The Water Piano

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The world of pianos can be a somewhat weird place. And the idea behind Impact Soundworks’ new virtual “prepared” piano, Water Piano, is possibly the strangest yet – although there is a lot of competition (e.g. Chopstix).

photograph of the actual Water Piano filled with water
The “source” piano, filled with water.

YouTuber experimenter extraordinaire Mattias Krantz worked with Impact Soundworks on the project with the brief, “to record the sound of a grand piano filled with water!”

The result is Water Piano, a virtual instrument that delivers a surprisingly usable range of delightful cinematic sounds all wrapped up in a single software package.

How was it done?

The piano chosen for the venture was a Hofmann baby grand. First, it had to be stripped down, and with the frame removed the main body of the casework made watertight – not an easy task. Many possible leak points were filled and sealed, and the whole area was coated with a plasticised waterproofing paint (as used for swimming pools).

The point leg (the one furthest away from the keyboard) was replaced with a shorter wooden assembly. This lowered the tail of the piano preventing water from overflowing into the keyboard. It also provided extra strength to take the weight of the water. The frame was then replaced and the piano reassembled and tuned.

filling the Water Piano with a watering can

Overhead and underwater microphones (Aquarian Audio H2d’s) were used in the recording process. Firstly the piano was sampled “dry”, and then water was progressively added with new samples taken at various water depths.

To fill the body required around 130 litres (34 US gallons). And this increased the piano’s weight by about 50%!

The Water Piano filled to the brim

Here the aim was to keep the water within the piano. Contrast this with instruments of Le Piano du Lac, where the idea was to keep water out and to get the pianos to float! Both require the total elimination of leaks!

Close-up of the frame covered in water.

Incidentally, playing a piano underwater has been tried before as this fantastic clip from the 1960s attests…

The Software

The team at Impact Soundworks took the raw samples and transformed them into a Kontakt-based sample library with a highly intuitive user interface.

This GUI is divided into various sections: Wetness, Playback, Perform, and Console.

Screenshot of the user interface
The main control page for Impact Soundworks’ Water Piano.

The Wetness section is where it all happens. When it comes to audio, “wetness” usually refers to the amount of reverb. Here though, it really does take on its literal meaning! Wetness controls include Water Level, Water FX (adding additional water-derived effects), Extra Wet (morphs the piano’s output with the sound of a running river), and Freeze. These parameters enable the user to experience a wide range of other-piano-worldly, yet musically valid, timbres and textures.

Playback features various modifiers including an ADSR envelope, whilst Perform tailors elements such as MIDI velocity and filtering, dynamics and microtuning. Console includes an extensive mixer and effects rack.

Impact Soundworks describe Water Piano as a virtual prepared piano. However, strictly speaking, a prepared piano must be able to be returned to its original condition when the modifications are removed. This was definitely not possible in the case of the Hofmann piano used by Mattias Krantz.

Impact Soundworks is based in Fulton, Maryland (US). The company was formed in 2008 by composers Andrew Aversa and Wilbert Roget II, and offers a wide-ranging catalogue of sample libraries, virtual instruments and plugins. Its other piano-related products include: The 88E, Hammer Klavier, Pearl Concert Grand, and Curio: Cinematic Toy Piano.

Water Piano sells for $69, however, there is currently an introductory price of $59. More information along with sound clips and a video showing how the piano was made can be found on the Impact Soundworks website.

Water Piano: Product Requirements
• Apple M1, Intel i5 or equivalent CPU
• 2 GB disc space
• 4 GB of RAM
• KONTAKT Player 6.7+ (free).


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