UVI IRCAM Prepared Piano
While the use of effects mangling, extreme sampling treatments or even circuit-bending are not uncommon in today’s electronica scene, it is less often that you come across large acoustic instruments that have undergone sonic surgery. This is unashamedly the case with UVI’s Prepared Piano library, which has been produced in collaboration with IRCAM – the world famous research institute that has been at the centre of the experimental music world for the past 40 years.
Prepared pianos, where objects are introduced to physically interact with the strings, have a relatively long history. However, it was John Cage who arguably contributed most in terms of formalising the approach, and who wrote pieces that specifically required the use of screws (between strings) combined with other disruptive objects.
This UVI instrument makes use of their free Play engine – though it can also be integrated into their Falcon software – and requires 4.5GB of disk space, which expands to 19GB on playback. In its unadulterated state you get a nicely playable Yamaha C7 grand piano. The fun starts though when you use the main software page to select one of the 45 preparation techniques. These can be assigned per note, and with the option of using layers to create two different treatments per note (each with separate control of level, tuning and envelope). Preparations include screws, erasers, coins, clothespins, sticks and others. Strings can be played normally, via the piano mechanism, or with a mallet, plectrum, bow or Ebow. There is also scope for introducing finger-muted harmonics and movement based performance effects.
The big question is perhaps how useful this might be to the average FM reader – and with a price of 399 euros this is certainly not a casual purchase. For pure experimentalists this is a very powerful and engaging tool, and fans of Tom Waits (who in turn was heavily influenced by Harry Partch), will also enjoy the twisted percussive tonalities it offers. However, it is also capable of creating new, and very musical, tones that stretch far beyond the conventional piano, particularly when combined with effects. Bruce Aisher www.uvi.net