Friday, September 23, 2005

The chord of 88 notes

Standing at the far sides of the stage were two grand pianos, waiting silently with their keyboards and resonators covered. Dimly lit by stray rays intended for the centre stage, the pianos gleamed softly, its edges glinting where they caught the light. Each of the colossal Steinway Model D concert grand pianos were finished in the blackest and shiniest of black, the sort of black one would find on a well polished black BMW 745iL.

“We better get started quickly,” a male voice came from the darkness, “I need more practice on our duet.”
“Lets get the pianos in position and we’ll be ready to go,” another male voice replied.

They each approached a piano, and walked around their instrument, bending down at each leg to unlock the castors’ shiny pair of brass wheels. Having removed their brakes, the half-tonne instruments could now be moved with ease, if at a pedestrian pace.

The first pianist smelled a momentary fragrance of inspiration, “Let’s see who can get his piano into position first.”
“What the…” the other pianist was lost for words. Never had he heard of such an absurd proposition.
“Come on, the sooner we get them in place the earlier we can start.”
“These things weight 500 kilograms!” the second pianist mounted a feeble protest.
“That’s the challenging bit isn’t it?”

Each of the pianists stood ready, prepared to lean into their ponderous engines of music. At the collective count to three, they both heaved at their grand pianos. Owing to the inviolability of the natural laws of the universe commonly ascribed to the second holder of the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge University, the pianos accelerated at a slow rate due to their sheer inertial mass.

The pianos accelerated from mere inching to crawling speed, then to walking pace before approaching the speed of a brisk walk. By then, the pianos were about three quarters of their way to their destination spots, but the two competing pianists remained very closely matched. As 6 pairs of brass castor wheels rolled across the wooden stage floor, they emitted a gentle rumbling as a reminder to the world that they were rolling.

“Shit. Stop! We’re going to crash!” A spark of realisation hit one of the pianists.

He was right. What was in their eyes a scene of two racing pianofortes was now a scene of the impending collision of two steam locomotives out of control, or two raging bulls arguing over fertilizing rights to a particularly fetching cow, or two colliding stars just doing what colliding star systems usually do. It was about as heart wrenching as seeing in slow motion two shiny black BMW 745iL luxury saloons rushing to plough into each other head on.

On the stage, two hearts suddenly increased their pumping frequencies from a sedate 95 beats per minute to 170bpm. The panicked pianists did their utmost best to restrain their pianos’ progress, but it was to not much success at this stage of the race. Due to the sheer inertial mass of the instruments, the pianos could only be decelerated at a slow rate, again owing to the inviolability of the laws of the universe commonly ascribed to the second holder of the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge.

The two Steinway Model D concert grand pianos approached each other with hardly any mercy. In hindsight, it was hardly surprising since pianos were not known to be sentient creatures capable of emotions. It was true that an expertly played piano, like a deftly wielded katana, is capable of stirring various emotions. However, it is also true that the piano and katana themselves are unfortunately excluded from this business of emotions.

The pianos collided at an angle, the rear portion of one driving into the keyboard of the other. Upon impact, cracks developed in the birch wood casing, propagating at the speed of sound and fracturing the casing. Each of the lovingly finished (that’s what Steinway wants the public to believe anyway) cast iron frames which held the piano wires under tension received a terrifying jolt, causing each and every wire to vibrated wildly, transmitting their vibrations to the sounding board and thus making a tremendous super-chord of 88 notes simultaneously on both pianos. This feat was not bested until 23 years later when a group of similarly inclined pianists managed to crash a trio of 9-octave grand pianos to create a 108 note mega-chord on 3 pianos.

At first glance, the damage did not seem overwhelmingly bad. There were only a few cracks along the piano casings, some failed keys and actions, maybe a misaligned soundboard and extensive mistuning. The cast iron frame which held the wires appear to be intact, and no wires were broken.

However, a US$100,000 grand piano is not expensive only because of its premium material parts, but mainly because of the care taken to make sure the thousands of components are matched together perfectly.

At second glance, the damage was horrific.


I recently watched a piano duet on a pair of Steinways, and it was magnificent! I will not embarrass anyone by trying to describe the wonderful performance. But, I can’t really keep my mouth shut, so I’ll say that among the many things to do before death, watching a piano duet on a pair of pianos with a magnificently fast paced and energetic piece is an absolute necessity.

If today’s writing style is a little weird, it can be attributed to the influence of Douglas Adams, the same person who brought us The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s brilliant! Scattered in it are loads of strange jokes that makes one go, “wth? lol.” For example:
Arthur prodded the mattress nervously and then sat on it himself: in fact he had very little to be nervous about, because all mattresses grown in the swamps of Squornshellous Zeta are very thoroughly killed and dried before being put to service. Very few have ever come to life again.

In fact he was built the way one builds leather sofas: shiny, lumpy and with lots of solid stuffing. The suit into which the man's body had been stuffed looked as if it's only purpose in life was to demonstrate how difficult it was to get this sort of body into a suit. The face had the texture of an orange and the colour of an apple, but there the resemblance to anything sweet ended.