10 – octave prepared piano

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Steven Wilson on the old Joanna

Steven Wilson recently helped sound design agency Pitch and Sync celebrate their 10th birthday in Amsterdam by customising an old joanna to turn it into the world’s first 10-octave prepared piano.

A prepared piano is one that has had a variety of objects inserted into its inner works to change its sound, following the example of avant-garde composer John Cage.

Though Steve being Steve, he also took the opportunity to prepare the piano in another way as well, by redecorating it with an exclusive design for Pitch & Sync. You can see the results here.

Steve was helped in tweaking the piano by Tim Crombie, while on the night the piano was played by the in-house P&S pianist John Pickup.

We caught up with Steve to ask him about his new musical direction.

Do you play piano?

No, but we have one in the house as my kids play.

Are you a John Cage fan?

Yes. I am an Illustrator so he is outside of my chosen field of creativity, but I think anyone who innovates as radically as he did with his prepared pianos has to be a source of inspiration regardless of what creative field you are in.

How exactly did you prepare the piano?

The design was applied using a vinyl stencil on a white painted piano. Once the stencil was applied it was sealed using Mod Podge before being painted black. The stencil was then removed to reveal the white lines.

Are we going to see more sound art projects from you in future?

I have always created a lot of my work for music-based projects and I find them the most enjoyable. So, if the opportunity comes up then absolutely. The nice thing with creating visuals for music is generally you can allow the work to have more abstraction. The viewer then has to interpret things in their own way in comparison to other areas where illustration is used, when you are often asked to be quite specific and direct to communicate a particular idea. The freedom leads to more creative work.