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Detuned Prepared Piano

  • 1.  Detuned Prepared Piano

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-12-2021 07:12
      |   view attached
    I have been presented with a situation I am unsure.  In my mind it pertains to a prepared piano, but I can't find reference to this type of detuning a piano in the archives.  This is not a University or College situation, but a fine concert hall situation.  I feel CAUT people would have a better handle on a prepared piano.

    The South Dakota Symphony is celebrating it's 100th season throughout this year.  They have commissioned a piano piece by Fabular Arcana that has significant detuning in the temperament that obviously translates to the rest of the range of the piano.  I have attached a screen shot of the temperament.  Needless to say there are several pitches almost a half step lower while others are within usual pitch.

    I can do this, but I am concerned about the stability of the the instrument during the change and after.  I am sure to create the tuning will take at least 3 tunings and require at least 3-4 tunings to return the piano to usual tuning.   My solution is for them to find another piano for this purpose.  We have worked hard to make our two concert instruments  stable.  I am concerned about long term stability after this all done.

    I would appreciate thoughts.



    ------------------------------
    Tim Coates
    Sioux Falls SD
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  • 2.  RE: Detuned Prepared Piano

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-12-2021 07:19

    Hi Tim,

     

    We have guidelines for our concert instruments. One piano is never to be prepared and the other one only slightly with my approval. Any over the top preparations require the performers to get one of our old Baldwin SD's moved in at their expense, moved back and tuned  back to normal.  I've found that they usually find a different venue.

    Good luck,

    Paul

     






  • 3.  RE: Detuned Prepared Piano

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-12-2021 07:40
    Tim,

    While using a tuning system other than Equal Temperament (or even using ET at a non-standard pitch) is not "prepared piano" per se, it IS piano usage that alters an instrument from its normal state. Yes, it WILL take multiple tunings to achieve stability in the alternative tuning scheme, and to get it back to ET at standard pitch (wish). And the more time allowed BETWEEN those tunings, the better (hours rather than minutes, days rather than hours).

    What I have struggled with in scenarios such as yours is dealing with the often inadequate information provided by composers. Cents deviation (presumably, from ET) is more useful than frequencies for the tuner, particularly if an ETD/ETA is utilized. However, in my mind, a tuning system is defined by the actual sound of intervals. (Is there anyone reading this who cannot define what a major third sounds like in the middle of the piano in ET, a sound inextricably bound to the sound of a piano in the minds of most?)

    To complicate things further, most of the composers with whom I have dealt are unaware that different pianos are scaled differently, and furthermore, that different tuners stretch in different ways. At the end of the day, all of this has to be taken into account .

    At least the deviations from ET indicated by the composer in your case are all LOWER than standard ET pitch...

    Don't know if that helps, but there it is.

    Alan

    ------------------------------
    Alan Eder, RPT
    Herb Alpert School of Music
    California Institute of the Arts
    Valencia, CA
    661.904.6483
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  • 4.  RE: Detuned Prepared Piano

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-12-2021 08:12
    Here you will find some compositions by the composer, David Gordon.
    "Fabular Arcana" is the title of the piece that will be performed in South Dakota.
    I wonder if the orchestra will need the piano tuned earlier for rehearsals, in order to practice microtonal intonation.

    https://www.deus-ex-musica.com/blog/2020/12/11/mysteria-incarnationis-david-gordon?fbclid=IwAR1GMZO0x4g8NdpWnk1f7w70WhLi1uImAvtP8QNC8rFrvEz5XnQlEEAoRJ8

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    Ed Sutton
    ed440@me.com
    (980) 254-7413
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  • 5.  RE: Detuned Prepared Piano

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-12-2021 08:21
    Yes Ed, you are correct about the composer.  I was working off the email title sent to me and missed the piece is "Fabular Arcana" not the composer.  I am sure the piano will need to be tuned earlier for rehearsal.  So, perhaps I am optimistic about the pre-tunings.

    So back to my original thoughts, is it reasonable to use a different piano rather than one of our stable concert instruments?

    ------------------------------
    Tim Coates
    Sioux Falls SD
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  • 6.  RE: Detuned Prepared Piano

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-12-2021 08:17
    Tim

    I'm not an alternative temperament expert, but this one looks like the composer really doesn't understand what cents are. Bascially, the whole piano is anywhere from 5 to almost 100 cents flat, but without any sense of where it's supposed to be.

