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Utsav Lal | The Fluid Piano

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The Fluid Piano

by Utsav Lal

The first ever release of music composed and performed on the internationally acclaimed revolutionary invention - the Fluid Piano. Featuring one of the most gifted and innovative contemporary Indian musicians: this is a historic recording.
Genre: World: Indian Classical
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
clip
1. Raga Todi
28:09 album only
clip
2. Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram
9:48 album only
clip
3. Raga Bageshri
31:46 album only
clip
4. Panihari (Water Lady)
6:14 album only
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.

ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
The following information about The Fluid Piano album by Utsav Lal is laid out in the seven sections listed below.
It is also available as a free high quality twenty page pdf booklet for download and includes six photographs.


(1) A brief introduction to the Fluid Piano and the Utsav Lal project by Geoffrey Smith
(2) About the Fluid Piano
(3) Technical features of the Fluid Piano
(4) A brief history of the invention of the Fluid Piano by Geoffrey Smith
(5) The story of the Fluid Piano and the Utsav Lal project by Geoffrey Smith
(6) Preparation, composition and the rehearsal process by Utsav Lal
(7) The compositions by Utsav Lal

The Fluid Piano and the Utsav Lal project

(1) An introduction

This is the world premiere release of music recorded on the Fluid Piano. I am very happy that Utsav Lal is the first musician to record an album on my invention. When the Fluid Piano was purely an idea, I imagined that one day a project like this might eventually happen, if and when the invention became a physical reality. This is a historic recording. It is also the first in a series of albums featuring a range of artists that will be released on Fluid Piano Recordings.

Geoffrey Smith
Director of the Fluid Piano® and the Utsav Lal project
Inventor of the Fluid Piano® and the Fluid Tuning® mechanism

(2) About the Fluid Piano

The Fluid Piano invented by Geoffrey Smith, is internationally acknowledged as a revolutionary musical instrument.

If you can imagine an acoustic piano with no tuning restrictions, a truly international instrument that is not limited to one particular cultural tuning and offers an immense diversity of scales and modes from all around the world, as well as individual ‘bespoke’ tunings: a piano that even gives you the freedom to alter the tuning whilst playing - or simply to remain in standard ‘western’ tuning (twelve note equal temperament) should you wish - then you are half way to imagining the Fluid Piano.

The Fluid Piano incorporates patented microtonal Fluid Tuning mechanisms that enable musicians to alter each note individually and separately by precise microtonal intervals per note before or during performance.

Therefore, after hundreds of years the piano has been liberated from the restrictions of being limited to ‘western’ tuning, to make the Fluid Piano the first multicultural piano.

All around the world, everywhere, musicians and composers have longed to perform and compose music on the piano using the tunings of their own cultures. Until now that has been an impractical dream.
Now the Fluid Piano is here.

The Fluid Piano is a significant development for all styles of music because of the freedom of expression that it offers to musicians of all cultures. The invention is invaluable for songwriting and for being able to interact with and respond to vocalists in much more detail than was possible with a standard piano. It is also ideal for improvisation, contemporary classical composition, experimental tuning and for exploring the full range of historical tuning temperaments.

Furthermore, the Fluid Piano is a crucial educational resource for enabling and supporting the
conservation and continued use of endangered and marginalized cultural tunings in composition and performance around the world.

The creative freedom and massive expansion in artistic choices, expression and dynamic capabilities that the Fluid Piano offers musicians from all cultures is exciting, empowering and liberating.

(3) Technical features of the Fluid Piano

• Fluid Tuning is made possible by the fact that the Fluid Piano has lower string tension than a standard piano. The lower string tension not only makes possible the application of Fluid Tuning but also enables the wider range of dynamics & creative effects that are specified below.

• Microtonal Fluid Tuning is available on each note of the Fluid Piano.

• Fluid Tuning mechanisms operate separately and independently on each note and incorporate a 'user friendly’ handle, which is used to slide each mechanism to change the tuning.

• The initial central ‘default’ position of each Fluid Tuning mechanism, in order to provide equal
temperament (i.e. ‘western tuning’ as on the standard piano), will provide up to a semitone interval change in either direction (e.g. ‘C’ can be tuned down to ‘B’ or up to ‘C sharp’) or any microtonal interval of less than a semitone in either direction (flat or sharp). Therefore, the maximum possible interval change per mechanism is a whole tone.

• The range of the Fluid Piano is 5 octaves plus a major 3rd: from F1 to A6 (middle C is C4).

• When the Fluid Tuning mechanisms are used, they also create a ‘Fluid timbre’ for each note. This
further enhances the dynamic parameters of each note and the character of each 'bespoke' tuning.

