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PIANO HERO (2011-2017) by STEFAN PRINS

 

1. Piano Hero #1 for MIDI keyboard, live electronics and video (2011-12)

1.1 STAGE

 

Piano Hero #1 is a piece for MIDI keyboard, live electronics and video in which the performer operates an 88-keys keyboard (like a standard grand piano) in front of which he sits, facing the audience, with a projection screen placed behind him. Lights are designed to have the best possible view of the performer’s upper body and hands and the clearest possible image on the screen.

 

1.2 SCORE

 

The score uses standard music notation for piano placed on two staves. Notes are organised rhythmically in a linear monophonic fashion (there are no chords). They may be played using one hand or both hands according to the position on the staves. Some freedom is given to the performer. Notes indicate the exact key to be struck on the instrument at any moment. Durations are supposed to be played accurately and following a tempo, sometimes exactly, sometimes within boundaries. Several notes are given further written explanation about their duration indicating what is supposed to be heard in the sample before playing further such as in bar 16 (quote: 1 "click").

There are three types of fermatas : « normal », « medium » and « long ».

 

The score indicates three types of articulations from staccato (short and detached) to legato. It is sometimes required to vary continuously from one articulation to another.

 

1.3 KEYBOARD

 

The keyboard is an 88-keys MIDI keyboard sending the signal to a software with a fixed mapping throughout the piece. Sound is not produced by the keyboard itself but through a MAX-patch.

 

Keys F2 to E5 are dedicated to audiovisual samples. This is the area where most of the piece is played (see 1.4).

Keys C6 to C8 are dedicated to the transposition of an active sample. Depressing one of these keys transposes the sample to another pitch and accelerates it at the same time (see 1.5.2).

Key Db1 triggers a pre-recorded audiovisual file which plays for a certain time while the other samples are disabled and the keyboard muted (see 1.5.1).

Key C2 is used to play an active sample backward (see 1.5.3).

Key A1 switches the webcam on and off. The webcam is directed towards the audience capturing the performer's back. The keyboard is muted when the webcam is on (see 1.5.4).

Key Bb1 black outs the screen and is only used at the very end of the piece.

 

1.4 AUDIOVISUAL SAMPLES

 

Each note in the score triggers an audiovisual sample or an effect.

 

The samples triggered by the keyboard are selected from a collection of short films recorded during a session with Belgian pianist Frederik Croene (in June 2011) to whom Piano Hero #1 is dedicated. Croene played semi-improvised sequences on a piano frame from which samples ranging from a few seconds to 15 seconds approximately were extracted. He plays either with his bare hands (palms) or with piano keys (black) salvaged from the mechanism. Most samples display piano keys and a few, bare hands only. Croene uses several percussion techniques such as hitting and scraping, sometimes combining them. He hits and scrapes strings, wooden parts and cast-iron parts of the piano frame, sometimes combining them. He also scatters piano keys on the frame and picks them up, producing rattling sounds. This creates a varied range of audiovisual samples.

 

Soundwise, the samples have musique concrète and noise music qualites. Visually, the focus is on the hands, bare arms and lower part of the chest. The face of what can be called the « avatar » is never visible.

« Avatar » is a concept found originally in Hinduism refering to the incarnation of a deity on earth. In computing and video games, an « avatar » is a graphical representation of the player or user, and therefore his alter-ego. In Piano Hero, there is a reference to a PlayStation 2 video game called Guitar Hero in which the player had to perform rock standards while an avatar playing in a band appears on the screen.

 

The 21 samples, organised according to the composer’s needs, constitute the basic audiovisual material for Piano Hero #1.

When one of the 21 keys is pressed down and as long as it is, the corresponding MIDI signal is sent to a computer running a MAX patch, which in its turn projects the audiovisual sample.

As long as a key is pressed down, the sample goes on and keeps looping when it reaches the end. Since samples vary in duration, loops vary in length. Shorter samples create very distinctive rhythmical patterns when looped.

 

Pressing, releasing and pressing again a key several times does not have the same effect on every sample. Longer samples usually restart from where they stop. Shorter samples restart from the beginning. This is important when playing repeated notes or oscillating between the same notes. There is a correlation between sample speed, length and the way they loop and are played one after the other. This will be discussed later.

