Not since the '80s, when toy instrument purveyors Pianosaurus reduced Chuck Berry's "Memphis" to a precious symphony of pint-sized pianos, tiny snare drums, and children's guitars, has toy instrument potential been tapped the way Margaret Leng Tan has tapped it. The Singapore-born keyboardist plays a concert grand toy piano, which sounds like an oxymoron but is actually a surprisingly good vehicle for Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby," and the works of avant-garde composers John Cage (whose repertoire is a Tan specialty) and Philip Glass, whose "Love Waltz" appears on Tan's album The Art of the Toy Piano, which Glass helped produce. Tan plays more than just keyboards, too: She layers the plinkety-plink of her custom-built Schoenhut with melodica, miniature accordions, and whistles, punctuating melodies with the snap and pop of toy guns.
Like Glass before her, Tan will be a guest of the Other Minds music festival. The weekendlong concert series, now in its fifth year, spotlights brave new composers and musicians whose work spans all styles, even styles that have yet to be named. Tan makes her local debut with work from the album as well as a world premiere by Errollyn Wallen, a composer/pianist/singer who will visit Other Minds as well, bringing her jazz-laced creation Rapture with her. French ambient music pioneer Luc Ferrari celebrates his 70th birthday and his early electronic musique concrete experiments with the world premiere of Les emois d'Aphrodite. Mary Ellen Childs, meanwhile, choreographs herself into her chamber and orchestral compositions, hammering out "visual percussion" with kinetic movement on rolling chairs. Concerts with these musicians and others begin at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at the Cowell Theater, Fort Mason, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Admission is $18; call 441-3687. (H.W.)