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Avant-Garde Music for Toys, 'Playing' in New York

Avant-garde musical artists have always liked to stretch the limits of what traditional musical instruments can do. But some artists have gone even further and explored the less orthodox music of familiar objects.

Some of the most modern music in the world is being written for toys. For example, the so-called "Toy Symphony," composed most likely by Leopold Mozart in the mid-1700s, is an abiding favorite with mainstream concertgoers. But today, at recitals like )

"The beauty of playing with toys is the whole world can appreciate what you're doing," said Tan. "People don't have to have a classical background [or] … any background in music at all. In fact, they're the best audience, because their ears are totally open and they don't have a preconceived idea of what music should be."

Tan added that classical audiences may have prejudices against people playing with toys, often considering them to be frivolous.

"But playing with toys is a serious game!" beamed Tan.

One piece at the Interval concert was composed for three toy pianos by the young composer )

Traditional classical music was all composer and Interval recital producer )

One of the more challenging pieces at the Interval show was "Piece for Tenor Balloon and Voice," written by new-music composer and balloon instrumentalist )

Since the late 1980s, Dunaway has been fascinated by the infinitely complex harmonic overtones the pressure and movement of her hands can create on the taut skin of an inflated latex balloon.

But for Dunaway, balloon music is about history and politics, too. She says it allows her to reject the rigid, 12-tone scale of traditional Western music and to use the "cries" of the balloon to express, she said, the horror of the repression of Brazil's indigenous rubber farmers and the destruction of the rainforest.

The composer is aware that many people find the balloon music to be harsh the first time they hear it.

"But," she said "… if anything, it's the Amazon speaking; it's the Earth speaking; it's the Earth screaming; the Earth saying, 'Stop!' So in that sense, I am just a conduit, and I try very much to follow that 'voice.'"

As an artist, Dunaway is also interested in helping people to perceive in unaccustomed ways.

"People stay in a 'comfort zone,'" she opined, "and I think artists very often reach outside their comfort zone. That's why we end up making things that are called 'creative.'"

Audiences and critics, of course, will have their own ideas about what is creative and what is not. But the new interest in music for toys suggests a healthy urge among today's musical artists to explore, innovate and experiment with sound - no matter the source.

Music used with artists' permission