 

1.5 SPECIAL EFFECTS

 

We will review specific effects which do not involve mere sample playing.

 

1.5.1 Playing mute with a pre-recorded sample

 

A pre-recorded sample is used starting from the end of bar 24 until bar 32. The file is triggered by pressing the Db1 key. Right after pressing that key, the performer plays a mute tremolo on D4 using both hands. The only sound produced by the performer is the dull hammering coming from the keyboard’s mechanism. He resumes playing live samples on bar 32, and the keyboard is automatically unmuted when the pre-recorded file is finished, after three loud hits on the frame are heard. Like clusters which we will find from Piano Hero #2 and following, tremolo is a common gesture in Piano Hero.

 
 
 

 

 

 

view score

Score

PH #1 

 

 

view score

Bar 16

PH #1

 

 

 

view score

pre-recorded sample

PH #1 

bar 24-32

 

This effect creates the very first gap between what the performer and the avatar do, shedding doubt in the spectator's mind on who is actually playing. This doubt runs through the whole cycle finding its resolution in Piano Hero #4.

 

1.5.2 Transposition keys

 

Transposition keys (from C6 to C8) are used throughout the piece and until the end. The first occurrence happens from bar 46 until bar 53. The left hand plays alternatively F# and F while the right hand plays various transposition keys. This affects the sample by transposing it lower or higher (pitch) according to the selected transposition key but also affects its speed. Pitch and speed are proportional : the higher the pitch, the faster the sample. Lower transpositions produce extremely slow motion sounding like a rumble while higher transpositions produce accelerated movement sounding sometimes like rapid gunfire.

 

 

 

view score

transposition keys

PH #1 

bar 46-53

 

In order for the transposition effect to work properly, the last succession of keys must be played non legato. The transposition effect alters the sound permanently once the key is pressed down. To modify it, a transposition key has to be used again or the MAX patch needs to be restored.

 

1.5.3 Backward key

 

The backward key C2 enables to reverse the direction of a sample while playing it.

Bars 60 to 63 and 85 to 89 are very good examples of its use. The left hand shifts between E and C while the C2 key is applied to several occurrences of E. When the backward key is released, the sample resumes its forward motion. This enables the performer to play around specific « knots » in the sample and create a scratching effect. It also produces a cinematographic effect called reverse motion.

 

 

 

 

view score

backward key

PH #1 

bar 60-63

 

 

 

 

view score

backward key

PH #1 

bar 85-89

 

1.5.4 Webcam/mute – Live

 

Pressing down the A1 key triggers the webcam and mutes the keyboard. The webcam is directed toward the audience enabling its members to see themselves on the screen as well as the performer's back. The samples are replaced by a live image. When the performer plays the keyboard, one can only hear the sound produced by the mechanism, such as when the Db1 is played (see 1.5.1). 

 

This creates a « strangeness » as audience members become their own spectators, sitting in the hall and being projected on the screen in front of them at the same time. After experiencing the usual concert situation as spectators, they are becoming a part of the piece itself. This effect will be used again in the course of the cycle. This strangeness can be related to what Sigmund Freud describes in his essay The Uncanny.

 

The webcam key is used between bars 113 and 126. The key is pressed down on bar 113 at the beginning of the sequence, triggering the webcam and muting the keyboard. The performer proceeds to play all the notes in the score without producing any sound except the one coming form the keyboard mechanism.

 

 

 

 

view score webcam

PH #1 

bar 113-126

Reaching bar 126, the repeat sign brings him back to bar 113 where the A1 key is pressed down again, shutting off the webcam, unmuting the keyboard and resuming the normal course of the piece. The performer plays the sequence once again, but this time producing samples.

 

 

 

 

view score

webcam off

PH #1 

bar 113 2nda

In the course of this passage, the audience will have seen itself with the performer playing silently followed by the same sequence played again, this time with the audiovisual samples. The performer is therefore seen accomplishing the exact same gestures twice but with different outcomes and in different visual environments.

 

1.6 TEMPO

 

Piano Hero #1 displays several tempos which divide the piece in two main parts. The initial tempo is ♩= 92-100 to be played “as fast as possible” but “chosen in function of the articulation”. A transitional section starts from bar 71 until 82 with tempos ♩= 67, ♩= 100, ♩= 125 and ♩= 150 finally leading to bar 83 where the tempo settles to ♩= 67 until the end of the piece.

