FPF World Tour, Part 7: Kicking Brain Crack in Philly

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There’s this phenomenon called brain crack. Have you ever heard of it? I remember the term was introduced years ago, by a vlogger named Ze Frank.

Basically: when you have an amazing idea in your mind, it’s easy to just keep thinking about it. Over and over. Planning all the wonderful details, crafting the perfect plan, dreaming up how great it’s going to be.

But you never actually do it.

You just get addicted to the idea. And there’s no way, if you actually did it, that it could ever live up to the idyllic concept you’ve created. So there you are, caught in a feedback loop, addicted to brain crack.

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A float from the Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby played a pub organ as it went.

My Brain Crack

My battle with brain crack centered around the Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby.

It’s a quirky festival in Philadelphia where teams create mobile, bicycle-powered works of art. They can be as simple as one person on a bicycle in a costume, or as complex as a giant float powered by ten bikes. Each team pilots their creation around the neighborhood, through an obstacle course, and right into a big mud pit at the finish line.

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I first attended the event four or five years ago as a spectator, and fell in love with it. I talked about it with my friends, and we came up with ideas for big bike-powered unicorns and dragons. We’re totally going to do it, we’d say…next year!

Derby Attempt #1

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Even this fish made it into the derby.

Two years ago, I really wanted to kick the crack and go and participate in the derby. But I was in the midst of my Ph.D and running Floating Piano Factory, so it was a very busy time. Still, I signed up with a team name of Floating Piano Factory and paid the registration fee. I figured that would keep me accountable, right? And this endeavor could double as a promotional stunt for FPF. We started putting together a team, making grand plans to build a giant bird with flapping wings.

Well, that simply didn’t happen. Everyone dropped out but me and one other friend, and the giant bird remained a dream. But I wasn’t going to give up completely! I decided that I would go to the race, even if it was just me on a bicycle. Persistence!

I went to our storage unit to get my bike, and when I got there…the door was covered in locks and chains! Apparently, we’d forgotten to keep up on our rental fee and there was no settling this before the event. Does it have to be this hard? Now what? The derby was in two days!

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Snoopy isn’t going to miss out on the race.

Walking down the street in NY, I came upon a Razor scooter that someone had thrown out. The rubber wheels were worn out and lumpy, and it hardly worked, but I picked it up anyway. Don’t give in! I lugged it around to all of my appointments for the rest of the day, vowing that this would be the new vehicle to victory.

The next day, on our way to Philly, my friend and I were running late, and I lumped along on the dilapidated scooter as fast as I could to catch our bus. We made it just in time, loaded up our bags and climbed aboard as the bus pulled away. About an hour later, I realized: I’d left the scooter at the bus stop. Oh man! Seriously? Another strike.

Then when we arrived in Kensington, the race had already begun! We only managed to watch the final moments of the event, as the contenders battled through the mud pit and across the finish line. I did, however, stop by the registration desk. And I was pleasantly surprised to be reminded that I was entitled to pick up my team’s five t-shirts. One step closer—now I felt like an insider.

So that was my first attempt.

Running to catch the last minutes of the derby last year.

We must climb a fence for a better view. 

The crowd swells as a contestant enters the mud pit.

Derby Attempt #2

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This year I tried again. I set the derby as a stop on the FPF World Tour, timed perfectly between New York and Hong Kong. I registered a team, and enlisted a new group of friends to join me.

But once again, everyone had to bail.

On the bright side, I was able to get my bicycle this time. Not only that, but my friends in Long Island were heading to Philadelphia, so I hitched a ride with them! They had even had a bike rack for their car. Things were looking up.

Then I jumped on Couchsurfing to find a place to stay. One guy wrote me back to say that not only could I stay with him, but that he’d love to join the team! Another win!

Except that when I arrived, he went completely AWOL. We never even met.

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Like this shark, I was ready to take the derby by storm!

I arranged to stay with some other friends, and continued on solo. I had no float, no costume, and no real plan. Can you believe that the weather was threatening to trounce the event? It was cloudy and sprinkling rain. I did have my bike this time though! When I got to the derby registration desk, they told me I still had about 2 hours before the race began. I took advantage of the extra time to prepare!