    I have two suggestions. One, talk to the composer and ask him how he came up with those pitches. Ask him if he has heard a piano tuned to this temperament. Maybe get a sense of what he is looking for.

    In the event the composer does want to use this temperamant, explain to the Symphony the effects of changing the tuning will have on the piano, and then ask them if they are willing to pay to have the piano tuned multiple times over the next couple of weeks, or even a month or two.

    Wim

    ------------------------------
    Willem "Wim" Blees, RPT
    St. Augustine, FL 32095
    Tnrwim@aol.com
    ------------------------------



  • 7.  RE: Detuned Prepared Piano

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-12-2021 08:34
      |   view attached
    Attached is more background on the composer and his thoughts on tuning. It is interesting and kind of fun to be part of something new. But I'm still back at protecting my concert instruments. I've known Paul Sanchez since he was 9 years old and a member of the Sioux Falls Singing Boys with my now 37 year old son. Paul is head of a piano department at a major university now.

    Anyway, if so interested please read the attached.

    ------------------------------
    Tim Coates
    Sioux Falls SD
    ------------------------------

    Attachment(s)



  • 8.  RE: Detuned Prepared Piano

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-12-2021 08:52
    Very interesting program notes from the composer! I liked the samples from the piece Ed Sutton linked to. That said, I think a "lesser quality" (I.e., older, probably already a candidate for rebuilding) concert grand should be brought in for the event.

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    Patrick Draine
    Billerica MA
    978-663-9690
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  • 9.  RE: Detuned Prepared Piano

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-12-2021 09:00
    I still think the Symphony needs to be made aware if what will happen to the piano, and is willing to have the piano tuned many times before and afterwards.

    On a personal note, I'm a NIU alumn, and Dr. Jan Bach was my French horn teacher while I was there 55 years ago. (Dr. Bach died recently). So from that perspective, I admire the David. But somtimes I wonder if those kinds of compositions bring more enjoyment to the composer than to the audience. Will enough people understand the altered temperament and that this is how the music is supposed sound, and not just assume the piano, and the orchestra, is out of tune.

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    Willem "Wim" Blees, RPT
    St. Augustine, FL 32095
    Tnrwim@aol.com
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  • 10.  RE: Detuned Prepared Piano

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-12-2021 11:04
    Definitely try to bring in a piano, if at all possible. I would want to tune it far in advance, at least a week before the first rehearsal. I would imagine the pianist would really need a piano tuned that way for months to be able to practice productively, get it in the ear (maybe an electronic keyboard could be used for that, or perhaps something along the lines of a silent Yamaha grand with headphones, and the electronics tuned).

    It is very helpful to have the program notes, as they tell you what really matters: the pure fifths and “natural sevenths” (matching the 7th partial as 7:4? not sure what partial match is intended). That gives you an aural cue to focus on. BbF, FC, GD, DA, BF#, C#G#, are all just 5th/4ths (1.95¢ wide of ET 5ths). Maybe there are more. I’m not sure where the 7ths are (they’ll be contracted quite a bit from ET).

    The sound is going to be dependent on your getting those just intervals right. The other intervals are results of those.

    I’m curious whether the orchestra is supposed to play in the same tuning. That would at least be theoretically possible for the strings, definitely not for winds. Maybe it is a contrast of standard modified ET in the orchestra (modified on the fly to blend intervals, at least in slow sections) with a other-worldly different sound from the piano.

    If it is streamed or recorded, and can be made available, please post the details.
    Fred Sturm
    fssturm@comcast.net
    www.artoftuning.com
    http://fredsturm.net
    "Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire." -Gustav Mahler




  • 11.  RE: Detuned Prepared Piano

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-12-2021 15:27
    Another thing to consider besides tuning stability is voicing stability. Changing some notes down 100¢ is going to shift wire bends, meaning that string levels will change when you retune to pitch. It won't happen evenly because when you drop one string that much, the neighboring string will take up some of the slack (it will drop in pitch as well), which also means a good bit of movement of wire through the bridge pins. 

