Pianos often get a bad rap. They’re associated with school hymns and assembly halls, big clunky things that go out of tune halfway through ‘Kumbaya’. They have an air of the ancient about them, not necessarily in a good way, but more in a dusty, stuffy Victorian way. They’re synonymous with dull ballads and dreadful covers of once good pop songs. They’re overly sincere, they’re unwieldy and they’re what your gran listens to on her gramophone. Pianos aren’t cool. But they could be.
On their latest track, Dusseldorf-based duo Grandbrothers continue their assault on the piano, yanking it open and tinkering gleefully with its innards, producing the beautiful ‘Long Forgotten Future’ in the process.
Every sound here is made by a piano. The metallic tawngs, the ominous hum, the percussive beats. All piano. While one half of the duo, German-Turkish pianist Erol Sarp, plays the instrument, it’s the job of Swiss engineer/mechanic/software designer Lukas Vogel to sit behind the computer, live-sampling Sarp’s playing while creating further effects by manipulating the piano’s strings and body. “There are hammers I control,” he explains, “which hit different parts to make beats and percussive patterns. In the beginning, I just used an open circuit board I’d constructed without a proper case. It was very fragile and often didn’t work. We always had a soldering-iron when we played live.”
But all of this is a bit gimmicky without a decent tune. Thankfully, the result of this piano-mongering is even more impressive than the laboriously technical description implies. ‘Long Forgotten Future’ is at times remarkably warm, embracing you in its folds of pastoral piano chords and soothing beats. But at others, it holds you at arm’s length, growing cold and detached as Vogel’s imposing creaks draw in. It’s remarkably emotive, especially given there are no words to be found here, just beautifully expressive piano sounds, both familiar and unfamiliar.
‘Long Forgotten Future’ is a fitting name for a track that harks back to the glory days of the piano while driving it into bold, largely unexplored territory. Its mechanical edge makes for an interesting contrast to the softness of the chords, Vogel’s pragmatic approach an unlikely complement to Sarp’s more traditional, and emotional, contribution. While the track sounds interesting in theory, in reality, it’s nothing short of beautiful.