So I bought some face paint, and found a thrift store where I put together a costume. In an empty lot, I found some brightly-colored, industrial plastic straps that I tied to the back of my bike. Then I raced back to the registration desk, and while I waited in line, I asked annother participant to help me paint my face.

And thus was created the first Floating Piano Factory derby sculpture! This year, the Floating Piano Factory actually entered in the race. Sure, it was just me by myself, in a ragtag outfit, but I made it through. I even survived the mud pit. Oh, and I also got another stack of t-shirts.

Kenneth Cole

eathan-costume.jpgSometimes overcoming brain crack is a huge challenge. I was reminded of a story I heard about Kenneth Cole.

When he first wanted to start his fashion company, he didn’t have any money. There was a big event coming in Manhattan where he could debut his line and get things started, but he couldn’t afford the entrance fees. What a great opportunity to keep on the brain crack of starting a shoe company. He could simply give up right there and continue perfecting the delicate image in his mind of what could be.

But he had an idea: instead of renting a booth inside the event, he’d set up a truck outside the event. He arranged to borrow a truck from a friend, then called the mayor’s office to ask for a parking permit. They told him that’s impossible. This was a busy Manhattan intersection—only utility companies and film companies can get permits like that! Another strike. Time to give up. Give in to the habit.

But he persisted. He temporarily changed his company’s name to “Kenneth Cole Productions,” hired models to pose as actors, and got a camera crew. He called his film project “A Birth of a Shoe Company.” And he got the permit.

Half the time, his film crew’s cameras didn’t even have any film in them. But they put on quite a show of “filming” for spent several days, with the team of models showing off his footwear. From that stunt, he sold 40,000 pairs of shoes and launched his company.

I may not have sold any shoes in Philadelphia. And I didn’t have a giant bird float with flapping wings. The whole event wasn’t anything like the grand, glorious visions in my head…but I did it, and I didn’t give in to brain crack.

Kenneth Cole will tell you that the moral of his story is that the best solutions are usually not the most expensive, they are the most creative. I feel like brain crack keeps me from exercising my creativity muscles. If I want to kick it I’ve got to work. I can’t be phased if the reality is a mismatch from what I imagined.

Art and Fear

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I recently read a book called Art and Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland. Here’s an excerpt:

More often, though, fears rise in those entirely appropriate (and frequently recurring) moments when vision races ahead of execution. Consider the story of the young student — well, David Bayles, to be exact — who began piano studies with a Master. After a few months’ practice, David lamented to his teacher, “But I can hear the music so much better in my head than I can get out of my fingers.”

To which the Master replied, “What makes you think that ever changes?”

Scroll down to watch videos of some of the masters from last year navigate the mud pit!

We settle in to watch and dream of next year’s possibilities.

Watch them navigate the mud pit!


About this series: Floating piano has come to be internationally known, and thanks to the internet we’re getting inquiries worldwide about our top-rated apprenticeship program. This has inspired us to try to connect with international piano lovers in person via some transcontinental traveling. Eathan Janney, lead technician and founder of FPF will be visiting Peru to search for human connections through pianos. Meanwhile our star apprentices Daniel DiMaggio, Bimol Karmaker and Tom Erickson are manning the ship at home in NYC, ready to tune your piano to the highest standards.

As a “Goodwill” Ambassador, FPF assigns itself the task of connecting with piano owners in various locations and exploring the histories of their pianos. We will document these adventures and stories, and as a gesture of good will, offer to tune the pianos for free. Piano tuning is our business, but we are also fascinated with the non-transactional aspects of a piano tuning visit: the interaction with a piano owner, the sharing of music, the caring for an object that has a life history of its own. Music is a global phenomenon that exists outside of the physical, political, and national boundaries that may separate us. We would like to highlight these factors by making connections through pianos and sharing these stories with you.

Special thanks to playwright Chad Eschman for collaborating on this post.

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Filed under Ambassador Program, Art/Science, Creativity, FPF World Tour, Musical Gadgets, Videos

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