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Piano Preparations

It’s William here. We've been neck deep in rehearsals for November’s tour schedule after an insanely long time away from playing live, so there was no journal entry for last month. Oops! The last show we played in front of people, can you believe, was March 2020. So this time we needed a few more rehearsals than usual.

It’s mad to think that ‘WRITHING!’ is now out (at least digitally— physical formats will be coming this month after a pressing plant delay)! It’s honestly been quite overwhelming to see how many people are listening to it and responding to it, even after such a short amount of time. I think it’s ok to say that this is our best work yet and we’re really proud of this album. You’ll probably see a handful of entries over the next few months about various aspects of the process of making it, most likely because while recording we pushed ourselves quite considerably with new ideas and techniques so naturally now want to tell everyone about it.

One thing we did for ‘WRITHING!’ was prepare a piano. Our engineering mastermind Sam Grant had decided a healthy dose of acoustic piano would be important to this album, so arranged for a Victorian upright to be delivered for the studio just before we got there. In short, a prepared piano is a piano with various found objects, like cutlery or nails, wedged between its strings. It’s always been something of a dream of mine to do it— probably due to a combination of my love of John Cage and Aphex Twin’s masterwork ‘Drukqs’, which uses it extensively (on a Yamaha Disklavier, I think, which is an acoustic piano that can be controlled by a computer). It’s said that John Cage came up with the prepared piano in 1938 to soundtrack a dance, because all that was available to him at the time was a grand piano. It’s the perfect image for what a prepared piano is capable of— it’s percussive and exuberant and childlike and it demands some resourcefulness. We found things around the studio we thought might be interesting to wedge into the strings, like rubber door wedges, pill packets and crisp packets, Game Boy cartridges, jewellery, cabling, even part of a tambourine. We were really pleased with how at home it felt in the world we were trying to create. As well as recording ourselves playing it in the room, we carefully recorded each key individually to make a sample pack of the Voka Gentle Prepared Piano, which you can map to any MIDI keyboard and play. I’m happy to say that we’ll be making that available as a free download very soon.

Developing that idea, one thing we wanted to try was preparing a plate reverb. A plate reverb, I’m pretty sure, is a technology that dates back to ancient theatre, where metal sheets would be rattled to create a thunder-y sound. In the modern day it’s essentially a sheet of cold-rolled steel which sounds are played ‘into’, and the reverberance of the metal is then recorded by a contact microphone to give the impression of space. We thought it would be interesting to take the prepared piano idea and apply it to the plate reverb we had in the studio. We leaned and hung things against it, then played pitched up sounds of wolves howling into it. I then hit, wiped and scratched it to create some pretty abrasive sounds for everyone sitting in the control room.

Now I have to go and pack for tour. We’re off with the amazing Willy Mason until the 17th November, and then doing a headline tour of our own straight after. We’d love to see you there! Tickets can be found here.


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