Alpha Centauri Kid, Part 1 - The Broken Keys
ACK reflects on his latest collection two years in the making. We also talk about the Muse, some of his favorite pieces, his ambitious plans, two exciting announcements, and more.
Hey y’all —
Last week I sat down with the artist known as Alpha Centauri Kid for nearly two hours. Due to the length of our conversation, I have decided to release this interview in two parts.
Part 1 (this issue) is focused The Broken Keys, ACK’s new collection of 48 unique one-of-one pieces focused on the central theme of a piano. All pieces are on live auction as I type this.
Prior to the start of the auctions this morning, digital art Twitter was abuzz, with pianos taking over my feed:
At the time this email is being sent (Tuesday, May 9th 2023 at 3:30p PST), all auctions are live. You can watch them here, and make bids if you feel so inclined.
The auctions will end on Wednesday, May 10th at 10:00 AM or 11:00 AM PST.
And now, let’s here directly from the artist himself.
A Conversation With Alpha Centauri Kid, Part 1: The Gateway To The Muse
MONTY: Let's talk about the Broken Keys collection. Tell me about when you first conceived of this collection.
ACK: I've been working on it for so long. Right after my Right Click Print drop came out in August of 2021 is when I started building my first piano in Cinema 4D, which is the 3D modeling software I use.
Once I built a model of the red piano and I shattered it, I had a vision of doing a collection of pianos. I'm really connected to the piano. The piano is my gateway to the Muse.
At first, I envisioned this as a big project of 666 pieces, which is laughable now. Once I started working on them I realized that many of the ones I was making were too similar to be a successful collection.
Then the idea came to me to make the pieces completely opposite of each other and make sure each one is unique. That way I can tell as many stories as possible with one theme: a piano.
It was hard to tell that many stories and have that many interesting visuals. It's not an easy thing to do. It took me two years of really working on it. The first year I was working on it on and off, but the last year of my life has been all about pianos, with just a few other things in between, like my Ackstract pieces and my silk screen prints. I wound up with 48 pieces.
Now that you’re done, how do you feel about what you’ve created?
It started as this grand idea, and then as time went on I started to really feel the pressure for this to be a strong collection. The strength of the collection is the most important thing at the end of the day.
I really want it to be a successful collection. By success, I don't mean how much they sell for, but in how they are received. Aside from my silk screens, this feels like it's my debut into the fine art world.
The collection is extremely ambitious in its scope. This is a good time to insert a question from one of my community members, Vespers, who wrote in my Discord: “I feel most artists pass through different styles and themes sequentially throughout their career. In comparison, it appears to me that ACK has multiple styles that all simultaneously run together in parallel. They are different stylistically while also feeling cohesive and instantly recognizable as ACK. For example, the Muse, early glitch work with XCOPY, flowers for my girl, great color study, broken piano -- all unique styles but all true to ACK. How does he view the variety while maintaining continuity?”
That's a broad question, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I'm very flattered to hear that because I didn't set out to do that. But once I realized that it was possible to achieve, it really made sense for me to pursue a broad range of aesthetics.
I mainly do it because I love the process. Like with my Ackstract pieces for example, I just love creating them. I love that you never know where you're going to end up. For the two that I've done so far, I really love the final product.
I think what helps all of these styles remain cohesive is that they all share an underlying theme - which is story. I try to put some story element in each piece - whether it's the piece itself, or the title or the description, or how they all interact, I’m trying to give the viewer an experience.
The fact that there is this underlying theme across the work I think adds to the cohesion.
Looking through the Broken Keys Collection, a standouts for me is Serendipity - it's just so bright and striking, and the flowers on the piano are just beautiful. I also really liked some of the more abstract ones, such as the Ackstract Concerto and I dreamt of you again last night. I also really loved An Ancient Place. Vogue was also interesting - the piano imagery is super subtle, you almost don't notice it until you stare at it for 30 seconds.
A Drake song is actually what inspired Vogue. He has a line saying, “I might have to make her paint a 6 on her pinky toe”
When I heard that song for the first time, I thought I have to have a model painting a piano on her big toe. I'm really proud of that scene.
Can you share a little bit about your process - the tools that you use and how you work with them? Set the scene for me.
A lot of my work lately, including the Piano collection, has been starting in Cinema 4D, which is a 3D modeling software, and then going over to Photoshop and exploring and experimenting with brushes and textures and noise and stuff.
For example, take I dreamt of you again last night. I started that in Cinema 4D, and when I first made it, it was pink. The whole scene was pink. I set up the scene and I rendered it, and then I took it over into Photoshop and I started layering in some of my noise and some of my textures. Then I realized that it wasn’t going to work as pink. So I adjusted the hue and once I saw it in blue is when I knew I loved it.
Are there any pieces in the collection you think would be fun to throw up on the screen and do a little bit of a deep dive on?
Sure. Let's start with The Mad Pianist.
This was one of my favorites to make just because it feels like if I could have a studio, this is what you would see in it.
I started off with just the piano, the wooden piano as you see. I hadn't made an upright skull piano yet and I had a goal of doing that when I started the scene, but I had no idea how it would end up because the background was just white when I started. It was all whiteness when I first made the skull.
Once I put the skull on the piano, I thought, you know what this needs is a scene of an artist studio and what they're creating and what it would look like if I had the means to do this in real life. So then I just went crazy with it.
I love it. So is one of the reasons you're moving so you can have this studio?
