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Photo of a (real) piano prepared for a John Cage performance, (CC) André Faust.

I always loved fiddling with the insides of piano, back to when I was a kid. I’ve had the opportunity to play the occasional John Cage piece, and have done other prepared piano music. Prepared techniques include adding obstructions to strings and other modifications. There’s nothing like a real instrument, so I won’t even try to propose digital work as a substitute. But, on the other hand, mimicking real-world sounds with digital techniques gives you an entirely new perspective on sound.

In the last installment of “sound design for imaginary instruments,” we saw some experiments with guitar sounds. This time, I’ll talk about how nice it is to be able to throw together sampled sounds and effects quickly in Kore.

kore_ppiano2Starting with a rich sound set for acoustic piano was essential to this project. You’ll find a number of acoustic piano samples in Kore 2. In this case, I chose the “Ways of Stein” preset, as in Steinway. It includes a handy arpeggiator and multimode filter.

Also in the effects chain: the Space Reverb I keep overusing, of course, for a retro-sounding, cavernous effect. (Yes, that indeed involves two reverbs in the same effects chain, but I liked the result; you can think of it as early reflections, or as the instrument being simultaneously in two places at once.) I wanted to fatten up the sound a bit, so I turned to the Cabinet Saturator, which is a nice, warm overdrive effect.

The essence of the preset, though, is the Grain Shifter. The major feature of a prepared piano is that obstructions cause inharmonic sounds, making the piano sound even more the percussion instrument it already is. The Grain Shifter accomplishes this by shifting bits of the sound at unusual intervals, providing an effect that’s similar to a real piano but also uniquely digital. Here’s a bit of what the results sound like (it’s soft, as intended):

Phrase with “prepared” piano [MP3]

We can have a look at what the Grain Shifter is doing in the image below. It’s basically just a finely-pitched detuning. The addition of the octaves is fairly realistic to what you’d get with a prepared piano, because blocking the string at a specific point is the same as getting a harmonic. But, as is typical of working with Kore, I mostly just began experimenting, adjusting with the controller knobs and finding a patch I’d want to play around with.

There are two key settings to note in Grain Shifter:

  • Grain Rate Knob: It’d just be a normal reshifter if it weren’t for this control, which changes the size of the grains used in playback. (Essentially, it’s a tiny sample out of which the sound is resynthesized.) See also the fun “Reverse” setting, which I didn’t use here but is capable of some special effects.
  • Feedback: This routes the signal into itself, as with any feedback, but to especially nice effect with the Grain Shifter 


There’s not a whole lot to this preset; it mostly illustrates having some fun with built-in modules. But if you’d like to play around with it, here it is as a kpe file for Kore 2 (using only built-in sounds and modules):

spacepno.kpe [ZIP archive – updated to fix initial problem with uploaded file]

If you’ve been fooling around with modules in Kore or elsewhere and having a good time, please do share!

John Cage score and materials. Despite what it may look like, most preparations don’t cause any damage to a piano; the instrument’s strings take on enormous tension, so the preparation’s impact is negligible. Then again, you’ll be really safe doing it all virtually in Kore. Photo (CC) florriebassingbourn.

4 Responses

  1. george napier

    Hi Peter,

    No comment on the article itself. Just wanted you to know how much I enjoy this site (and CDM of course). I particularly like these last two articles on sound design! Thank you!


  2. [...] # Sound Design for Imaginary Instruments: A Kore-Prepared Piano [...]

  3. Loopy C

    Nice concept Peter, the demo mp3 does indeed capture the ‘vibe’ nicely (and you played it well to best effect). This Kore system (I don’t presently own Kore, only Komplete 3) becomes more interesting every ‘entry’ :)

  4. Proform Elliptical

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