John Cage and Prepared Piano

A short piece called “Sonata II,” by the masterful John Cage, this blog isn’t to celebrate his work but I wanted to speak about my fascination with prepared piano and the different sound and art form you can produce from it.

The term “Prepared Piano,” comes from when a piano is opened up and altered to gain a specific timbre, you can use different objects to change the sound, these objects can be as bizarre as using forks on the strings and nails, there have been occasions when musicians have used ping pong balls to attain a desired sound.

The first composer to use this extensively was John Cage, who is often credited for inventing the instrument. In Cage’s use, the preparations are typically nuts, bolts and pieces of rubber to be lodged between and entwined around the strings. Some preparations make duller, more percussive sounds than usual, while others create sonorous bell-like tones. Additionally, the individual parts of a preparation like a nut loosely screwed onto a bolt will vibrate themselves, adding their own unique sound. By placing the preparation between two of the strings on a note which has three strings assigned to it, it is possible to change the timbre of that note by depressing the soft pedal on the piano (which moves the hammers so they strike only two strings instead of all three).

Just a tad on John Cage, he was an early writer of aleatoric music, which is music left to chance.

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