Reinhold Friedl- Inside Piano (2 CD Zeitkratzer)

The 2Cds that make up Inside Piano contain fascinating works turning the piano into an instrument that can be bowed, beaten and magnetically manipulated as opposed to being just a mechanism to get felt hammers to hit strings of different thicknesses.

Reinhold Friedl is probably best known as the man behind Zeitkratzer the European ensemble that amongst other things has somehow managed to turn Lou Reed’s Metal Music Machine and Whitehouse’s power electronics into works playable by classical instruments without losing sight of the original pieces.  

With these two Cds  I was expecting something not dissimilar to John Cage’s prepared piano works which whilst using unconventional ways of using the piano are still fairly gentle and accessible pieces. What Reinhold has done is move the bar a good metre or two higher with an album of pieces that really stretch what a piano is capable of producing sound wise.

The Cd booklet contains an essay written by Reinhold that examines the use of the inside of the piano by other musicians such as Gottfried Konig, Horatiu Radulescu and Alvin Lucier and examines and explains the techniques they used and also talks about how to score such pieces.  The essay ends with a brief description of the preparation used for most of the pieces contained on these CDs.

Cd one starts with “evasions pour deplaire” which is played with springs on the strings. It sounds like a string and percussion section gone slightly insane with its huge rushes and roars of intensity that then stop to near silence before rushing back in again just as you’ve started to relax.

“l’horizon des ballons” follows and is the longest piece on the album at just under 40 minutes.  This piece is produced solely be using metal tubes on the strings (which is a totally new method as far as Reinhold is aware). It’s a piece that starts slowly and could almost be from a Neubauten album the metal tubes sounding not dissimilar to metal tables being dragged across a floor. As it builds in intensity and presumably as more layer s are being added it starts to sound not unlike an orchestral piece though one full of dissonances rather than harmony. The middle section of the piece is a marked change with slow delicately produced sounds that are gentle and soothing leaving room at the end for a section with varying degrees of volume, number of sounds and  sheer physical impact of the piece . Probably the most difficult piece on the set but after a few listens one of the most impressive.

Cd one ends with “la consequence des reves” which unfortunately Reinhold doesn’t divulge the preparation of. There’s certainly more metal tube bowing but the variety of sounds suggests a lot more than that as there’s a lot of percussive elements to this piece. Ultimately though following after “l’horizon des ballons” puts it at a disadvantage and it’s sounds are to samey to really make it sound anything more than just  a coda to its predecessor.

Cd 2 starts off with “l’espoir des grillions” another longer piece at 21 minutes based it seems on using e bows on the strings. An E bow being a hand-held, battery-powered electronic device for playing the guitar. Instead of having the strings hit by the fingers or a pick they are moved by the electromagnetic field created by the device, producing a sound reminiscent of using a bow on the strings.  Starting off with a repeated percussive metronomic type sound we are treated to what could almost be described as a symphony for “inside piano.” It moves though different feels, complexities and levels of density and emotion sounding like a piece of electro acoustic composition written for an orchestra. Without doubt the highlight of the album.

“ombres d’ombres” follows. It’s a piece produced by the sound of wobbling objects on piano strings. Having the objects on strings in different areas gives the piece a nice wide dynamic range and it’s a lot lighter than the pieces that have gone before with  the wobbling types of sounds produced at the beginning of the track adding a little humour to what has up until now been quite an intense and serious feeling collection of works.

The third piece on this second cd is “les cris des cantharides” which is a short study of piping and scratching. It’s interesting from the point of view of scratching the strings which is a technique not employed on this album previously but isn’t the most compelling piece on offer.

“chevelure des cognasses” uses vibrating cymbals and single prepared piano tones. Not sure what is meant by single prepared piano tones but I’m guess perhaps using screws on a single string as John Cage was fond of.  The actual sound we get is one not dissimilar to a mallet used on a vibraphone accompanied by a very manic high pitched string section. It almost has a filmic quality.

The penultimate piece in this collection is another long one.” pendeloques de glace” clocks in at 15 minutes and appears to be a development of the previous piece. To quote Reinhold “develops this idea further and combines vibrating springs which are connected to single strings with choir sounds produced in the lowest register. The material finally leads, via transitional glissandi to the singing piano.” It’s actually a lot harsher than the previous track. In places far more intense in nature and sound. It’s almost like the strings are screaming at you. It’s very Stockhausen in places; there are tones from the second half onwards that sound almost like pure sine waves. It’s a very accomplished piece this almost like another mini symphony of electroacoustic composition.

The final piece is the shortest in this set. We don’t get any details of the way in which the piano has been used but “la grimace du soliel” is described by Reinhold as being quite a harsh piece but to my ears it’s actually one of the more subtle and gentler pieces using space and pitch to create a relaxing sort of ambience.

An incredible body of work here in these 2 CD (the vinyl version has even more with an extra 3 tracks) and Reinhold really has taken the piano to levels I’d never known it could get to. My only criticism would be that did we really need this much in one go. It’s a lot to take in, in one sitting, and perhaps two releases spaced 6 months apart might have been the way to go but you don’t have to listen to it all in one hit. Highly recommended. DB