‘Prepared Piano’ is a time-honored technique of altering a Piano’s sound “by placing objects (preparations) between or on the strings or on the hammers or dampers.” Wiki tells us that John Cage is the most noted proponent of this form, and the great Erik Satie was an earlier practitioner. Sounds like good company to be in.
But why stop with the strings, hammers and dampers? Why not put something on the keys?
Dubreq was a British instrument manufacturer in the 60s/70s. Dubreq is most famous for its Stylofone, the little toy synthesizer instrument that had its star-moment in the bridge of Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” It’s called the Stylofone because you play the ‘keys’ with a stylus (pen) rather than by direct contact. You can still buy a Stylofone. I have one, and it’s the best musical instrument you can buy for $14.99. Potentially useful for certain types of tracks.
So once Dubreq conquered the world with a keyboard-that-you-play-with-a-pen, they dropped this bomb. The Piano-mate. I picked up this lil weirdo at the Flea market the other day for a few bucks. I had thought i was buying some obscure guitar amp. I was so, so wrong.
Seems like there was a real obsession with the physicality of the keyboard over at Dubreq HQ. Really a very uncanny obsession.
What is the Piano-mate? Basically, it’s a Synth/Organ which does not have a keyboard of its own. Instead, it has these 2 bars that you place ON ANOTHER FULL-SIZE KEYBOARD (let’s call it ‘The Host”). The bars have little plunger microswitches that rest on the Host-keyboard.
When you press a key on the Host, the Piano-mate responds with its own little squawk. The Piano-mate gives the user 3 different sounds (roughly, organ, elec piano, and ‘synth’), and it also has its own vibrato section. Oh and did i mention that it also has its own amp and speaker built in? And and that the whole thing nests together into little recesses in its backside? Really very odd.
The piano mate is interesting to me because it was not intended to be its ‘own sound.’ As the manual tells us, Dubreq’s concept was for the Piano-mate to augment the acoustic tone of an acoustic piano. So we are supposed to hear both sounds, acoustic and electronic, together as one experience. It’s a very strange hybrid.
OK so how does it sound? I find it a lot of fun to play. In my assessment, it turns any simple little piano-tune into instant Roxy-Music/ 70s Eno ballad-majesty. I recorded these 2 examples with my little Tascam DR08 dictaphone, aka the Digital Camera of Sound.
————————————————————— What you are about to hear is a single sonic event – no layering or multitracking. Give ’em a listen.
This Is The Piano Mate Experience.