News, Thoughts, Soapboxes, and/or Essays

Prepared piano/Unprepared pianist

As I was driving through the southern parts of Missouri and Kansas over break, thinking about everything I wanted to write this semester, I kept coming up with ideas for prepared piano (which was kind of unfortunate, since I was really needing to think of ideas for solo clarinet, but more on that later). Amongst all the ridiculous ideas (of which I have many), I came back to a phrase I've wanted to use as a title for a while, which involves the juxtaposed ideas of prepared piano and unprepared pianist. The immediate problem with that idea is that no one wants to hear an unprepared pianist on unprepared piano so it would stand to reason that no one would want to hear the same unpreparation on a prepared instrument. During the drive, I figured out how to make the piece work.

Pianists are saved from many of the pitfalls of wind instruments. Reed issues, wrong partials, everything having to do with intonation, stuff like that are not really problems (Of course, pianists have their own issues, like having to keep track of ~10 notes instead of 1, moving their instruments, all the mechanical voodoo that makes hammers strike keys, etc). But usually, assuming your piano is in tune, and is operating normally, if you hit an E-flat, something resembling all other piano E-flats come out.


And that's where our “Unprepared Pianist” part comes in. No one sits down at a piano to play a well-known piece, and expect anything other than piano noises to come out. And so, this piece I'm working on for prepared piano, is part prepared piano, part unprepared (or unexpectant) pianist, part Chopin's Nocturne in E minor, part theatre, and part ridiculous.

Maybe next week I'll go into the process of writing it, but here's how it is right now, without the theatrics added. In fact, this is merely Jennifer Tripi playing the aforementioned nocturne on a prepared piano.

Nocturne for Prepared Piano and Unprepared Pianist by kylevanderburg

And for kicks and giggles, here's Tripi playing Paradisi's Toccata in A on the same piano.

Prepared Piano Research – Paradisi by kylevanderburg

Workspace Upgrades

In the last installment of my adventures in workspaces, we were introduced to the new desk. Of course, all those pictures were taken in Poplar Bluff (where the post was written), and since then I've actually moved the desk to Norman (with a detour to Kansas to visit Amanda). But when we last saw the desk, it was…intact. Complete. When it arrived in Norman, it looked like this:

Or, perhaps to better see how it's folded,


SAM_0913So after getting the desk out of the car, getting it up the stairs to the apartment, and getting the office rearranged how I think I'll like it (mostly with the help of Steven Eiler), I have a new workspace. So here it is.

Home Studio Jan12 (5

The new desk gives me a larger working area (which will be great when I have to move everything off of it so I can use oversized staff paper), and moving the black bookcase closer to the desk makes paperwork far easier. There's not much new to say about the speakers and monitor, other than they work. Of course, with the new desk where the old desk used to sit, I had to move the old desk across the room. As it's L-shaped, there aren't a lot of great places to put such a desk. I played around with the idea of putting it next to the new desk and having an oversized work area, but I instead opted to put it across the room, allowing me to have two separate work areas.

Home Studio Jan12 7

Of course, this necessitated the moving of the keyboards to where the bookcase was, which meant the bookcase had to go where the black bookcase was, which meant the black bookcase had to go next to the L-desk. The Lesk, if you will. The Lesk also gives me room to put the laptop and tablet so they're out of my way while working on the desktop.

And that's the new setup. What do you think?

A rock I am.

Friend and fellow ridiculous composer Steven Eiler has embarked on a project to learn and record a different song each week, so when he asked me to join him this week, how could I refuse? I grabbed the closest piece of sheet music to my desk (which so happened to be Simon and Garfunkel's I am a Rock, for reasons I won't explain), a bass, and a banjo, and headed over to Château Eiler for some extended recording. This is what emerged:


I’ve written/posted pictures about my workspace before (most recently, here), but through this semester I’ve been thinking about increasing my desk space. This all started when I was working on the Thesis, and had to move my dining room table into the office to handle the oversized staff paper. My current L-shaped desk is fine, but I’ve been thinking that I’d really like to have a dedicated computer desk. Like a writing desk. A mission-style writing desk. Since I’ll be moving around for a while until I’m settled, something portable. How about something that folds? A folding, mission-style writing desk. That’s cheap.

No one makes that desk. So in the great Vanderburgian tradition, I decided to design it myself. Luckily, while I was back home for Christmas, dad and I were able to build it. Here’s how that adventure went. It all started with a basic plan.

Desk plan 

Basically, the desk is built in panels. The back panel, about four feet in length, is attached to the two side panels, which are about two feet in length. These side panels are hinged to the back, and fold in to save space while traveling. The skinny part of the top is attached to that back panel, and the dark line across the desktop is a piano hinge that allows the top to be folded down.

The basic measurements I decided on for the desk are 30” tall, 4.5’ wide, and 2.5’ deep. So how does the building process begin? With a sheet of mahogany plywood.

I’m going to skip some of the pictures, because cutting boards isn’t all that exciting, but they’re all over on in a flickr set. We decided to build the panels out of 1×6 hard rock maple, which dad had stored in the old car shop (that’s right, the Vanderburg family compound includes a woodworking shop, an upholstery shop, an automotive shop, and a classic car shop, where mine and dad’s mustangs spend their time). For some reason, our collection of maple was in the classic car shop. Here’s one of the side panels, disassembled, with the slats cut.

And here’s a picture of the slats glued to the top and bottom boards. We used dowels for these. Guess who got to drill all the holes for the dowels?

And here’s what it looks like with the sides glued on. We used a biscuit joiner for the joints here. Fun tip: If you don’t hold onto a board properly when using a biscuit joiner, it is within the realm of possibility that the board will fly across the shop. Not that this…actually…happened…more than once.

Multiply this by two, and you have your sides. The back, on the other hand, requires a bit more wood, but overall is the same. We decided on 10 slats in this one instead of 5. Here’s some wood:

And here’s what it looks like all clamped together and waiting to dry.

We tried several different colors of stain (on scrap wood), because someone wanted them to match his dining room chairs, without knowing what stain we used on those chairs. We ended up mixing a color that’s close enough. Here’s a picture of the three panels, stained (the third panel is hiding behind the rightmost slat on the back. They’re standing on end because the laws of physics don’t apply in Poplar Bluff. Or, they’re wired together in a delicate balance. Your pick).

Add a coat or two of varnish to all of that, and of course, to the desktop (with trim added to the edges), and it’s ready to assemble. Here’s the desktop.

I don’t have any pictures of the assembly because it was essentially screwing piano hinges to everything, and usually required all four hands. But here’s how it turned out:


I unfortunately don’t have a picture of it folded (yet), but I’ll include that when I load it into my car.

So overall, I have a desk for almost-free. The only things we had to buy were 2 4-foot piano hinges (one of those was cut in half and used for the two leg-back joints), and 50 screws for the top hinge (because somehow the half-inch screws that were included went all the way through the half-inch wood). Overall, it took around 56 man-hours to complete. I’ve left out a lot of the measurement errors, equipment problems, and a lot of time waiting for the glue to dry. And of course, it helps to have a fully-stocked woodworking shop.

Once I return to Norman, I’ll be reworking my office, and I’ll hopefully have something moderately interesting to write about that process.