[Laughs] I'm really gonna try to replicate that studio in real life.
That red sculpture in the back of the image is something that I actually want to create over the next few years. I'm going to try make that physical. I think it would look really cool on a wall.
We’re also building that grand skull piano.
What? Really? Like physically building it? I love how you just say that so casually.
Yeah, I'm getting a Steinway and it will be self playing and we're gonna make an NFT so I can airdrop music to it and make it self play any day, any time. I will be the only one who has access to that.
Then the piano and the accompanying NFT will be auctioned with a Christie's evening sale next year.
Wow, that’s incredible news. So you're going to build this custom skull piano, and someone's going to buy it, and then at any point it might start playing piano at your behest?
It'll play Mozart at 4:00 AM if that's what I want it to do. If I have to be up working on art, then they have to be up listening to what I'm listening to [laughs].
That's epic. And congrats on Christie's Evening Sale.
Thank you. I still have to make it, I have to build it. But as long as I build it they've given me the green light, which is great.
Have you ever built something like that before?
No, but once I set my mind on something I've learned that I'm capable of achieving it as long as it's physically possible.
My father-in-law is actually a master woodworker. He can build anything. So I told him he was chosen for the job and so he and I are going to build it together.
We have a plan. I have the skull in 3D software, so I can export that as a certain type of file, an STL file and it'll give us layers of how to cut the tree. Then we’re going to cut down a tree to match the wood of the piano.
So yeah, we’re just going to start and we’re going to make it happen.
I'm excited to see that come to life. Make sure you take some photos.
Oh yeah. We're definitely going to document the whole thing.
On Twitter recently, you mentioned that your favorite title of any of the pieces in The Broken Keys collection might be You Musn’t Pick The Purple Flowers. Can you tell me the story behind that title and that piece?
For one, it's my eight-year-old daughter's favorite piece of the collection, so that makes it stand out to me.
But also I didn't know anything about this work when I started creating. It was one of the pieces that I just discovered through experimentation.
I had this violin dude, and I knew I wanted him in a scene. And then I made some trees, and then I changed the fog to this dark red. And just I loved how the pale pink looked with the dark red fog.
Then I thought, you know what, let me add some yellow flowers in the center there. So I added the yellow ones, and then I added the purple ones. And that’s when the idea hit me that something needs to be picking these purple flowers because for some reason it's forbidden to do.
Then I created the only winged skull piano in the collection.
I just discovered the piece through creation, and it just came together in such a magical way and I really loved the final output. Then when it was done, I sat here and I came up with a little poem to go with it while my daughters were here with me, and the poem ended up being the title and the description:
You Mustn't Pick The Purple Flowers
Unless you wish to die.
You mustn't pick them, dare i say,
and mustn't ask me why...
Earlier in our conversation you mentioned that the piano was your first gateway to the muse. You also have mentioned that before, including in the description for the collection, in which you write “To me, the piano was my first gateway to the Muse. Just one key could open my mind and imagination to new ideas and themes to explore.”
Can you tell me more about the piano and your relationship with the piano and its connection to the Muse?
The piano was the first instrument that I loved to play because there's so much variability in what you can do. You don't have to be a studied pianist to play a pretty song.
Learning that early on helped me use piano to explore different thoughts and emotions. If I was ever having a creative block, the piano would help open that up. I would just sit there and play and then I would think of new ideas and get glimpses of art that could possibly be interesting.
Since I was a kid, the piano has always been there. I feel like the piano is the legit gateway to the muse for me. Whatever else is going on, spending a few moments with the piano helps me with the creative process.
How often do you sit down and play these days?
Not often enough. I was playing Mozart the other day to make music for the OnCyber gallery I am doing as part of this collection launch. So I played a very slow version of Lacrimosa which is my favorite Mozart composition.
I don’t play as much as I’d like to, but occasionally.
What other pieces or composers do you like to play?
I listen to a lot of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, and Vivaldi. Those are my top four.
I don't really like to play them because they're so difficult to play, but I like to listen to them. If I play them it's usually a challenge to myself or it’s a necessity.
But more often I just sit down and play with my own melodies and compositions and explore that way.
Do you think you’ll incorporate music into your work in the future?
So for this Broken Keys collection I was going to write a composition for one of the pianos, but then I decided I just wanted to focus on the visuals of all of them. I didn't want to do any music because I think music can be distracting if it's not done perfectly, which is hard to achieve.
So I reached out to a friend of mine who's a composer. He's the composer for Rick and Morty, and other things. His name is Ryan Elder. He’s brilliant. He and Hans Zimmer are my two favorite composers.
Ryan is great at enhancing a scene. Rick and Morty is a cartoon, but it still takes you on journeys and it gets intense and emotional and he's done so well at enhancing those scenes with music. I thought if there's one person that could pick one of these scenes and write a composition for it, it would be him. So I asked him, and fortunately he said yes.
He wrote a beautiful composition for one of the pieces, and that music will accompany the scene that he picked.
Can you share what scene that is?
I’ll share after the auctions.
To view The Broken Keys collection in its entirety and to place a bid prior to 10 AM PST on May 10th 2023, please head over to pianos.ack.art and play a song to enter.
Part 2 of this interview will come out next week, and will cover many more topics including ACK’s background, his relationship with money, his collaboration with XCOPY, his biggest fear, his future plans, and much more. Be sure to subscribe now to receive Part 2: