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Piano Experiments

Updated: Jun 11, 2021

Since childhood I have always been fascinated with how the reverb created by sustained notes and chords sounds and how the hammer mechanism works inside the piano. It's just occurred to me that there are similarities between the mechanisms in a piano and the way automatons work. That is probably why I enjoy automatons so much. You are able to see directly how they work. It is not shrouded in mysterious coding or a box hiding the internal giblets.

This week have been experimenting with filming and recording two pianos, an upright at home and a friends grand piano. The idea is to re create the sound I used to hear as a child when I used to lay underneath the piano whilst it was being played by my Father.

This presented some challenges,

1: to not make any noise that the Mics would pick up.

2: keeping a steady hand while filming and

3: ensuring that I didn’t block the lighting that I had set up to illuminate the underside of the piano.

To capture the audio I used Jane the binaural head, positioned as if she were laying down on her back. I used the meta recorder app so I could record the audio to wav.

Lighting was provided by an LED ring light on a tripod to throw enough light beneath the piano.

The filming was a combination of a GoPro camera and an iPhone. I have discovered that I do not have a steady hand when filming using the go pro surprisingly. As I am wanting to capture the POV (point of view ) of the listener in parts of the film, this presents a challenge. One of the solutions is a mouth bite GoPro mount. This works on the natural gyroscopic qualities of the human head. When the mount is held in the mouth, you head works like a gimbal of a steady cam device. The other option for the iPhone is a gimbal mount. I hope to borrow one of these to experiment with.

The result was very evocative of the memory of my childhood home, hearing classical piano being played almost every day. I found it quite emotional watching the playback of the first edit, as it is particularly poignant because my father is now unable to play anymore due to ill health.

Jon's Piano. Thanks Jon!

This is the set up for the recording on the upright piano. The go pro focused on the hammers and Jane Head was listening as if standing behind the player, (which was Me).

Quite often when I'm playing, I will play a chord and leave the sustain pedal on and rest my head on the front of the piano and listen to the reverb decay. I read in "The Vertical colour of sound" by Eric Tams that Brian Eno also does this. So I feel slightly relieved that it's not just my idiosyncratic behaviour, or at east I am in good in good company. The picture above is how I recreated this by using Janes head instead of my own. The advantage with using her head is that there is no additional noise from breathing or accidental movement.

I also experimented with "prepared piano", attaching clothes pegs to the strings to alter the sounds. This allowed for a deeper acquaintance with the mechanics of the piano forte ,as one of the pegs dropped inside! I have learnt how the pedal mechanisms are attached because the sustain pedal became detached in the peg retrieval process! All is well with my trusty Welmar piano. Welmar's are often used in school because they are so robust. My piano is long over due for a tune and I would not have attempted this on a newly tuned piano.

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