Big Fish Audio | MIDI Orchestration Guide Paul Gilreath | John Cage Prepared Piano Product Review
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John Cage Prepared Piano | MIDI Orchestration Guide

Reviewer: Paul Gilreath Back to John Cage Prepared Piano product details

Prepared piano was conceived and brought into the "mainstream" by composer John Cage during the mid 1940s. His composition, Sonata and Interludes, became a pivotal piece in the music communities, especially in the avante garde and experimental camps. The composition, which features 16 sonatas and 4 interludes is written for a piano that is "prepared" for the pieces by altering it in a number of ways. A variety of screws, bolts, nuts, rubber, an eraser, wood and plastic are inserted into the strings of the instrument. Cage's manuscript provides exhausting details as to the position into the various strings. The result was a new palette from which to draw, producing sounds that were metallic, bell-like, percussive and fresh for their time.

In conjunction with the John Cage Trust, Big Fish Audio has produced The John Cage Prepared Piano Sample Library. The library contains all of the samples that are needed for performance of Cage's composition. Forty-five of the piano's eighty-eight keys were prepared. The piano was sampled for several days and each of the eighty-eight notes was sampled. Three dynamic levels (p, mf and f) were sampled with five articulations (staccato, long notes with sustain pedal to allow for sympathetic interaction, long notes with natural decay, long notes with the soft pedal, and staccato with soft pedal). Samples were recorded in both 24 and 16 bits. The GigaStudio version of the library is installed into four .GIG files as stereo and mono files of samples with and without the soft pedal deployed. There are 28 GigaStudio Instruments, each with a descriptive name. They are broken down into five categories:
• Natural decay (using the full decay of the natural instrument--sometimes these are as long as one minute).
• Staccato- keys depressed and then released, allowing the damper to return to the string.
• Layered instrument that uses the sustain pedal to switch between natural decay and staccato.
• Detuned Instrument that uses 9 sounds and stretches them chromatically across the keyboard.
• Belltone Instrument that uses 22 sounds and stretches them chromatically across the keyboard.

The first three categories are presented as three-layer Instruments. The remaining two utilize only one layer. All of the five categories are presented as the following GigaInstruments:

• Main Instruments using no modulation or filtering sources
• VelFil Instruments that use velocity to open and close Giga's built-in low pass filter
• ModFil Instruments that use the ModWheel to open and close Giga's built-in low pass filter
• ModAttk Instruments that use the ModWheel to change the attack on Giga's amplitude envelope.
• Trem Instruments that uses the ModWheel to introduce tremolo effects via Giga's amplitude envelope.

In addition, each of the three dynamic layers of the Natural Decay bank are also presented individually as single layer Instruments.

The result is a sampled prepared piano on which you can perform Cage's composition. Obviously, this is a lot of work for use only in Cage's music, so I assume the intent of the library is to not only be educational but also to inspire its use in other music. There is no question that many of these sounds will work well in other music, especially in film music where the "special effects" aspects of the sounds can shine. The overall sound is more percussive than sustaining and though all of the non-prepared strings are also sampled, you will probably not use this bank for your solo piano needs. Instead, think of it as a fixed set of interesting timbres and accents. The sound quality is superb with little or no noise introduced in the samples. The piano was recorded with microphones placed fairly close to the instrument, which allows you to add your own reverb to the samples.

Though possibly not as "fresh" sounding as when Cage debuted his prepared piano some fifty plus years ago, this library offers both a unique educational opportunity as well as a arsenal of fine sounds that can utilized in a number of ways. A very nice accessory library for those writing in avande garde and film music.

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