 

1.7 SPECIFIC ASPECTS

 

The device used to perform Piano Hero consisting of a MIDI keyboard, a computer software and an audiovisual projection system forms a new kind of instrument. Each of the 21 samples can be considered as a sound in itself, like pitches of an acoustic instrument, triggered by a key corresponding to a note on the score. Each sample possesses individual specificities characterized by duration, rhythmical aspect, complexity, intensity and the way it loops. Samples can also be individually subjected to effects such as transposition and backward playing as explained earlier.

 

“There is nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.” J. S. Bach (Attributed to Bach by Anna Magdalena to Bach in Jean-Sébastien Bach, an apochryphal record by Edmon Buchet)

 

Everything is remarkable about playing Piano Hero because it is not only about hitting the right key at the right moment such as directed by the score. In a way, it is precisely about hitting the right key at the right moment : a moment defined by the musicality and specificities of each sample.

 

The performer needs to develop a sharp knowledge of the samples in order to become able to instinctively recreate a coherent musical discourse. He has to link together the samples in such a fashion that continuity prevails over mechanical playing. This is exactly what a pianist does with his acoustic instrument. Despite the samples having a noise music quality, the score clearly shows that phrasing is an important aspect: samples have to be played one after the other in a quasi-melodic fashion and form phrases. This means local tempo and articulation are of crucial importance and that the score cannot be played merely mechanically as it might seem. The score gives a precise idea of how the piece should be played, but the piece itself is the result of a certain combination of consecutive sounds.

 

In the case of Piano Hero, samples are not only made of sound, they are also made of a related image. Image and sound were produced simultaneously during the recording of the samples (see 1.4).

 

The performer does not only interact with sound but also with image. Although the performer sitting at the keyboard and his avatar on the screen, performing on the piano frame, do not play the same instrument, their gestures are always somehow related. Not only do action on the image exist only because of action on the keyboard, but there is a relation between hand positioning of the performer and his avatar. In many instances, the overlapping of the hands is similar.

 

This is also the case when considering the speed of the sample image. The performer’s gestures are therefore linked to the avatar’s, creating a global image, casting doubt on which one operates the other. The performer triggers the samples, but follows his avatar’s gestures at the same time. This is the case in slow motion passages such as in bar 193 and ff.

 

 

 

view score

overlapping/slo-mo

PH #1 

bar 93 & ff.

Since the performer is producing a quasi constant image on the screen, the repetitive nature of samples makes it necessary for the performer to develop at certain constancy as well in the way he moves. This is achieved by practising precise movements. It is not without relation with the way some classical pianists repeat their gestures very precisely, in order to produce the same effect, sound in this case. One famous example is Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli playing Domenico Scarlatti’s B minor K. 27 sonata, especially remarkable when one considers the repeats :

 

2. Piano Hero #2 for piano, MIDI keyboard, live electronics and video (2011, rev. 2013/2016)

 

2.1 STAGE

 

Piano Hero #2 is the second instalment of the Piano Hero cycle. It is dedicated to pianist Mark Knoop who premiered it in Huddersfield Festival. It displays a similar setup as Piano Hero #1, adding a grand piano to the MIDI keyboard. Both keyboards are placed perpendicularly and against each other to enable the performer to play them at the same time or to switch from one to another.

 

2.2 SCORE

 

Piano Hero #2 uses a complex polyphonic writing which makes the score radically different from its predecessor. The simultaneous use of two MIDI pedals (one MIDI sustain and one piano amplification/video) and the piano sustain pedal requires additional notation as well. In order to display the complete musical material on the score, the composer uses two systems. He associates one system with two staves for the MIDI keyboard over a line devoted to the MIDI sustain pedal on the upper part of the score. On the lower part, he uses a system with two staves for the piano over a line devoted to the piano sustain and the piano amplification/video pedals. The composer provides standard musical notation for this piece. Pedals are notated rhythmically like a unpitched percussions.

