A Human Centred Piano for the 21st Century?

Tuesday 11/06/2013 13:00-14:00
Location: Brunel University, Tower A, Room TA049
Speaker: Dr Sarah Kingdom Nicolls , Senior Lecturer in Music, School of Arts, Brunel Univeristy


In this seminar, Dr Sarah Kingdom Nicolls will outline her drive to create a new piano for the 21st Century, which properly takes the role of the performer into account when performing contemporary classical and experimental music. Nicolls is herself a professional concert pianist, specialising in new music, so has much concert experience of the techniques required by composers and used by performers in modern soundscapes. In fact, composers have – for the last century consistently and from as far back as the 18th Century – demanded that pianists create sounds by playing directly on the 'inside' of the piano. However, in terms of design, the piano as it currently exists is fundamentally divided between the keyboard and the strings (the 'inside' of the instrument). It is physically impossible to properly play the keyboard and the strings at the same time, or to use multiple pedals to any effect whilst playing inside. It is very uncomfortable too for pianists to lean forward and reach into the insides of a grand piano and it also creates a disconnect for the audience, as the performer’s hands disappear into the bowels of the instrument, akin perhaps to a mechanic reaching into the engine of a car.
Nicolls' proposal is therefore that the inside of the piano should be made more physically available in performance and to prove this theory, she created the 'Inside-Out Piano' in 2008. An immediate success in terms of the techniques possible, the piano proved of interest to several parties but now needs building properly.

Dr Sarah Kingdom Nicolls is a UK-based experimental pianist, in 2008 building her own piano, the ‘Inside-out piano’, to resolve the issue of how to play on the inside of the piano more easily. ‘Inside’ piano playing has been part of pianists’ and composers’ repertoire consistently for the last century but has never been taken into account in terms of piano design. Sarah has since been creating new pieces for the instrument with various additional pieces of technology such as her ‘Wii wheel’ and MIDI-controlled motors and is now looking to develop a second prototype, with various design enhancements.
Sarah also works with interactive technologies and has developed new pieces using EMG sensors, (with Prof. Atau Tanaka (Goldsmiths), motion capture and Kinect (with Nick Gillian (SARC, MIT) and the PianoBar/MAXMSP with Pierre Alexandre Tremblay (University of Huddersfield). In the rest of her concert career, Sarah is a frequent soloist with the London Sinfonietta, giving recent world premieres such as Larry Goves’ Piano Concerto and Richard Barrett’s Mesoptamia. She is regularly broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and features on several CDs. Sarah is a Senior Lecturer at Brunel University and has received funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Brunel Research Initiative and Enterprise Fund (BRIEF) and Arts Council England. She writes about improvisation with live electronics and compositional collaborations and has been published in academic forum including the Leonardo Music Journal (LMJ20). See www.sarahnicolls.com for more details.