Piano execution via gravity. It sounded amazing. All photos by the author. Animated .gifs by Laura Apelt.
There's something strangely blasphemous about dropping a piano from a forklift, or smashing one with an axe. But according to a Melbourne man named Paul MacDonald, it's just part of being a piano. He's the warehouse manager for a removalist company that also specialises in disposing of unwanted instruments. At his hand, unwanted pianos are dismantled for their recyclable parts, or simply broken down to be more easily disposed. And no, it's not entirely necessary to drop them from a fork lift to achieve any of this. We asked him what he was doing.
VICE: Hey Paul, why are you doing that?
Pau MacDonald: Oh it's just a bit of fun, and also much quicker than the axe. Realistically we don't destroy pianos like this much anymore, but we'll do it because you're here.
But do you really have to destroy them? It seems sort of tragic.
Yeah, a lot of people really cringe. They can't believe that pianos only have a limited lifespan and have to be destroyed. Theoretically a piano should last 100 years. Although I've been told that Ben Folds churns through one every five, just from how often he gets them tuned and he's got a very heavy bass hand. But anyway, they can only be turned a limited amount of times before they won't hold their tuning anymore. Then at that point they become expensive-to-move furniture, or just rubbish. You can keep a piano for prosperity reasons or sentimentality, but every time you move it, it'll cost $200.
Aren't pianos valuable themselves?
They do lose their value. This piano we'll do with the mallet has a part called an overdamper. They stopped being used in 1904, so when they go, they're really expensive to replace. Generally speaking you're not going to get more than about $400 for something like that, although this one has a lot of damage so probably not even $50. And then you can't play it so what's the point?
And what sort of piano is on your forklift?
That's an American piano, and they tend to be a bit bigger. It's about 80 years old, or possibly built in the 1940s. A lot of the American pianos also contain interesting woods so I'm interested to see what's under the keys.
How does it feel to drop a piano from a forklift?
Oh, it's a very therapeutic part of the job that. You have to really look after the pianos when you move them and being able to really let rip, that's much more fun.
Do you get angry at pianos?
No I see the fun side of it. Some of the young guys see me with the axe and they're like careful, the strings will cut you. I'm all like nah, rubbish bro.
Do you have a favourite piece of piano music?
Jump, by Van Halen. That's the one I use to check the peddles. I only know the first chords though. Generally I like the more dramatic sort of stuff.
Have you ever smashed up a piano and regretted it?
No, although there was one that we had to destroy, where it'd been in storage and they'd fallen on the payments. It was in such bad condition that it wasn't worth selling so I destroyed it. Then, for a few minutes, I wasn't sure if I'd destroyed the right one.
Do you ever think about death while you're doing this? It all seems a bit circle-of-life.
It's a bit sad that the way pianos die around here tends to be violent. Although there's actually another guy in Melbourne who's got a piano grave yard. He sets them out in a paddock, under the trees, and lets them slowly break down. He actually loaded up seven on a trailer here, and took them to his graveyard. He's probably a little bit mad, but that's just his thing. Maybe if I was a piano, I'd rather go that way.
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