• The sliding action of each Fluid Tuning mechanism can also be used as an effect.

• The strings of each note can also be bent by the musician’s finger to create an additional distinctive effect.

• The Fluid Piano action repeats with significantly more speed than the standard action of pianos with fixed tuning.

• The hammer-heads of the Fluid Piano can be individually changed to produce a different sound.

• The downward bearing pressure of each Fluid Tuning mechanism can be adjusted to regulate the action of each mechanism and also to create an additional distinctive effect if desired.

• The Fluid Piano incorporates three pedals: two are sustain pedals, which can be used separately, or
simultaneously using one foot. The sustain pedals separate at middle C. The third pedal is a ‘moderator' which provides a softer sound.

• The Fluid Piano prototype also includes a separate additional instrument within it. This is a horizontal Fluid Harp which comprises three diatonic octaves of twenty one notes. Each note of the Fluid Harp incorporates a Fluid Tuning mechanism. The strings of the Fluid Harp are separate and in addition to the strings of the Fluid Piano. This additional instrument was only included in the prototype of the invention.

(4) A brief history of the invention of the Fluid Piano by Geoffrey Smith

When I invented the Fluid Piano, it was an idea, it did not physically exist. It took nearly ten years for the instrument to become a reality. The support from Arts Council England proved to be crucial. The idea of the Fluid Piano was conceived through my work as a composer and performer using multiple prototype hammered dulcimers. These are microtonal, diatonic and chromatic instruments and each have their own different tunings and tuning layouts. It was working with these particular tuning layouts and the demanding yet intensely rewarding mental and psychological adjustment that was required that in part contributed to my conception of the idea for the Fluid Piano. My microtonal dulcimer (The Fluid Dulcimer) incorporated my patented Fluid Tuning mechanisms which I used to create bespoke microtonal tunings as required for different projects.

It was during a period of research in preparation for a Phd, related to my use of the multiple prototype hammered dulcimers, that the precise moment occurred when I had the idea for the Fluid Piano. I then decided to pursue the physical realisation of the invention rather than the Phd. I had already been aware that in relation to the history of musical instruments, the hammered dulcimer was the precursor to the invention of the acoustic piano. I was also aware that a significant amount of evidence suggests that the various European versions of the hammered dulcimer may originate from Iran. Therefore, I considered that the roots of the western piano might in fact not be European. Whether this is true or not, the action of imagining that this might be true was a creative act that gradually led to the conception of the Fluid Piano. I read about how some Persian musicians in Iran (for example Morteza Mahjubi, 1900-1965) would manually retune the western piano so that they could use the dastgahs of Persian tuning and it is no coincidence that the Persian Santur (the Iranian hammered dulcimer) has a particular status in Persian classical and traditional music. It was in this moment that I wondered and imagined if it would be possible to construct an acoustic piano which also incorporated the Fluid Tuning mechanisms that were incorporated in my Fluid Dulcimer. If this was possible, then musicians would no longer be restricted to only working with western tuning (equal temperament) on the acoustic piano.

As a consequence of the idea for the Fluid Piano, I decided to dedicate myself to numerous projects that demanded that I change as a composer, performer and vocalist, so that I could explore and assess the possibilities of working with the Fluid Tuning mechanisms on the Fluid Dulcimer as a precursor to their application in a Fluid Piano. As part of this process I also used my diatonic and chromatic dulcimer prototypes with fixed tunings. I focused on music for film and choreography.

In 2001 I worked in Japan. This involved composing and performing solo, a live score for a ballet
company. Each performance was over two hours long and involved live re-tunings of the Fluid Dulcimer between compositions, each of which required bespoke tunings. These live re-tunings became improvisations i.e. new additional compositions with which the principal dancer could interact. The ballet project was very fulfilling and successful. This extremely demanding and challenging project proved to me, beyond a doubt, that the use of Fluid Tuning in composition and performance was both extremely productive and artistically invaluable. It was a creative revelation.

Between 2003–2008 I undertook various extensive UK national tours of live scores to a selection of silent films. These projects enabled me to explore and assess further the possibilities of working with the Fluid Tuning mechanisms on the Fluid Dulcimer. Arts Council England supported two of these national touring projects. This support was crucial in laying the foundations for the organisation's eventual support of the construction of the complete Fluid Piano and concomitant composition and performance and eventually this recording project. My invention of the Fluid Piano consisted of three prototype stages: (1) The Fluid Dulcimer incorporating the first version of the Fluid Tuning mechanisms (2) The one note Fluid Piano prototype incorporating an updated single Fluid Tuning mechanism (3) The complete Fluid Piano prototype incorporating a third and more developed version of the Fluid Tuning mechanisms.

