) WARPS W05
Ross Bolleter & Rob Muir: The Night Moves on Little Feet (1997) WARPS W03
Left Hand of the Universe (1997) WARPS W02
Ross Bolleter: Paradise Café (2004) Sunset Ostrich S01 Ross Bolleter: Café Sophia (2008) Sunset Ostrich S02 Ross Bolleter and Anthony Cormican Concertino Latino (2012) Sunset Ostrich SO3 Including Concertino Latino by Anthony Cormican & Ross Bolleter, performed by Anthony and Ross & Alone Together by Ross Bolleter, performed by Tos Mahoney & Ross Bolleter
Ross Bolleter and David Kotlowy Vault (2012) (a WARPS MyoOn co-production)
Compilations Ross Bolleter's "Hymn to Ruin" on Margaret Leng Tan's She Herself Alone, Mode 221, New York. Ross Bolleter’s “Nallan Void” on Austral Voices New Albion NA028CD, San Francisco, (1990).
The Five Ranks of Dongshan: Keys to Enlightenment (Wisdom Books, Massachusetts, 2014).
The Well Weathered Piano, edition 4, WARPS publications, 2014.
Piano Hill (Fremantle Press, 2008) Poems inspired by pianos, ruined and otherwise.
All the Iron Night (Smokebush Press, 2004) Poems of love and death.
Fostering Creative Improvisation at the Keyboard: A Handbook for Piano Teachers (1979)
</Andrew Ford, In Defence of Classical Music, ABC Books, Sydney, 2005>
- WARPS music, the label co-founded by Bolleter and Stephen Scott specialises in ruined piano music. WARPS? World association for Ruined Piano Studies.
- An artistic history of Bolleter (outdated)