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A day of ambient piano with Sonbahar

I had a nice day with composer Sonbahar this month. The day was spent recording piano, but not just the piano as it sounds normally. There is a huge interest in revisiting the idea of the prepared piano at the moment. Making the tone of the piano softer or augmented in some way was explored by John Cage as far back as 1938. Often objects such as erasers or screws are jammed between strings to cause the piano to respond in an unusual or unpredictable way.

Sonbahar brought some different thicknesses of felt to place in front of the hammers to take the percussion out of the tone. This was fed down into the piano right along the whole action. With a bit of shuffling around it really worked. And the different thicknesses of course gave a different tone.

Taking off the casing of the piano is pretty standard and that's what we did here. Neumann KM184s were placed in a stereo configuration on the right side of the keyboard, with the bottom row of bass strings mixed from beneath with a Reslo ribbon mic. You can hear straight away what effect the felt has.

KM184s pointing at the hammers with the felt in place

Modded Reslo on the bass strings

The final touches were by adding a couple of room mics (a Neumann U87 and U57) at the back of the room.

It's really nice to experiment with tone in this way, and it makes me aware that i've done very little of this with guitars...hmmm. If you see me stuffing a towel into a sound hole , I haven't gone mad. I'm looking forward to mixing some of these recordings soon.

You can check Sonbahar's music out on Spotify here

Piano is a Samick


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