    I did a piano down 50¢ (quarter tone) for the familiar two piano Ives piece, and it wasn't really as bad as I expected - but it wasn't a concert instrument, and the expectations weren't that high. When you reach 100¢, that is a good bit more extreme. In any case, I would check string level before, then check it again after returning to pitch. There might be a good bit of hammer mating chaos.

    Regards,
    Fred Sturm
    "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." Twain






  • 12.  RE: Detuned Prepared Piano

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-12-2021 08:47
    HI Tim-

    Wow... that temperament looks crazy.  Good luck.  I would definitely push to use something other than your top #1 instrument, but it is doable.   Once I had to prepare for the Charles Ives 2 piano work with one instrument tuned 25cents low. After the pitch lowering was finished at some point the plate wedge got loose and then fell out. When that happened the piano was absolutely so unstable it could not be tuned, but no lasting damage. It took a little while for me to realize what happened, but now I'll never forget that experience.  You might want to tape in the wedge or tap it lightly to secure it in place again, if you are using a D.   

    best,
    Dennis.  

    --
    Dennis Johnson
    Piano Technician / Music
    St. Olaf College
    Office: 507-786-3587Mobile: 612-599-6437 
    1520 St. Olaf Avenue Northfield, MN 55057






  • 13.  RE: Detuned Prepared Piano

    Posted 11-12-2021 09:13
    Absolutely provide another instrument ,  I carefully  monitored any  requests for prepared  piano usage  at BU/Music and had a 6' Kawai in the backstage Concert Hall area specifically for this usage . Re. the Ives piece for 2 pianos tuned a quarter tone apart I only once did this with matching  9' Baldwin SD 10 models , too many hours of prep. before and after  to stabilize so for subsequent requests when this piece was scheduled I insisted they use 2 of our Yamaha  Avant Grands  and with a simple twist of the 'tuning' dial I was able in seconds to achieve the desired pitch difference between the  instruments.
    www.snowpianos.com.

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    Martin Snow
    South Burlington VT
    617-543-1030
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  • 14.  RE: Detuned Prepared Piano

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-12-2021 17:07
      |   view attached
    Tim-

    I'll pile on with recommending another piano. This is reminiscent of a La Monte Young tuning I was involved in at ASU. Very destabilizing in every way. I think I only did it on a vertical. However it could be said that since he varies pitch up and down it is less destabilizing that it could be for tension. When Corigliano's Chiaruscuro was performed at UT I was involved in tuning the practice instruments. I believe one of two hall pianos was tuned down for performance. It's a very interesting piece. My colleague Charles Ball commented that the second piano when brought back to pitch sounded fine if not better. The tuning they want you to do is all down so might just sound like an old upright that's 75-100 c flat.

    YMMV

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    David C. Brown RPT
    Garland TX
    tunermandb88.com
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  • 15.  RE: Detuned Prepared Piano

    Member
    Posted 11-12-2021 17:50
    I would suggest that they supply the piano.

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    Regards,

    Jon Page
    mailto:jonpage@comcast.net
    http://www.pianocapecod.com
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  • 16.  RE: Detuned Prepared Piano

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-12-2021 18:07
    Thank you to all who have replied.  Ed thanks for the audio recordings.

    Having others voice the same concerns I have adds much weight in protecting the pianos I have spent years developing and caring for.  There should be a live feed and I will post that at some point as the performance is in January.  Fred, my understanding is the symphony will be playing within the parameters of the piano tuning from talking with Ex Director of the Symphony.  Dennis, thanks for sharing your experience with Charles Ives 2 piano work.  The wedge is well worth watching.

    I am really excited about the piece, just not on the pianos I care for.

    If others have experience with these types of tunings please speak up.  I would really be interested in how you are doing them.  This particular tuning was created by Bill Alves living in Southern California:  http://www.billalves.com/bio.html


    ------------------------------
    Tim Coates
    Sioux Falls SD
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  • 17.  RE: Detuned Prepared Piano

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 11-12-2021 20:48
    If the orchestra is playing using the same tuning, I would be very interested to know how they will go about it. Getting those pitches and interval relationships in the ear would be the first step. Learning to transfer them to technique successfully seems like it would take at least weeks of practice - that being for strings. I can't imagine how winds could bend pitch that much. Maybe saxes and clarinets can do it. Certainly not oboes, bassoons and flutes. 
    Regards,
    Fred Sturm
    "A mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled." Plutarch