The electromagnetic piano is an instrument built by composers David Shea and Monica Lim and engineer and computer scientist Mirza Ceysar. It is an attachment to an acoustic piano that uses magnets to resonate the piano strings. This allows the string to sustain indefinitely, providing an alternative to the way acoustic pianos have been played and sound for centuries. The piano can also be played in the normal manner, allowing a rich mixture of percussive and sustained texture. Each string has a corresponding magnet tuned to its specific frequency, giving an ethereal, organ-like sound. The midi-triggered magnets come in a portable, easy to set-up format that can be used on any grand piano.
Earlier versions of magnetic resonators for piano are not easily installed and portable, requiring complex wiring and setup. Our design with their individual mini-computers simplifies the process and allows easy setup across different pianos. They can be packed into a travel case for touring. LED lights for each magnet can be individually programmed and customised, providing not just visual cues for their operation but also an amazing aesthetic experience. The skeletal design gives an honest, tech-driven aesthetic quality that complements the visual beauty of the inside of an acoustic piano.
The instrument uses a modern computer network approach, where each unit has a dedicated microcontroller to generate frequency, amplification and networking to a master controller that talks MIDI to the external world. This greatly simplifies existing designs yet provides modularity, allowing each unit to be individually programmed and replaced. The unit can be easily be scaled to less or more magnets as required, and is height-adjustable for different pianos. A class D amplifier on each unit reduces power supply requirements as any inactive unit does not draw any current.
The electromagnetic piano provides a new way of playing/composing for one of the world’s most loved and ubiquitous instruments. The ability to infinitely sustain notes dramatically extends the timbral palette of the piano. The sound is completely acoustic, requiring no speakers and is unique to each piano. They can be triggered by any midi input, including keyboards, pedals and pre-programmed files. This gives flexibility for the performer/composer to use it in many different ways – installations with no performer present, solo pianist or ensemble playing. The acoustic sound can also be triggered with non-musical sources such as movement, video or lighting.
The electromagnetic piano was built with the support of the APRA Amcos Art Music Fund and Project Eleven.
The electromagnetic piano was the 3rd prize winner of the 2021 Guthman Musical Instrument Competition.