The Electromagnetic Piano

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The Electromagnetic Piano is a modular attachment to a grand piano. And it has just won third prize in the prestigious Guthman Musical Instrument Competition 2021.

close-up of the electromagnetic piano with the magnets positioned above the strings.
The Electromagnetic Piano actuators suspended above the strings of a Steinway grand piano

The device facilitates infinite sustain of the piano strings, thus opening up a whole new world of layered sounds and performance options to the player.

The Electromagnetic Piano consists of a series of electromagnets, one for each note, suspended above the strings of a grand piano. Each is tuned to its assigned string(s) and controlled through a MIDI interface.

The incoming MIDI signal controls the magnets which produce an alternating electromagnetic field. This causes the corresponding strings to vibrate, indefinitely if required. This can be a sharp percussive sound or an ethereal organ-like drone texture. And of course, no amplification is required as the device is activating the acoustic piano’s strings which are amplified by the soundboard.

The source of the MIDI signal can be any MIDI device. A keyboard, pedals, maybe a wind controller, or a computer/ digital workstation. So the piano could be played acoustically by one pianist, whilst a second musician is creating a counterpoint using a Midi controller actuating the strings electrically.

photo of Monica Lim seated at a Steinway fitted with the Electromagnetic Piano system with David Shea sat alongside at a Roland keyboard
A Steinway grand piano fitted with The Electromagnetic Piano system, played by inventors Monica Lim and David Shea.

The system is dynamic so each note’s volume can be independently varied in real-time by the incoming MIDI data.

The beauty of the system is that it is modular, and simple to fit. And it doesn’t affect the performance of the piano, which can be used as if the attachment weren’t there.

This concept isn’t new. We ran a piece on the Magnetic Resonator Piano back in 2018. However, this is the first such compact design that anyone could fit and use. It can be packed into a small travel case for touring.

The Electromagnetic Piano is the brainchild of composers David Shea and Monica Lim, along with electronic engineer and computer scientist Mirza Ceysar. They are based in Melbourne Australia. The project was supported by the APRA AMCOS (the Australasian Performing Right Association and the Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society) Art Music Fund and Project Eleven (an arts funding initiative).

The Guthman Musical Instrument Competition

The Guthman Musical Instrument Competition is run by the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta USA. It celebrates the best new ideas in musicality, design and engineering. Judges include such luminaries as Dave Smith (the man credited as the driving force behind MIDI), Tom Oberheim, Roger Linn, Pat Metheney, Jordan Rudess, and other experts in music technology including Jayson Kerr Dobney curator-in-charge of the Department of Musical Instruments at The Metropolitan Museum, New York.

There were 29 finalists from 15 countries in the 2021 competition and, as stated above, the Electromagnetic Piano was awarded third prize.

The Electromagnetic Piano is currently in its second phase of prototyping and is planned to be available to order by the end of 2021.

For more information about the Electromagnetic Piano contact Monica Lim.


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