 

One type of notation requires special attention because it will become a recurrent gesture in the next pieces : the double cluster on the piano. It’s first occurrence happens on bar 21. The composer's footnote is the following :  « Slowly press down as many keys as possible with both forearms without making any sound ; hold down the arms on the keys for several seconds, then release with a ‘shock’ and continue immediately ». All clusters are played without producing any sound until bar 128. From there on, clusters must sound with the associated dynamic except on bar 156 (see 2.6.1). The following excerpt shows the polyphonic complexity of the beginning of Piano Hero #2 and the first cluster of the cycle.

 

 

 

 

view score

double

cluster

PH #2

bar 14-22

 

Another type of notation is reminiscent of the one Robert Schumann uses at the end of his Papillons op. 2. After a chord is played, single keys are progressively released, leaving only part of the chord sounding, until the last key is released. This happens on bar 99 ff. and on bar 169 at the very end of Piano Hero #2.

 

 

 

 

view score

Papillons

PH #2

bar 169-end

Performing this score requires a high level of hand and foot coordination as both instruments and pedals are often played all together.

 

2.3 KEYBOARDS

 

2.3.1 Keyboards and pedals

 

Two keyboards are necessary to perform Piano Hero #2 : a standard grand piano and the same MIDI keyboard as for Piano Hero #1, placed perpendicularly. In addition, the performer uses the piano sustain pedal and two MIDI pedals placed on both sides of the piano pedals. Both keyboards are played simultaneously almost throughout the piece, requiring the performer to position and reposition himself according to what he is playing. The left hand usually plays the piano while the right hand plays the MIDI keyboard but many passages require specific movement sequences in order to be achieved properly.

 

2.3.2 Preparations

 

In Piano Hero #2, the piano needs to be lightly prepared.

 

F#2 is prepared using one or several screws in such a way that the sound becomes complex like a gamelan. An extra piece of metal like a nut can be used to produce extra rattling sound and vibrations. This can be an arduous task according to the piano model available. These strings are sometimes made of simple steel, sometimes of copper winding. This preparation is heard in recording/replay passage (see 2.5.3).

 

Bb8 and B8 are prepared in such a way that only the percussive effect be heard. This is achieved by using thick tape or tuning mutes. Both pitches must sound identically. It can be heard at the beginning of the first sample (see first sample).

 

2.3.3 Keyboard mapping

 

The MIDI keyboard is mapped in a similar way as in Piano Hero #1.

 

Keys B2 to D3 are dedicated to audiovisual samples (see 2.4).

Keys C6 to C8 are dedicated to the transposition of an active sample such as in Piano Hero #1. Depressing one of these keys transposes the sample to another pitch and accelerates it at the same time (see 1.5.2).

Keys F5 to G#5 and A6 to Bb6 triggers stuttering (see 2.5.2).

Key Bb1 is a switch between black screen and freeze screen modes (see 2.5.4).

Key C1 is used to play an active sample backward such as C2 in Piano Hero #1 (see 1.5.3).

Key G1 switches a recording function on and off (see 2.5.3).

Key G#1 enables to play the file recorded with Key G1 (see 2.5.3).

 

2.4 AUDIOVISUAL SAMPLES

 

The basic audiovisual material used for Piano Hero #2 is the same as for Piano Hero #1 but used polyphonically. Instead of having one single image, the screen is split into four equal parts. This is congruent with the polyphonic complexity of Piano Hero #2, contrasting with the monophonic linearity and relative simplicity of Piano Hero #1. The combination of large piano chords with multiple samples and live images creates a denser audiovisual environment.

 

Samples work exactly as in Piano Hero #1 and can be played using several effects.

2.5 SPECIAL EFFECTS

 

2.5.1 Pedals

 

Piano Hero #2 uses two MIDI pedals.

 

The right pedal is a MIDI sustain pedal simply used to sustain samples played on the keyboard. This happens for example when the number of voices is too big to play with only two hands and a sample needs to be held.

 

The left pedal is an amplification/live video pedal. Its effect is crucial in the piece. When pressed down, the pedal switches on a microphone amplifying the piano and a webcam placed next to the piano. The amplification is strong enough to alter the sound of single sounds and long sounding chords and create an audio « back and forth » effect. This affects the impression of proximity to the sound and can sometimes be compared to a wah-wah pedal. A good example of this use occurs from bar 39 until 43 but also at the very end of the piece (see first example). This is always combined with switching on the webcam and showing the performer’s profile (as seen on the upper right corner of the screen on the image).

