April 5, 2022, 5:32 PM
When you really commit to a performance of the ‘Water Music’ suite.
In this year 2022, the prepared piano is nothing particularly new. Composers have been writing pieces that require bizarre (but usually reversible) modifications to pianos since at least 1940, when John Cage wrote his bacchanalia. In fact, Cage single-handedly wrote so many pieces for prepared piano that an entire Wikipedia page is devoted to them.
From slapping, stroking and plucking piano strings, to adding 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 look 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 I played.”
Read more: The self-playing piano can speak English, sing and play the most evil melodies in the world
And he did. Consulting with piano tech experts on the Discord messaging platform, the engineer deconstructed the piano to make it fully waterproof before reassembling its parts with a stunning new aqua blue interior.
“It’s such a bad idea,” Krantz said. “I know it sounds bad…but I’m doing it for the sake of science.”
Waterproofing the piano is not a simple task, it seems. After completely rebuilding an upright piano so that the keyboard rests on top of the instrument, with the hammers on the floor, Krantz realized that the mechanism that allows the hammers to move started to get stuck when the wood buckled after just four minutes underwater.
So, on the recommendation of his Discord panel of piano technicians, he changed tactics to work on a grand piano instead.
Read more: How is a piano made? We go behind the scenes at Steinway to find out…
If you’re a little bummed, look away now, because Krantz’s next step is to completely gut the piano’s interior before sealing it with what he calls “forbidden ice” and painting it pool blue.
While reattaching the strings, Krantz documents the process of re-tuning the piano from scratch. Beginning with a not-so-smooth rendition of Yiruma’s “River Flows in You” (which he says is the only track he knows), it’s almost satisfying to hear the theme shift from the film’s soundtrack to horror to something more recognizable. Almost.
Then the water. Krantz gradually fills the cavity of the piano, recounting how the timbre and tuning of each piano key changes as the waterline travels up the piano strings, and comparing the sound of the piano above water to sound picked up on an underwater microphone.
Once his experiment is over, Krantz inexplicably decides to go swimming inside the piano, rubber ducky and pineapple drink included. He claims it’s surprisingly comfortable, so we’ll have to take his word for it.
Finally, Krantz wants to see if his flooded instrument can be turned into a water feature. Sure enough, a steady stream flows under the keys as he plays Yiruma’s theme again.
Unfortunately, despite its best engineering efforts, the damage to the piano appears irreversible as all the keys are stuck in place.
Although the results are somewhat interesting, we do not recommend trying this one at home!