(5) The story of the Fluid Piano and the Utsav Lal project by Geoffrey Smith

I first met Utsav Lal in 2010 when he was seventeen. Utsav's mother and manager Sangita Lal contacted me because Utsav had heard about the Fluid Piano and was very enthusiastic about my invention. Utsav had clearly realised that the Fluid Piano would support his expression as an Indian musician working within the Hindustani classical tradition. We arranged for Utsav and Sangita to visit me in Brighton where the Fluid Piano was based at that time. Utsav and Sangita could only visit for one afternoon, so there would only be a few hours to get to know the instrument. At the end of the afternoon we recorded and filmed Utsav giving a beautiful performance of Raga Bhairav Alap-Jod-Jhala. It was clear that Utsav had made an extremely strong connection with the invention. He had achieved a great deal in only three hours. We all shared a feeling that a creative process had started. A powerful beginning. Sadly this beginning had to be interrupted because Utsav and Sangita needed to fly back to India. However, in that moment, we were all determined that in the future this creative process would be continued so that Utsav could explore the Fluid Piano in intimate detail and record the first album of music played on the invention.

Five years later this was to become a reality. When Utsav arrived back in Brighton from Delhi in the summer of 2015 to begin his composition and rehearsals with the Fluid Piano, in preparation for the recording, there was a poignant feeling that the creative process that began in 2010 was now finally continuing. The day after Utsav arrived, we travelled to the workshop to collect the Fluid Piano, where it had undergone an important refinement. A new set of hammers with a thin covering of 'box-cloth' on each hammer-head had been specially fitted to the instrument for the project. The new hammer-heads transformed the sound of the instrument. Prior to this project the Fluid Piano was fitted with an experimental set of bare wood hammer-heads. Therefore, all the previous archive and test recordings of the Fluid Piano had been made using the bare wood hammer-heads which produce a more attacking and percussive sound. In contrast, the new hammer-heads produce a more pianistic and tonal sound. After collecting the Fluid Piano we transported it to a church in Brighton so that Utsav could compose and rehearse for a week in a peaceful environment. We then moved the instrument to Curtis Schwartz Studio so that the recording could finally begin.

(6) Preparation, composition and the rehearsal process by Utsav Lal

My first focus in the preparatory stages of this recording was to delve into the world of shrutis and the microtonality aspect of Indian music. Having always been accustomed to playing the conventional acoustic piano, this was new territory for me and something which I had not had the opportunity to explore in great detail.

I spent a lot of time talking to my teachers, other musicians, researching the subject through books and online resources. Initially I was very confused. The general consensus was that Indian music employs the 22 shruti system which proposes that there are 22 microtonal subdivisions in an octave. The Sa (1st) and Pa (5th) remain constant and every other note has two reflections. However the precise ratios of these microtones to the tonic were ambiguous and many sources were contradicting each other quite drastically. Some sources spoke of greater numbers of microtones in an octave. The next obstacle was when I listened to and analysed recordings and compared these with the different shruti systems. I used tuning applications and also the Yin algorithm to do this. In most performances, there was a great variation of frequencies for each note of the ragas because we are all human and it is physically impossible to be consistent to the minutest degree with such slight microtonal inflections.

The solution was to try and find an average of the frequencies used which gave a comparatively clearer notion of the intention. Another stumbling block was that many recordings featured harmoniums tuned in equal temperament. There were some interesting experiments by CompMusic - an organisation which processed recordings of Indian music where the main instrument was conspicuously louder than
everything else in specially designed software programs to determine the ratios employed in relation to equal temperament, just intonation and pythagorean, and the result was that most recordings which use harmoniums are very close to equal temperament.

I spent much time analysing recordings in ways such as this and ultimately came to the conclusion that each Gharana or family in Indian music appeared to have its own interpretation of the shruti system. More importantly, even within the same raga, different microtones were employed depending on the context of the phrase: the notes preceding or following it, the ornamentation used and the mood of the performer. Books such as 22 Shruti and Melodium by Vidhyadhar Oke were incredibly well researched and laid out some very convincing arguments in favour of the exact ratios which were logically, scientifically and aurally accurate for the 22 shruti system and were a treasure resource to find. However, there appeared to me to be a rift between the academic research and the actual performance of the music.

In the end, I decided to use the shruti ratios proposed by Dr Ike's book which were consistent with many of the average ratios which I had found through analysing recordings at my starting point. I then made adjustments which were different on each day of rehearsal and recording and indeed some even changed mid performance based on my ear and musical intuition. In each raga, there was a certain sweet spot where the note played felt just right and allowed the entire flavour of the raga to seep into my consciousness.