 

 

 

 

view score

amplification

PH #2

bar 39-43

 

2.5.2 Stuttering

 

Beside the transposition effect already used in Piano Hero #1, Piano Hero #2 uses a stuttering effect. It’s first occurrence happens on bar 57 right before the recording sequence and affects the sample permanently in a way that it starts sounding like a combination of static, buzz and scratching. Once triggered, stuttering is permanent.

 

 

 

 

view score

stuttering

PH #2

bar 57

 

2.5.3 Recording/replay

 

In the section starting at bar 61, the sound is heavily modified by transposition and stuttering. F#2 (prepared note) is repeated from then on until bar 74 with many repeats (5x, 3x, 7x, 5x, 2x, etc.). A large portion of bars 61, 62 and 63 are recorded by pressing the G1 key in order to obtain a sample of precise duration and speed. While repeating the F#, the recorded sample is triggered on bar 69 and is combined with live playing. The replay lasts (looped) until bar 96, affected itself by transpositions and speed variations which are also reflected in the live playing of repeated F#, F and E. The overlay of recorded and live images create a disturbing impression of discrepancy.

 

 

 

 

view score

recording 1

PH #2

bar 61

 

 

 

 

view score

recording 2

PH #2

bar 61 & ff.

 
 

2.5.4 Freeze screen/Black screen modes

 

One more effect happening at the end of the piece. The freeze and black screen effects are each applied to the very last sample played. The freeze effects freezes the sample. The black screen darkens the part of the screen where the sample appeared.

 

2.6 SPECIFIC ASPECTS

 

2.6.1 Clusters

 

Piano Hero #2 requires from the performer to play clusters with both arms. Clusters are an important gesture which will be present in Piano Hero #3 and #4 as well. There are three types of clusters.

 

At the beginning of the piece, silent clusters must be released with a « shock », therefore making the released keys sound.

 

 

 

 

view score

silent cluster

PH #2

bar 21

The second use of the cluster is combined with a specific sample resulting of several transpositions and stuttering in which a clear « slap » is heard. In bar 128 and ff. the sample is systematically interrupted by the cluster when the slap occurs.

 

 

 

 

view score

slap & cluster

PH #2

bar 129

The third use of the cluster is the « ghost cluster » taking place in bar 156 after the extreme slow motion passage starting on bar 155. The performer proceeds to play three typical gestures of the piece moving in extreme slow motion, imitating a filmed slow motion. The composer adds that « even the blinking of your eyes is in slow motion ». A first sounding cluster is played at the beginning of the sequence and a « ghost cluster » is almost played at the end of the sequence. Right after the second cluster is tentatively played, a live cinematographic reverse effect is performed by progressively going back to normal motion on to bar 157.

 

 

 

 

view score

slow motion

PH #2

bar 155-156

2.6.2 Hammerklavier quotes

 

The most obvious quote from Ludwig van Beethoven’s op. 106 piano sonata is an F minor transposed version of the four first chords taken from the third movement. This happens right after a very dense passage based on G and produces an auditive perspective effect. The quote has to be played « as if coming from another space ». The same chords which are quoted from the same movement occur later in the piece from bar 160 until 166.

 

 

 

 

view score

Hammerklavier

PH #2

bar 35-36

 

3. Piano Hero #3 for piano and live electronics (2016)

 

3.1 STAGE

 

In Piano Hero #3, the performer only uses the piano and two MIDI pedals assigned to other functions than in Piano Hero #2. There is no image projected on the screen. Piano Hero #3 is a purely musical piece with live electronics and fixed media. All the attention is now focused on the piano. The piece is dedicated to Stephane Ginsburgh and was premiered during the Darmstadt Ferienkurse 2016.

 

3.2 SCORE

 

The score for Piano Hero #3 is similar to Piano Hero #2 despite the fact that only one keyboard is used. The two systems have now different functions. The upper system contains all the actions performed inside the piano and uses graphic notation. Graphic notation is used in the upper system to describe as precisely as possible the positioning and movements of a series of objects placed in the piano (on the strings and pegs). There is a low and a medium region section describing the inside of the piano.

