Nail the finger fireworks of a particularly hard Rachmaninoff, and you may well feel like blasts of light are shooting out of the piano. But to give the audience the same sense, a DIY instrument made of cardboard and homebrewed responsive lighting translates that keyboard virtuosity to an optical show. Reader Aylwin Lo sends us this project out of Canada:

Rachmaninoff’s Étude-Tableaux Op. 39 No. 6, as performed by YT//ST’s Brendan Swanson from Aylwin Lo on Vimeo.

I’m with YAMANTAKA // SONIC TITAN. We’re an art collective based in Toronto and Montreal that is most known for making music and putting on dramatic live shows. People like Pitchfork, Vice, and MTV Iggy have nice things to say about us.

We made a video of our keyboard player pulling off a notoriously-difficult Rachmaninoff composition on a special piano we constructed
from an electric piano, a cardboard baby-grand shell, and a homebrew, Arduino-based LED-controlled light rig, and we thought you might like it.

You thought right. Now, if you want to play piano like this, you … uh, have some practicing ahead. But in a novel twist on crowd-funding rewards, they’re also using this very artist to help – even as they work on a video game. (Stay with me here.)

We’re partly doing this for an EPK we’re putting together, but also to promote a perk on the Indiegogo campaign we’re running to finance the development of a videogame we’re working on, called YOUR TASK // SHOOT THINGS. That perk is piano lessons with our keyboardist:


Here’s a look at the game.

YOUR TASK // SHOOT THINGS Trailer from Aylwin Lo on Vimeo.

Music and gaming, sound and immersive lighting converge again!

  • SkyRon™

    Rachmaninoff wrote the last chapter (or one of the last) of the virtuoso 19th century, so it’s interesting to see him used as a vehicle for 21st century experimentation.

    Why? Because, Mr. R. was not an experimenter. He was supremely gifted at playing the 88-keyed beest, but he was no experimenter. He was a nostalgist. He would probably have loved to have erased the last 43 years of musical history he saw (1900 – 1943) because he would not have had to deal with Charles Ives, Charles Ruggles, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Bela Bartok, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Alban Berg, Edgard Varese, Olivier Messian, and even a very young version of John Cage (to say nothing of jazz or early electronic instruments, such as the theremin or ondes martinot).

    Rachmaninoff is ego gratification for pianists, although I think some of his more expansive works (Isle of the Dead and the Second Symphony) come closer to more contemporary appreciation.

    I see the reason behind making a keyboard trigger lights—it’s easier for the audience to grasp—but, aesthetically? This is merely an act of ‘illustration’ (i.e., keydown = onLight.true, or something similar). Even Scriabin would have altered the color of the lights when the piece modulated !