In addition to the microtonality research, there was much physical preparation to be done. It was difficult since the instrument was based in Brighton and in the months leading up to the recording, I was in Delhi. I spent months in mental visualisation on how the Fluid Tuning mechanisms would work, trying to recreate the Fluid Tuning mechanisms using pitch bends on a keyboard, but mostly waving my fingers over the keyboard and using my imagination. The Fluid Tuning mechanisms of the Fluid Piano facilitate a semitone up and a semitone down per note. However, bends greater than this range were needed, therefore whilst practising on my standard piano or keyboard at home, I had to play 'wrong' notes so that I could achieve a full tone in the bends. When I finally reached the same continent as the instrument and sat down, it was a very surreal experience. It was definitely different from what I had expected, even though I had played it for a few hours about five years before. Some ideas I had would not work too well, however for the majority, the moment I started playing it, it was a very fulfilling and inspiring
experience.

In the week of live rehearsals on the Fluid Piano, I discovered new facets about the instrument every single day. The more I played and explored this instrument, the more I fell in love with it. Apart from the obvious and incredibly liberating feeling of finally accessing the microtones and slides of Indian classical music with ease, there were many other aspects of the instrument that really endeared me to it, such as the tonal quality which was unique and refreshing and the action on the instrument which was slightly lighter than a regular piano and yet very precise and satisfying to play.

I really enjoyed the Fluid Harp hybrid installed on top of the instrument in particular. It sounds almost identical to a Swarmandal which many Indian vocalists use in performances. Most of all, the instrument truly felt alive and very special. It did not feel like a modified piano or something hastily built and designed. Many years of sweat and careful thought went into building it and it really felt like it was in a world of its own with so many facets to its identity. There is a universe of music waiting to be discovered on this instrument.

My entire approach and research work for recording this album on the Fluid Piano was influenced by advice given to me for this project from my teachers, Dhrupad maestro Ustad F Wasifuddin Dagar, violinist Sharat Srivastava and also by musicians such as UK based sitarist Dharambir Singh. Their advice was consistent and unanimous and the full essence can be summarised as below:

Trust your ear and intuition over all. Indian classical music is not a stagnant form of music. Every
performance is different based on an incredible variety of factors including temperature and
resonance of the room, emotional place of the artist, audience, natural settings and so many other
inexplicable factors. In this form of music, every little variation has an impact on the performance.

It's important for me to convey that the research done for this album is not a finished conclusion in this field that I am presenting. It marks the start of a very very exciting new journey and process for me, which would be very difficult without this brilliant and pioneering instrument. My goal for this album was ultimately to simply make good honest music as a sum of all my musical experiences so far.

(7) The compositions by Utsav Lal

Raga Todi

Tone Material: S r g M P d N S’

Todi is a beautiful morning raga with a very powerful and meditative presence. Todi is a huge empire within Indian classical music with dozens of different ragas bearing the name such as Gujari Todi, Bhupal Todi, Desi Todi or Bilaskhani Todi amongst many more. For this recording, I have chosen to focus on Miyan Ki Todi which is also known as Shuddh Todi.

I chose this raga for this recording for several reasons. Miyan Ki Todi has very distinct microtones or shrutis in its structure which is something which I longed to access while exploring this raga on an acoustic piano. In particular, Komal Ga (Flat Three), Komal Re (Flat Two) and Komal Dha (Flat Six) are lower than usual which really adds to the beautiful haunting atmosphere created by this raga. I also love the way musicians gently approach Pa (fifth) from above, introducing that note as a purifying sound in the otherwise dark harmony created by the raga. These were elements that I was very keen to explore on the Fluid Piano. Yet another reason is that the raga contains many notes grouped together in semitones i.e. Ni Sa Re (Natural 7, One, Flat 2) and Ma Pa Dha (Sharp 4, 5, Flat 6) which offer a chance to make the most of the Fluid Tuning mechanisms for meend as the mechanisms facilitate a semitone up or down.

The performance of Todi in this recording is heavily influenced by Dhrupad presentation of Todi,
particularly the Dagar family. It is improvised within the structural limits of the raga and features no compositions.

It starts with a section called Alap which is the slow unfolding of the notes of the raga. Phrase by phrase, different aspects of the raga are introduced and explored, slowly building up the atmosphere of the raga. After exploring the lower register and proceeding to the higher Sa (Tonic), the Jor or Madhyalaya section is established. This is similar to the Alap, but this time a rhythmic pulse is introduced. The musician is not restricted by any rhythmic meter in this section and further explores the raga around the pulse. This section slowly builds into the Jhala or Drut. The tempo of the pulse increases, the melodic and rhythmic material becomes denser and crescendoes to a climax.