 

The lower system is dedicated to the piano and surrounded by two single lines for the pedals. Three pedals are used : piano sustain, feedback freeze and feedback switch (see 3.4.1). From the beginning until bar 30, notation only indicates the use of silent arm cluster to depress and release the keys in a similar way as in Piano Hero #2. From bar 31, standard piano notation resumes, associated with notated harmonics resulting from the use of the objects inside the piano. Pedals are notated rhythmically like unpitched percussions.

 

The beginning of the piece is unmeasured and senza tempo until bar 30. From bar 31 until bar 69, the piece is measured. Follows a long senza tempo section again from bar 69 until bar 78. Measure comes back from bar 77 until bar 119, followed again by a section senza tempo from bar 120 until bar 130. The piece ends with a measured section. All measured sections have a constant tempo of ♩= 60.

 

The piece requires the use of a click track from bar 31 until the end to be syncronized with the sound track (see 3.4.2).

 

3.3 PIANO and OBJECTS

 

The piano retains the preparations used for Piano Hero #2.

 

3.3.1 Piano and objects

 

A series of objets are used in Piano Hero #3. These were developed during a residence at the Institute for Computer Music and Sound Techonology of ZHdK in Zürich.

 

Metallic, wooden and glass objects are used in the piano to alter the sound produced by the vibration of strings. Whether by using the keyboard or as a result of the feedback, objects are placed on locations specified in the score and moved around in order to obtain sound distortions and harmonics.

Several techniques are involved other than simply dropping objects on the strings.

  • Hand pressure can be applied in order to muffle the vibration transmitted on the strings (bar 3 and ff.). Pressure can be applied continuously or discontinuously

  • The use of a cylindrical metal rod according to various angles or hights on the strings produces different harmonics (bar 40 and ff.)

  • The use of a glass bottle as a bow to produce whining continuous sounds (bar 81 and ff.)

 

 

 

 

view score

hand pressure

PH #3

bar 3 & ff.

 

 

 

 

view score

metal rod

PH #3

bar 40 & ff.

 

 

 

 

view score

glass bottle

PH #3

bar 81 & ff.

Two toothbrushes complete the panoply of objects used in Piano Hero #3. They are prepared in such a way that placed between A1, A#1 and B1 strings, they produce low drilling like vibrations. When used simultaneously, they produce beatings.

 

 

 

 

view score

toothbrushes

PH #3

bar 73 & ff.

 

3.3.2 Clusters

 

Clusters are an important part of the vocabulary of Piano Hero. They are used again in Piano Hero #3 but only as silent clusters. They achieve another important role in this case by lifting the piano dampers on a portion of the instrument, enabling the strings to vibrate in certain conditions. On the other hand, when the cluster is released and the dampers fall back on the strings, vibrations are put out. Clusters are therefore used in combination with the feedback effect which will be described in the next chapter.

 

3.4 LIVE ELECTRONICS and FIXED MEDIA

 

3.4.1 Feedback/amplification

 

All along the piece, a dynamic live electronics system is used. An important number of microphones like Helpinstill magnetic microphones pick up the piano sound and feed it into a spectral analysis software. The resulting sound is then sent back through a speaker located right under the piano, placed almost against its body. This allows to create a feedback effect producing complex vibrations in the piano. 

 

The feedback is stimulated by any vibration emanating from the piano. Clusters or use of the piano sustain pedal typically set off a chain reaction in the feedback. The sound treatment software allows to limit the circular effect to prevent it from escalating too much and remain under control.

 

 

 

 

view score

clusters

PH #3

bar 2 & ff.

 

Two MIDI pedals also control the feedback. The left MIDI pedal switches the feedback on and off. It is then possible to produce sounds with out triggering the feedback. The right MIDI pedal freezes the feedback on its current level. Pedals are constantly used during the piece, enabling a great number of sound combinations.

3.4.2 Soundtrack

 

In addition to feedback, an acousmatic soundtrack consisting of mixed field recordings is played starting from bar 31. Its peak sequence occurs between bars 69 and 78 when the feedback is almost not used. During this passage, a very high pitched sound is heard. Two sawtooth waves of almost same frequencies create difference tones in the listener’s ears or head. This sound occurs at the very end of Piano Hero #4 as well.

 

 

 

 

view score

soundtrack

PH #3

bar 72 & ff.

