Snow Tokyo Solo Piano Video: What I Learned From Michael Snow



For the first five minutes I was completely unsure of what to expect. Whispers from the audience grew loud and the screen went dark. Before the technical difficulty, we saw a stage with a grand piano to the right of the screen. The shot was tight and left little room for other environmental cues. Like a gif, Snow appeared and then disappeared. The room grew restless. You could hear chairs moving among the whispers and the screen was a light shade of blue from the digital projector. The whispers got louder and as the video finally reappeared the Toronto audience clapped to the same beat as the Tokyo audience. We were watching a video performance of a piano performance that Snow did in Tokyo.

As the piece started, I recalled last spring when I saw Snow play at the AGO’s restaurant FRANK. The beautiful reverberation of the grand piano in the video, reminded me of the moment where I could actually feel his passion for playing. Tonight, Snow with Mani Mazinani performed live image modifications based on improvisation. There was this late 80s VHS video aesthetic accompanied by low res graphic overlay that showed a close up of Snow’s hands over top a smaller version of himself. The colours would flicker from red, yellow, green, blue and purple and at moments, send you into a visual trance where your eyes would blur together, getting lost in the sound. The ambient sounds of the chairs dragging across the floor in the restaurant above and that of a camera shutter continually goes off, adding to this new experience. I think about how this environment is completely different than the one in Tokyo. As I get this close up view of his process I realize that he is one with his piano, maintaining control over sound as his hand would flip onto its side and seamlessly glide up and down the keys. Snow pulls at the keys with no remorse but with such purpose and delicacy. The piece ends with the perfect melody of stride piano, the audience from Toronto claps on cue with Tokyo.

When it was over, I was torn with my emotions. So at the end I asked him, why show us a video of your performance instead of actually performing? The old man smiled with his eyes and said the performance in Tokyo happened in November and that it takes too much out of him, he could not have done it so soon again.

I was expecting him to tell me that he had this deep desire to comment on the transformative nature of the screen or reference notions regarding post-internet art. Instead Michael Snow made me realize that artwork can exist for practical reasons. There doesn't always have to be some grand conceptual intent that is then explained through art speak to produce a 'successful' piece of art.