This episode of Motherboard’s Sound Builders features Brooklyn electroacoustic artist Andy Cavatorta. He’s an inventor, sculptor, and instrument designer latest project is a magnetized piano harp.
The magnetized piano harp can be played directly, by stroking, plucking or striking the piano strings, but also can be played via a MIDI keyboard that controls electromagnets, which cause the strings to vibrate.
Cavatorta is no stranger to building his own instruments. His most recent claim to fame was his role in developing a homespun instrument for experimental musician Björk. In preparation for her 2013 Biophiliia tour, Björk commissioned Cavatorta to build harps that swung like multi-string pendulums and triggered musical patterns from Earth’s gravitational pull.
For his latest musical creation, Andy has mounted a caboodle of magnets onto a piano’s frame. Once the magnets are activated, electromagnetic vibrations pull and release the piano’s steel strings in a bloom of various pitches in harmonic succession. By doing this, Andy has managed to feather dust an instrument that was created many centuries ago and offer it a new sonic vocabulary by tapping into the piano’s uncharted harmonics. Indeed, our exchange between sound and instrument is an ever-evolving one that reminds us that an old dog can indeed learn new tricks.
While excavating new sounds from an old instrument is enough to make an audiophile tinkle his pants, it’s the instrument’s new interfaces and unique dialogue between the tactile and the magnetic player that’s the real kicker. While one player is able to stimulate electromagnets by playing the keyboard, another tactile player can pluck, hammer, and touch the steel strings of the piano harp in order to shape their harmonic nodes and further manipulate the sound.
Check it out and let us know what you think of the magnetized piano harp!