Here is a collection of rags, played by three musicians who are roughly one hundred years younger than the pieces they are playing, and it feels like a blast of musical hope. It’s not a reassuring message from the past that player pianos and cakewalks are cool again, but a confirmation that the current generation of young musicians is poised to make confident musical statements that embrace the beauty of the past and the possibilities of the present and future. Petite Feet offers both a respite from, and an embrace of, the broken potentials of a contemporary, technology-informed life. They are performing acts of old fashioned handspun virtuosity, while simultaneously checking text messages, playing video games and tweeting. It’s like they are riding a horse and buggy, but the horse is a robot and the buggy is equipped with solar panels and high speed internet, and they’re all wearing VR goggles. But this robobuggy is not autonomous - Petite Feet know where they are going, and they are holding the reins.
Shane Simpson, Travis Bliss and Jonathan Starks have used their instruments, their laptops, and their ears to guide this musical contraption into a constantly changing, clangorous, kaleidoscopic mishmosh of time and space - a sonic landscape more associated with mumble rap bedrooms and basement raves than the gaslit saloons of the ragtime era. It approaches some kind of an ideal where the music of the mechanical past and the techniques of the digital present can exist in harmony, where an embrace of the future doesn’t mean a rejection, or even a steampunk-like fetishization, of the past. This is not a mining of the ragtime era in search of connection to tradition, or even a reevaluation of Joplin as composer, but an inspired connection between Joplin as composer and these three young musicians.
They have removed the sepia-toned, bow tie and tails veneer from Joplin’s music, but they have preserved its structure on all levels- even when they run the audio backwards, or brutalize it with distortion, or when they let a gameboy take the melody for a few antic chiptune moments. In this way the argument between tradition and innovation becomes moot - the art of the past remains current as long as artists of the present continue to bring it to life. What could be a stronger argument for the immortality of Joplin’s work than this example of its living relevance for these young musicians today? Thus, art once again crosses the barriers of time and proves that a century, at least in the field of music, is nothing.
- Ted Reichman, June 25, 2019