Surrounded by forest on the border of the Southern Downs, The Piano Mill is a building, site-specific artwork, and musical instrument, all wrapped into one structure.

The Piano Mill is the brainchild of architect Bruce Wolfe. Situated on a remote property near Stanthorpe, it stands tall and proud. Bruce and Jocelyn Wolfe have owned the property for more than a decade and have long been encouraging its use for arts events.
The Piano Mill project is the ultimate consummation of their passion for music and the arts. It is two storeys tall, clad in copper, and specially designed louvres can be opened and shut to change the building’s acoustics. The building houses 16 pianos, with eight pianos on each level. Essentially, the Mill is a lost and found box of instruments. All the pianos have been sourced locally, from Brisbane, Stanthorpe, Warwick and Toowoomba. They are all in varying states of decay. Some are still relatively in tune, whilst others are all wobbly keys and weathered wood.

Like its architecture, The Piano Mill’s

opening event at Easter 2016 was as special as it was unusual. The launch event was held in collaboration with composer Erik Griswold and artistic director Vanessa Tomlinson. Inside the Mill, 16 pianists were perched at the pianos, many of whom were staff of Griffith University Queensland Conservatorium.

Winched down from the atrium, movement artist Jan Baker Smith meticulously adjusted the louvres to alter the music’s acoustic. Percussionists/directors Michael Askill and Vanessa Tomlinson were positioned on each of the Mill’s levels, alongside the man of the moment, composer Erik Griswold.

Griswold’s composition, All’s Grist that Comes to the Mill, was premiered at the Mill’s opening. The 60-minute piece highlighted the quirks and imperfections of the timeworn pianos, conveying each instrument’s colourful life story. A community of listeners gathered to enjoy Griswold’s composition, setting up folding chairs outside the Mill. When night fall arrived, video artists Greg and Emma Harm projected the Mill’s inner workings onto its

copper walls. Hence, the secrets of the Mill were revealed to the audience. The Piano Mill completely flips the present-day conventions of making and listening to music. In the age of ‘new music’, composers have become increasingly detached from their venues, in some cases composing music for unspecific or unknown acoustics. This consequently impacts their audience’s listening experiences. However, artists composing for The Piano Mill, are forced to observe its unique acoustic properties.

The Mill was built to reintroduce and encourage the relationship of music and its place. In such a different setting, listeners are free from the constraints of traditional venues, and can explore and find their own ways of enjoying music. Since the environment is constantly changing, performances at The Piano Mill are always surprising and never quite the same. During its opening performance, the hum of a generator accompanied the pianists, and secretly planned fireworks were set off at the end of the piece. In short, the work and its context, the Mill and its music, are inseparable. For an authentic Piano Mill experience, one has to be physically present.