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Re: Tack Piano

-----Original Message-----
From: George McConnell <gcm22@drexel.edu>
To: Loopers-Delight@annihilist.com <Loopers-Delight@annihilist.com>
Date: Tuesday, November 30, 1999 1:11 PM
Subject: Re: Tack Piano

>Does it have anything to do with a thumb piano?  Those things are awesome!

Would that make it a "thumb-tack" piano?  ;-)

Seriously though, Travis was correct.  It's a standard piano with small
metal tacks inserted into the felt hammers that hit the strings.  It adds a
"honky-tonk" sound to the piano.  I tried this once in order to make my
piano sound more like a harpsichord, but it was very difficult to get a
uniform sound from all the strings.  The overall sound was good, but it was
very time-consuming to set up, and once all the tacks were in place I was
stuck with that one sound until the tacks were removed.  It was also a bit
difficult to get the standard dynamics of loud and soft, because EVERYTHING
was louder than normal.  But if you have a piano it's definitely worth
giving it a try.

I believe that the tack piano was also used in some compositions by the
great American experimental composer Lou Harrison, in order to achieve a
metallic, gamelan-like sound.

A related instrument is the "prepared piano" as developed by John Cage.  A
similar concept, except that all sorts of screws, bolts, blocks, etc. are
placed between the strings themselves to make the instrument sound more 
a percussion orchestra than a piano.  There's a great old LP (on Angel
Records, I believe) with Side A being Cage's "Three Dances for Prepared
Piano" and Side B Steve Reich's (LOOP CONTENT !) "Four Organs."  Try to 
a copy of this album, it's great!

One final note:  the "thumb piano" which is found all throughout 
Africa goes by many names in various African languages.  It's known in
various forms in different countries as "sanza," "mbira," "likemba,"
"kalimba," "karimba," etc.  Musicologically the instrument type is called a
"lamellophone," meaning that it produces sound by plucked tuned tines.
These tines are generally metal, but are also sometimes wooden or bamboo.
(Think of the small metal strips inside of a "music box" -- it's the same

The most commonly used name for this instrument is "mbira" which makes 
because the instrument itself probably predates the "piano" and outside of
the misnomer of "thumb piano" has no relation to the keyboard instrument,
the smae way that a "jaw harp" has no relation to a "harp."

Apologies for being PC and OT,

James Pokorny