In The Well Prepared Piano, Norwegian pianist Mathias Halvorsen plays Bach on modified versions of the piano. He developed these new instruments together with other musicians, composers and artists, each of whom turned to the various opportunities presented by their own field to result in what were often highly unconventional ideas for these modifications.
In Bach’s time, the tuning of instruments wasn’t the equal temperament we know today; instead, it varied depending on harmony. Halvorsen’s version makes use of rubber bands so that instead of the tuning changing, the tone changes per note along with a range of funky sounds as a bonus.
The input provided by artist Ingibjorg Fridirksdottir lead to Halvorsen attaining a vibrant effect with the use of wooden rods. These not only move when the piano is played - in which they tap softly against each other - but also distort the pitch slightly after striking each key.
Ping pong balls
Artist Michael Rauter filled the piano with ping pong balls. The result is a clear, gentle instrument. The freely-moving little balls provide lovely embellishments. When played softly, they chatter and sing. Play this piano more forcefully, however, and they fly every which way.
Merrill Beth Nisker (alias Peaches), a Canadian electronic musician and performance artist, chose to modify a piano by trying out vibrators in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Each generated a different sound: some were like machine guns while others made no sound at all. In the end, she chose a silver-coloured vibrator that mimicked the sound of an organ when playing Bach’s compositions.
Inspired by Bara Gisladottir’s beautiful composition, Prussian Blue, this version uses paint brushes to create an extremely soft, intimate sound. The rhythmic, breathy sound of brushes on the strings makes Bach sound like the morning mist on a lake.
Artists and performers
Johann Sebastian Bach - Wohltemperiertes Klavier, selectie uit boek 1 en 2*
*De vleugel is voorbereid door Ingibjorg Fridriksdottir, Michael Rauter, Peaches en Mathias Halvorsen