Back in September, I posted a list of bands who make music using children's toys. One of the bands I mentioned was Toychestra, a six woman group from San Francisco, and I wrongly claimed that there was an album by them called "Toy Destroy" which could be downloaded from the Internet Archive. In fact, the recording was called "Toychestra" and it was by electronica artist Toy Destroy, who is male and from Utah. My sincere apologies to Toy Destroy for this appalling piece of late-night-alcohol-consumption-induced dyslexia on my part, and here's the link to his debut EP, Toychestra.
Nowadays, thanks to cultural studies and the literary aspirations of music journos, you can find a coffee-table-stack of books on just about any musical genre/movement you care to name… But what about a history of music made using children’s toys? (If its out there, its beyond the reach of my admittedly cursory Google searches…) And before you scoff, yes, toy music does have a rich, varied – and even respectable – history. Here are some highlights:
Suite For Toy Piano by John Cage – This suite - composed in 1948 - is widely acknowledged as the first piece of “serious” music written specifically for toy piano. Here’s a streamed version performed by Cage student, Margaret Leng Tan, who also released an album called “The Art of Toy Piano” in 1997. The album can be purchased from Amazon and includes this cover of Gymnopedie No.3 by Erik Satie.
Wendy Mae Chambers – Chambers is an avant-garde composer who specializes in large scale oddities, like 77 trombone masses and pieces for 24 musicians in rowboats, and is probably best known for her Car Horn Organ. (Here’s a Real Audio stream of it playing New York New York) In addition to that, she is regarded as “possibly the world’s foremost virtuoso of the toy piano” (NY Times) and has composed numerous pieces for it, including Mandala For Toy Piano (all Real Audio). She also has a number of toy piano renditions of Christmas songs that can be heard on her website.
Pianosaurus – The party band of the genre, who were famous-for-15-minutes in the late 80’s with their old-time rock numbers based around R&B riffs hammered out on a toy piano. You can buy their 1987 album “Groovy Neighbourhood" from Amazon, and while you’re there, you can also download two mp3s from it - Thriftshoppin and Ready To Rock.
Toy Death – This distorto-electro toy outfit from my hometown of Sydney not only play toy instruments (and, in classic DIY punk fashion, pride themselves on the fact that none of them cost more than $60), they actually take to the stage dressed as toys. At the last gig of there’s I saw, the band consisted of a cowboy, a music box dancer, a foam-muscled soldier, and a white rabbit that occasionally played the toy guitar with its vagina!... Here, from their 2001 album “Pokey As Shake”, is their deranged version of Funkytown.
Toychestra – A six-woman ensemble from San Francisco who, like Toy Death, use a wide variety of toy-store noisemakers. Out of the current crop of toy bands, they’re the one with most avant-garde cred; having recently recorded an album with improv guitar supremo, Fred Frith.
Twink – Of all the currently recording toy bands, Twink is easily the most hipster friendly. On its latest release, “Supercute”, this toy piano-based band tinkles its way through a diverse array of contemporary electronic styles. From sultry horn backed trip hop; to plucked ukulele faux-bhangra; to sombre, drifting electronica reminiscent of Boards of Canada or Mum. Here, for you to sample, is one of their "sombre drifting" outings, Light Through A Keyhole. If you want more, you can download their entire first album from IUMA, or you can purchase “Supercute” from Mulatta Records.
Toy Symphony – Finally, from the interactive music device boffins at the MIT Media Lab, comes this project which attempts to create orchestral music from specially built “musical toys” with names like Beatbugs, Shapers and Hyperviolins. They’re called “toys” primarily because they are designed to be simple enough for a child to use, but powerful enough to render fully-fledged orchestral works… and because they look quite cute. The Toy Symphony web-site has a selection of mp3s of performances which don’t sound terribly “toy”-like… But the videos of their workshops are pretty cool in a chaotic playtime kind of way.