Ross Bolleter and Ruined Pianos

Ross Bolleter and Ruined Pianos

Today we explore not noise, but sound – albeit sound that some might hear as noise.

Ross Bolleter is a man of many hats. He is a zen master; a composer, and a performer. But a performer with an interesting twist – he plays ruined pianos.

ross bolleter with ruined piano

Let me explain. Many years ago, when Europeans started emigrating to/invading Australia, they often took pianos with them. (Remember the movie The Piano?) However, on arrival, finding nowhere to live, and harsh conditions, these pianos were often abandoned, left outside on porches, in yards or open fields. As noted in the article “If This Piano could Talk”,

“The piano took on a cult-like status in colonial Australia. Settlers revered it as a genteel symbol of their heritage, because it represented the best aspects of their forsaken culture. While other physical necessities such as furniture and housing could be improvised, the piano’s complex structure made replication impossible under harsh Australian conditions. Pianos were transported by camel, bullock and horse to all known areas of the Australian terrain. It was been estimated that around 700,000 pianos were imported to Australia by 1888, an extraordinary statistic even by prevailing European and Anglo-Irish standards.

Pianos from colonial Australia still exist in varying states of decay: Individually in remote parts of Australia; as collections in un-airconditioned warehouses in Nowra (NSW) and Sorrel (Victoria); in Ruined Piano Sanctuaries in rural Western Australia; and in museums. They are a remarkable and fundamental part of Australian history that is fading away, largely undocumented, with the weathered demise of each ruin.”(

ruined piano 1Ruined piano 2.jpg

In the late 1980s, Ross Bolleter discovered some of these pianos, and on playing them, found that they were capable of quite amazing sounds. He has been performing and recording on them since then.

Here is how he defines a “ruined” piano:

“A piano is said to be ruined (rather than neglected or devastated) when it has been abandoned to all weathers, say on a sheep station or tennis court, with the result that few or none of its notes sound like that of an even-tempered uptight piano. A Ruined Piano has its frame and bodywork more or less intact (even though the soundboard is cracked wide open, with the blue sky shining through) so that it can be played in the ordinary way. By contrast a Devastated Piano is usually played in a crouched or lying position.”(

Here you can watch a promotional video for an exhibition of his piano collection.

Here is another video, hosted by two cartoon characters, talking about Bolleter’s project.

Here you can watch him perform his piece “Five Short Ruins”.

And here you can listen to his recording “Secret Sandhills”, dedicated to the late Australian aboriginal artist, Timmy Payungka Tjapangati. On it he uses a collection of field recordings of ruined pianos (plus other field recording sounds) to create the piece.

And here is his website. He has recorded a lot of ruined piano music!

(Bolleter is also a Zen master. If you want to know more about this side of him, click here. )

So there you have it. Sound, music, created from the “noise” of old ruined pianos.


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