Preparing the Underground Piano: Scott R. Looney

Pianist Scott R. Looney doesn’t really perform under the ground in the Bay area in which he lives, but as Berkeleyside’s Andrew Gilbert points out, his low profile is the equivalent of leading a subterrestrial life. One of the reasons for Looney’s relative obscurity is that he always performs using a piano prepared with brass and copper instruments which jangle and judder when he manipulates the inner strings. Add metal bowls, Chinese cymbals, and a cheap version of an E-bow and the sounds, produced by Looney, in a trio with bassist Lisa Mezzacappa and percussionist Kjell Nordeson, are far from conventional. Looney says he was drawn to this form of keyboard creativity after seeing Denman Maroney, a New York pianist whose hyperpiano uses some of the same implements when he plays. But Looney had already been set on an experimental musical path after studying with advanced trumpeter Paul Smoker at an Iowa university. Since that time Looney has worked with many like-minded improvisers, including bassists Damon Smith and Joëlle Léandre, percussionist Gino Robair and saxophonist Oliver Lake. An interest in subverting conventional keyboard sounds came to him as a child, he recalls, when he heard one of his parents’ Ferrante & Teicher LPs featuring the duo using novelty effects.