Post-prepared Piano by John Keston and Piotr Szyhalski

Piotr Szyhalski and I have just finished installing a piece titled, Post-prepared Piano, in the Burnet Gallery at Le Méridien Chambers, Minneapolis. Our installation is part of a show called Interactions and features the work of select MCAD MFA students in collaboration with their mentors. Our piece consists of several components. The first part is a 14′ wide and 17″ tall inkjet print of spectral analysis from a short piano composition that I performed and recorded using my custom built, binaural head microphone (otherwise known as Vincent).

Below the print is an installation that Szyhalski constructed from tarpaper, nails, and one continuous piece of twine. This handmade mapping of the spectral analysis was then photographed and converted back into sound using Michel Rouzic’s excellent application, Photosounder. Thirdly, we installed an iPad with headphones that allows the visitors to hear the original recording, the nails and string version, and a combination of the two layered on top of one another (visit the tablet optimized webapp). The show opens today and runs through February 24, 2013 with an artist’s reception on January 31 from 6pm to 9pm. Read on for more details, photos and sounds.

I think of the nails and twine rendered audio as a sort of physical, handmade method of sound synthesis, or perhaps a way of producing “analog sampling.” The official didactic for the piece goes a long way in a short amount of text to explain what the project aims to convey:

Post-prepared Piano is an exploration of non-musical processes as methods in constructing new sounds. By juxtaposing virtuosic piano performance with the crudeness of hammering nearly 800 nails, a vast territory of what may be considered artistic practice is outlined. Discovery of new pathways in that territory lies at the heart of this project. In its final form the work functions as a residue of an intricate process during which sound travels through multiple realms: the physical and non-physical, the high and low technologies, the sophisticated and proletarian materials.

A short piece composed and performed by Keston is converted into a spectral analysis digital image that visualizes the timbre, transients, frequency, and amplitude of the recording. The digital print of that process constitutes the upper half of the installation. This visual record of musical performance is then manually mapped by Szyhalski and re-rendered on the gallery wall through a labor intensive process of materializing multiple, individual frequency bands. The new object is then photographed and converted back into sound. The resulting audio sounds like a haunting echo of the original piece, but is warped and contorted in unusual ways.

Post-prepared Piano uses a continuous string from a single ball of twine

Please stop by the artist’s reception on January 31, 2013, and/or have a listen to the audio files below and let us know what you think. I particularly enjoy the combined version of the original piano recording and the rendered nails and twine. It illustrates the differences in color and texture along side the similarities of cadence and pitches between the two works. While listening you might recognized that the frequencies match for brief moments and then wander off again as tiny flaws and variable slackness in the twine shape the “hand synthesized” sonic textures. I had to adjust a few of the transients in the sound rendered from the nails and twine to make up for a slight offset that was caused by the photographic compositing process. A composite of two photographs was necessary to get enough resolution in the image of the nails and twine to produce the new sound as accurately as possible.

The original piano composition (edited for length):

The unedited nails and twine version of the audio:

The combined version:

5 thoughts on “Post-prepared Piano by John Keston and Piotr Szyhalski

  1. Oh wow, great job, I never thought one could make music using string on nails, that’s a very inspired and creative approach, and that’s indeed an interesting way to make a new kind of analog music. I also like the visual result, aesthetically, it’s like a mix between a musical score and a Piet Mondrian painting.

  2. A quick note: the title of this piece is obviously an homage to John Cage, an important influence to both myself and Piotr Szyhalski. However, the title came after the fact and our intent was never to emulate Cage or compare our work with his.

  3. Cheers again Michael!
    After much reflection the work seems even more powerful and significant. I can’t wait to see what you bring to Strange Attractors 25!

Leave a Reply