A violent rustling comes across the speakers. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.
Well, not nothing. You could compare the sound to “violent rustling”, for instance. In his puckish titles, Reinhold Friedl, the madman producing these sounds, compares them to things like “pendeloques de glace” (“pendants of ice”) and “ombres d’ombres” (“shadows of shadows”). Other sounds compare favorably to the spectres of night flying overhead, or to disorganized and bumbling cacophonies. These cacophonies often seem to contain horns, choirs, feedback, or even whole orchestras playing dissonant screeds and meditations out of Ligeti or Penderecki. All this sonic variety and depth covers up one impressive fact: Friedl is creating these sounds inside a Steinway piano, in real time. Hence this spellbinding double album’s title, Inside Piano.
The first disc, at least, is spellbinding. Over the course of an hour, Friedl carries us from the violent rustling of “évasions pour déplaire” (“escapes intended to displease”, I think) through the 40-minute epic noise poem “l’horizon des ballons” (“the horizon of the balloons” — apocalyptic imagery from countrywoman Nena?), and ends the disc with the creaking haunted house soundtrack “la conséquence des rêves” (“the consequence of dreams”). Friedl conjures his atonal music with noises and drones that gather gradually, their intensity growing until the accumulated clamor becomes uncomfortable, even painful. “Ballons” is especially impressive; whenever I listen to its perpetually shifting soundscapes and dynamics, I find myself hanging on Friedl’s every gesture, still unable to believe that one guy can produce these sharp sonic blasts and screams. This is all more accessible than you might think, thanks mostly to Friedl’s sense of variety and pacing. He somehow never repeats a trick as he spends 40 minutes rubbing the piano strings with metal tubes, belying the masturbatory nature of that act.
Freidl prepares his piano with a meticulousness usually associated with sewing people together into human centipedes. Inside Piano doubles as a compendium of inside piano techniques, a demonstration record whose music will outlive its novelty. At various points, Friedl bows the piano strings in different ways, loads them up with rocks, springs, and screws, and finds methods for producing percussive effects. His goal with most pieces is to use multiple techniques in concert with one another, “in order to follow the piano’s beautiful dream of being an orchestra.” Reading Friedl’s beatific liner notes while listening to his unearthly squall, you get the idea that pianos have sick, sick dreams.
As Freidl carefully points out in his liner notes, he’s far from the first to attempt this sort of music. It has happened before, in the works of composers like Mario Bertoncini and Horatiu Radulescu, but not with Friedl’s scope and ambition. As you might imagine, this genre of music lends itself to drones, and disc two doesn’t enthrall as consistently as the first. But turn on the buzzing and scraping pizzicati of “chevelure des cognasses”, a study in strings prepared with vibrating cymbals, and you’ll hear that old, elusive goal: Something New. Much like a nature film that takes you inside the colonies of small and inaccessible creatures, Inside Piano triumphantly showcases a new world that’s been here all along.