A Noiseful Joy was a project one hundred and twelve years in the making.
Reverend John Lewis Brook, a progressive minister from Ohio, spent much of his life gathering information about the culture of the Pianistas, and its musical traditions in particular. As a boy, he had heard stories from his father about a tribe he had encountered on his way to California. He recounted wild dances around fires and strange music in the air. This inspired young John to take up the piano. After being told by several teachers that he had no talent for music, he decided to try religion. He had heard a minister give a lecture at his church about the missionary work to be done in the West and, thinking that it would be a way for him see this extraordinary culture for himself, entered the seminary. In 1893, after his graduation from the St. Thomas School of Theology and Metallurgy, and armed with a recent invitation for employment as a missionary in Nevada, the twenty-one year-old Reverend Brook boarded a train headed west. This trip would change his life forever.
On the way the train broke down outside of Chicago. While waiting for the next available train, Rev. Brook decided to take in some of the exhibits at the World’s Fair. Among the highlights was Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. On the way out of the exhibition area, behind the performers’ tent, Brooks came across a man selling trinkets, elixirs, Native crafts and some strange objects he’d not seen before. Upon closer inspection he saw that they were in fact musical instruments. The salesman claimed that they were made by the “Peonistas”, a peculiar tribe “unbeknownst by Common Folk and All but died out save for these Art-i-facts [sic].” Brook immediately bought up the lot with the money he had saved for his missionary work, and so began his long and sporadically documented career as collector and amateur historian of this tribe.
Flash forward to 1989. Artist Michael Frassinelli, while traveling west, comes across an open-air flea market outside of Bakersfield, CA. In a rusted tin lunchbox he finds detailed sketches, faded photographs, and a letter, describing in (broken English) musical instruments and other objects “made of woods, wire, felt and ivory keese, unlike anything I known in this country [sic].” The letter went on to say that the artifacts were won in a poker game from a down-on-his-luck preacher. It might have been tossed aside and lost forever if Frassinelli had not recognized the identity of the author of the letter: it was Alfonzo Renato Veneto, a distant relative who worked for a time as an actor in early Hollywood westerns, and whose name he had just happened to see that very summer on a publicity photograph found among his late grandfather’s effects. Inspired by the coincidence, Frassinelli spent the next fourteen years collecting material, building instruments, researching historical archives, and searching for a group of musical adventurers to recreate a sound that had not been heard for nearly a century and had yet to be recorded.
That search has lead to this recording.