 

4. Piano Hero #4 for MIDI keyboard, electronics and video (2016-17)

 

4.1 STAGE

 

Piano Hero #4 returns to the initial setup and the performer sits behind the keyboard with the projection screen behind him active again. However, the piano is used as a resonant body with its sustain pedal pressed down all the way through with the use of a wedge. The resonance is produced by the speaker placed under the piano body (the one used in Piano Hero #3). The keyboard is set to mute during the whole performance. Piano Hero #4 is dedicated to Meyer Prins (1921-2016), the composer’s grandfather and was premiered by Stephane Ginsburgh at De Bijloke in 2017.

 

4.2 SCORE

 

There are two main layers in the score of Piano Hero #4

  • What is played during the performance

  • What is prerecorded and heard during in the performance

 

Piano Hero #4 resembles Piano Hero #1 with which it shares typical gestures.

 

The score’s main part uses a standard double stave system containing what the performer is supposed to play live, in standard piano notation.

 

Over this system, head and body movements are notated rhythmically and to be performed live while playing the keyboard.

 

A third system in smaller notation and placed under the main one indicates what is heard in the sound track.

 

4.3 PLAYING

 

There are singular differences between what is played and what is heard and seen. This is meant to be misleading and create an impression of strangeness in the mind the audience members. The performer plays the keyboard but produces directly none of the sounds and images except the ones coming from the keyboard mechanism.

 

4.3.1 Prerecorded footage

 

Prior to the performance, a footage is prepared containing :

  • A sound track made of chords played on out-of-tune pianos

  • Samples from the original batch with Frederik Croene

  • Filmed sequences of the live performer

 

These elements are incorporated, mixed and edited together to produce the footage which will be broadcasted during the performance. This means every performance of Piano Hero #4 requires a specific footage including the actual musician who plays it. The performer has to follow precisely the gestures he made in the footage when necessary.

 

Several gestures were not included in the original score but "happened" while filming the footage. The performer therefore needs to reproduce his gestures strictly during the live performance of the piece. This occurred in at least two places : when the performer touches his nose and when he gets up hesitantly at the end of the piece.

 

 

 

 

view score

nose

PH #4

bar 17 & ff.

 

 

 

 

view score

getting up

PH #4

bar 125-126

Filmed sequences of the live performer are realised with a GoPro camera placed on his forehead allowing to view the keyboard and the surrounding space from the point of view of the performer himself.

Filming Piano Hero #4 (ICST, Zürcher Hochschule der Kunste, 2016)

4.3.2 Playing

 

Live performance score and prerecorded footage are precisely fitted together. The performer plays following a click track but also adjusting his movements precisely to the ones he accomplished in the prerecorded footage. However, there are many subtle discrepancies between the live performance and the footage which, unnoticable at first, become more obvious in the course of the piece. The goal is to instill doubt in the viewer’s mind, similar to the one present in Piano Hero #1. Who is playing who ?

 

4.3.3 Shared gestures with Piano Hero #1

 

Piano Hero #4 typically shares gestures with Piano Hero #1. This is particularly the case with one passage described previously in 1.5.4.

 

 

 

 

view score

shared gestures

PH #4

bar 1 & ff.

Two other important gestures shared with Piano Hero #1 are the cluster and the tremolo.

 

4.3.4 Specific passages

 

Bar 98 contains a cadenza lasting almost 3 minutes consisting of repeated chords. In this passage, the performer has to try to match the chords heard in the footage (speed, dynamics and pitch), and the movements of his body in the footage. Some of the images projected on the screen show his hands on the keyboard. Note that here, the soundtrack was prerecorded even while making the footage.

4.3.5 Hammerklavier quotes

More quotes from Ludwig van Beethoven's op. 106 sonata appear in Piano Hero #4. It is the case in bars 104 and 105 where we recognise the very first jump from the low Bb in the first movement.

 

 

 

 

view score

cadenza

PH #4

bar 98

The piece ends with the audience appearing on the screen as the webcam is switched on. A very high pitched sound also experienced in Piano Hero #3 (see 3.4.2) is heard. The performer exits on a projected footage of the composer looking at his hands and walking on Tempelhof in Berlin.

 

 

 

 

view score

End

PH #4

bar 121 & ff.

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