This Piano Thing

1st performance: New Music Vancouver, 1989

Work for solo, amplified, prepared piano in four movements.

This Piano Thing is, in some ways, an answer to questions and problems raised by my composition Piano Mechanics . These problems deal both with an evolution of piano technique and a redefinition of the piano as a machine for the ‘synthesis’ of ‘new’ sounds.

When Piano Mechanics is performed live in concert, the unusual acoustical effects emerging from a solo unamplified and unaltered piano form an impression to the audience that some trickery is taking place. In almost every performance of this piece, I have had audience members approach me after the concert to see what processing equipment I was using, or to look for the preparations inside the piano. Of course, no such equipment or preparations existed for this piece. This gave me the idea to compose a piece for the antithesis of this perceptual innuendo: a piece for amplified prepared piano, This Piano Thing.

In This Piano Thing, seventy-three notes of the piano are prepared using materials of the traditional preparation repertoire: bolts, screws, broken chopsticks, rubber, weather-stripping, and vibrating nuts and washers. In some instances, medium-size (0.5 cm x 6.0 cm) eyebolts are placed in the strings of adjacent whole tones so that their ‘eyes’ are barely touching. When either of these whole-tone notes are sounded, a sustained jingling takes place, creating a kind of multi-level mechanical reverb-feedback system, in that a string attack induces further attacks between the eyebolts with the resulting sustained sounds feeding back through the strings to the soundboard.

Transducer pick-ups are also placed inside the piano for the purpose of electronic amplification. If pick-ups suspended between the strings and bridge of the piano could loosely be considered a preparation, then augmenting these pick-ups with additional air microphones would be in keeping with a methodology of piano preparation. With the use of pick-ups and close-miking I am able to get right inside the sound of the preparations, to amplify all the jingles, buzzes, and distortions created, and to use the magnification of these extremely close-up sounds as prime sound material on which to focus.

When an attempt is made to liberate the piano from the standard keyboard literature, one can arrive at an anti-pianism, and by implication, an anti-musicality. This is a fermentation of Romanticism that leads to a kind of industrial music.

┬ęGordon Monahan 1989