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5 April 2022, 17:32
When you really commit yourself to a performance of the ‘Water Music’ suite.
In the year of 2022, prepared piano is nothing particularly new. Composers have been writing pieces that call for bizarre (but usually reversible) modifications to pianos since at least 1940, when John Cage wrote his Bacchanale. In fact, Cage alone wrote so many pieces for prepared piano that there’s an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to them.
From slapped, stroked and plucked piano strings, to the addition of paper, screws and copper strips, we thought we’d seen it all. We thought wrong.
Mattias Krantz, a Swedish engineer and YouTuber, spent two months modifying his piano to see what it would sound like underwater. After turning to his nearly one million YouTube subscribers to ask what they’d like to see him do next, they voted overwhelmingly for option two: “I filled my piano with water then played it.”
And so he did. Consulting piano tech experts on the messaging platform Discord, the engineer deconstructed the piano to make it fully waterproof before reassembling its parts with a beautiful new aquatic blue interior.
“Its such a bad idea,” Krantz said. “I know this looks bad… but I’m doing it for the sake of science.”
Waterproofing the piano is no simple task, it would appear. After completely reconstructing an upright piano so that the keyboard sat on top of the instrument, with the hammers on the floor, Krantz realised that the mechanism that allows the hammers to move began to jam as the wood warped after just four minutes underwater.
So, on the recommendation of his assembled panel of Discord piano techs, he changed tack to work on a grand piano instead.
If you’re at all squeamish, look away now, because Krantz’s next move is to entirely gut the piano’s interior before sealing it with what he calls “forbidden ice cream” and painting it swimming pool blue.
While reattaching the strings, Krantz documents the process of retuning the piano from scratch. Beginning with a not-so-tuneful rendition of Yiruma’s ‘River Flows in You’ (which he says is the only piece he knows), it’s almost satisfying to hear the theme go from horror movie soundtrack to something more recognisable. Almost.
Next, the water. Krantz fills up the cavity of the piano bit by bit, chronicling how the timbre and tuning of each piano key changes as the waterline creeps up the piano’s strings, and comparing the sound of the piano above water to the sound picked up on an underwater microphone.
Once his experiment is complete, Krantz inexplicably decides to go for a swim inside the piano, rubber duck and pineapple drink included. He claims it’s surprisingly comfortable, so we’ll have to take his word for that.
Finally, Krantz wants to see if his inundated instrument can be made into a water feature. Sure enough, a steady stream flows out from beneath the keys as he once again plays Yiruma’s theme.
Sadly, despite his best engineering efforts, the damage done to the piano seems to be irreversible as all the keys are stuck in place.
Though the results are somewhat interesting, we don’t recommend trying this one at home!