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Why my piano is special

I’ve designed the ‘Inside-Out Piano’ to make playing the inside of a piano easier. This means doing things like plucking a string, knocking on the wood and playing harmonics by pressing lightly on a string as you play a note. It can also mean ‘preparing’ the piano: sticking objects inside the instrument to change the sound. John Cage was an early pioneer of ‘prepared piano’, putting nuts and bolts between the strings to create bell-like sounds. His Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano are great to listen to: I played these on the London Sinfonietta/WARP Records tour in 2004, to 3,000 intelligent dance music fans who loved them!

Trying to play the inside of a grand piano is really uncomfortable. You’ve got to stand up and lean inside at a really difficult and unsustainable angle. If you’re using music, you have to reach over the music stand, losing all visual contact with the keys and making it much harder to play as your arms/hands are at the wrong angle. Its also becomes impossible to use the pedals. The audience experience isn’t much better: intriguing sounds happening whilst no one can see why or how they are being made. Someone once said I looked like a car mechanic tinkering with an engine..!

Yet ‘inside piano’ techniques have been scored for nearly a century. Henry Cowell was the earliest proponent, with Aeolian Harp in 1923. Nowadays it’s absolutely commonplace to see pianists playing inside, especially in the improvisation scene.

There is a further argument saying that the space-saving Inside-Out Piano could be the piano of the future. It offers a grand piano in sound and size, yet with a quarter (or less) of the footprint. Standing straight vertical to the wall, the piano becomes much more like a bookcase, meaning modern homes could easily house grand pianos where that was impossible before. For me, this feeds into my own desire for children to continue learning on real pianos, where the strings are accessible, playable and there to be listened to. Around 6 million children are learning or playing the piano or keyboard, so it’s a vibrant and growing community, also thanks to many who teach themselves online via you tube tutorials.

More info on Moments of Weightlessness – touring the Inside-Out Piano

Moments of Weightlessness 2015/16 tour

Moments of Weightlessness is a devised music theatre show which Sarah created in 2014, commissioned by Brighton Dome and supported by Arts Council England.  Now on tour, this is a major turning point in Sarah’s career, giving full voice to a curiosity which has led her to create many smaller scale choreographic and sonic explorations of her Inside-Out Piano.  Becoming a mum was the impetus for the emerging narrative, exploring the metaphorical journey of bringing things into existence. More info, photos and dates here.

Performing at Why Music? BBC 3 weekend: Sat 26 Sept 2015

Sarah brought her second Inside-Out Piano to London for the first time for the BBC3 weekend asking ‘Why Music?’ at the Wellcome Trust.  She performed a mix of George Crumb and Henry Cowell – very early pioneers of ‘inside’ piano music and a selection of new tracks from her forthcoming album and tour. She will also duetted with Atau Tanaka and his muscle sensor body kit, playing the sounds of his own body in their newly created ‘Duo for Bodies’ (pictured in rehearsal.) We will be posting footage of the performance soon!

London Design Festival at Somerset House: Mon 21 Sept 2015, 6pm

Sarah is the first performer in a week of pianists, performing with an interactive light installation as part of the HEM/London Design Festival. Sarah will be playing her own composition ‘Ballet-Opera for Piano & Lights’ on the specially designed Yamaha Disklavier, linked to 44 lights placed around the piano. Other performers are: 22 Sept – Tereza Stachova, 23 Sept – Ivo Neame, 24 Sept – Tom Cawley, 25 Sept – Alexander Hawkins, 26 Sept – Danny Wallington, 27 Sept – George Webster. London Design Festival website