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The One-Key Piano

And how Google Android explains itself in music

This one is certainly tailor made for the course I teach about the role of sound in the media landscape, which focuses often throughout its 15-week run on the way things — organizations, people, services — express themselves through sound. There’s a recent Android operating system TV commercial from Google in which pianist Ji-Yong Kim plays a piece of music, the third movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, on a grand piano, and then alternates between a standard grand piano and a grand piano set up so that each key plays the same note. The “joke” in the ad is a tweak at the perceived uniformity of Apple’s product line. The tagline is “Be together. Not the same.”

One unintended consequence of the advertisement is the rising awareness that there’s an audience out there for such an uber-minimalist music in which rhythm is the closest expression evident to something that approximates melody. The video has had almost one million views since it was posted on February 15. The one-note piano approach, dubbed the Monotune, is now the subject of a 10-track album, available for free from Google Play (play.google.com). Oddly, the Moonlight Sonata doesn’t appear to be on the album, which includes “Three Blind Mice,” “Claire du Lune,” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” All the compositions seem to be, like the Moonlight Sonata, in the public domain.

While the Monotune album is an entertaining peek into the one-note tweak on familiar music, the real pleasure in the TV ad is how it moves back and forth between the extroverted and muted performances. Perhaps a follow-up collection will attempt to capture that quality.

There’s a making-of interview, posted the same day as the Monotune commercial, of how the one-key effect was accomplished. The short version: you can’t tune an entire piano to one note. You have to shorten many of the strings first. There’s a great moment at 1:43 when pianist Kim responds the first time he hears the peculiar responsiveness of the stunted piano:

Found via androidpolice.com.

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , / Comment: 1 ]

One Comment

  1. Neurogami
    [ Posted March 14, 2016, at 2:33 pm ]

    Hmm. Thank you for this. I’ve seen this commercial but I never paid attention to what it was about, and clearly was not looking closely, because I did not notice that he was playing multiple keys all emitting the same note.

    I just thought how much I liked the music. :)

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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