Happy World Piano Day! To mark this wonderful annual celebration of such an important instrument, we’ve compiled a few highlights from Cities and Memory compositions over recent projects that use the piano as a central element – these are sounds that combine the piano with the sounds of the world to create something new.
We start in Rwanda, with a piece from our Well-Being Cities project called “Against Coca-Cola”:
“Having visited Rwanda a few years ago, when exploring its urban markets, as well as what is different, one is struck by what is similar – monolithic global brands like Coca-Cola and Nike stamp their presence on even the tiniest, most characterful spaces in human lives.
“The brand colours, logos and slogans have invaded every urban space on the planet. Wherever there is commerce, there are the mega-brands, and the more homogenised our spaces become, the worse it is for the well-being of our cities.
“This piece is a quiet, sad lament against Coca-Cola, against Nike, and by extension against everything that makes our cities the same, and a plea to keep the idiosyncrasies that ensure the places we live are truly well-being cities.”
Our second piece is from Abbazia Pisani in northern Italy, with a beautiful piece based on New Year’s Day church bells by de Velden.
“I started by slicing together the not-quite-silences and random noises that lay between and around the bells in the original recording, then (slightly, and with apologies to the ringers) restructured elements of the peal, after which a piano melody wove itself through and around both.”
Also from the Well-Being Cities project is this wonderful piece by Stefan Klaverdal, who uses the piano to express something of the melancholy of travel:
“My music here is constructed on top of a wonderful recording of a train station at Ho Chi Min in Vietnam. I have never been there, but stations tend to sound more or less the same everywhere in the world. It reminds me of backpacking in my youth, of train travels with family, of the way trains capture our dreams.
“The recording is slightly reorganized but mostly used in its original form and not really manipulated.
“The ambient sound of people moving make the background to a piece with a meditative moody minimalistic piano piece. The piano plays several ostinatos, on top of which a melody forms. Bass and chords are introduced and almost take over, but the melody prevails, and the piece slowly ends with the piano ostinato.
The piano is an old Steinway that is recorded in Ableton Live and carefully manipulated there, making it sound more electronics at times.”
In another piece based on a field recording from Italy, Kid Kin transforms the sounds of buzzing crickets in the evening air into this cascading piano-led piece, appropriately titled “Pianos and crickets”:
Off to the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean for a duet with the sound of waves next:
“Looking directly south from Caloura in the Azores, there’s a good chance that if you sailed directly south the next land you hit might be Antarctica. Staring out at the horizon, with only the wheeling birds overhead anchoring us back to dry land, the temptation to contemplate the infinite is even stronger than the usual compulsion that strikes when recording ocean waves, and the mind wanders.
“This piece is a duet between the waves of Sao Miguel island and the infinite distant beyond, represented by piano lines and quiet synths interplaying, performed live across five tracks in reaction and response to the wave recording.”
As part of the Obsolete Sounds project, the piano was used to evoke memories from the past that were piqued by disappearing sounds, such as the Super-8 film projector in Moray Newlands’ piece “Living Room 1978”:
“The sound of the Super 8 Camera immediately transported me back to my parents living room and my dad trying to capture our lives and project some home made films. We always had a piano hence the composition based around a slightly out of tune old piano, I wanted the composition to capture that immediate feeling of childhood nostalgia that hit me as soon as I heard the camera sound. I still have his old camera. Maybe it’s time to get it going again.”
Finally, in our Covid-19 lockdown project #StayHomeSounds, we captured how people were passing the time over the long weeks and months of lockdown, and how the sounds of the world were changing. Unsurprisingly, the pianos in people’s homes were a source of solace during the pandemic, as in this example by Elaine Yu in Glasgow:
“I’ve been practicing this piece through the pandemic. Chopin is my favourite composer so his music brings me much comfort. I finished playing the whole piece when I was 13. Here is just an excerpt of it played now at 24. We’re in a third national lockdown and it’s almost been a year since lockdowns started. There’s been more than 100,000 deaths in the UK and every day I watch the news, that number increases.
“I’m keeping well though with university studies and music to accompany me. My message to every one of you out there is keep going, this will be over one day and the world will open up again in terms of travel, shops, entertainment venues, education facilities and workplaces.”