Apart from the time spent with my guru Wasifuddin Dagar carefully exploring the raga, I spent a long time analysing and immersing myself in different Dagar recordings of Todi. The style of Jod and Jhala here is inspired by both vocal and rudra-veena patterns.

Raghapati Raghav Raja Ram

This is one of the few pieces of music almost every Indian around the world would recognise. I certainly hear it being sung almost everywhere and it’s one of the most popular Bhajans (Hindu Devotional tune). Apart from performances at temples, festivals, celebrations etc, Bhajans such as this are often performed by classical musicians to conclude a recital. On this album, I chose to perform the tune in a very different way to usual. Every other time I had performed this tune it had been to the accompaniment of a tabla player whose bhajani theka keeps the music brisk and excited. However, while rehearsing at the church for this album, I started to play the tune very slowly and it gave it a different dimension. The melodic contour hinted at harmony underneath which made sense to me at this slow tempo and I enjoyed using the Fluid Tuning mechanisms at this pace to embellish and ornament the melody. It was very liberating to perform the tune abandoning the usual rules for presenting Bhajans. The improvisational sections in this piece were inspired more by rhythmic instruments such as tabla or pakhawaj, highlighting the percussive nature of pianos. The Fluid Piano lends itself especially well to this because it enables three different notes to be tuned to the same note, leading to much more variety in the use of repeated notes.

Raga Bageshri

Tone Material: S R g m P D n S’

After Todi, I wanted to pick a raga that felt very different and explored a different side of Hindustani music. Bageshri seemed like a natural choice. It is played late at night and features tonal material quite different to Todi. While Bageshri is also a huge and deep Dhrupad raga, its personality has a more romantic and playful nature. It is also one of the first ragas I heard as I was starting to get into Indian classical music, in particular Shahid Parvez’s recording of this raga with Kumar Bose. Again, there were many facets of this raga that I wanted to explore on the Fluid Piano. The beautiful phrase Ga Ma Dha, Pa Dha Ni Dha, Ma Ma Pa Dha Ma-Ga is very characteristic of the distinctive approach to Pa in this raga. The delicate meend in this phrase is hard to convey on an acoustic piano as well as the andolan on Ga and I really enjoyed the possibilities for these aspects that the Fluid Piano offered.

I chose to present another Alap Jor Jhala in Bageshri. My focus was to explore the Alap sections patiently, slowly building and reaffirming the flavour of the raga. After this I decided to launch straight into a much faster Jor than usual and progress quickly to Jhala as this piece was following the extensive Jor-Jhala already explored in Todi. The Jhala featured in this piece has strong influences of Sitar, Sarod and Santoor Jhala patterns as well Dhrupad vocal patterns. It is more playful and lighthearted, a release from the slow Bageshri Alap exploration.

Panihari (Water Lady)

Interestingly, I first heard this tune performed by an Irishman who played the sitar. I really liked the composition and asked him what it was. He had transcribed it from a beautiful Ali Akbar Khan record called 'Garden of Dreams'. Panihari is originally a folk tune from Rajasthan named in tribute to the women who fetch water. For this album, this was the last piece we recorded and I finished it in one take. Similar to Raghupati, I wanted to just use the melody for inspiration and improvise the structure and harmony of the piece. There was a fantastic accident we had found when practicing on the Fluid Piano.
To achieve a warmer sound than that produced by the bare wood hammers, Geoff had arranged for a thin covering made of 'box-cloth', which is similar to felt, to be fitted on each head of a new set of hammers. After they were installed, I noticed that the damper pedal, when used in conjunction with the two sustain pedals, now played a different role. Instead of dampening the sound, it now introduced this beautiful whispery tone on the instrument which was reminiscent of a glockenspiel. I really loved it and used it extensively in particular sections of this piece.

Having spent a week with Geoff hearing the incredible story of how this instrument came into creation, I was very curious to hear him play his chosen medium of musical expression - the dulcimer. Having done a very extensive thesis on it, Geoff is one of the world's top experts on the evolution and development of this universal instrument. There were many interesting conversations on how the dulcimer is quite possibly the parent instrument for the piano. Geoff's music on the dulcimer was beautiful and it seemed very naturally appropriate to have him as the inventor and creator of the Fluid Piano join in making music and play along with me for one track. Owing to time constraints we decided to do this not on the day of the recording, but for Geoff to try some dulcimer overdubs on this track at a later date and we could subsequently make a decision on whether to include them or not. When I heard what he came up with, there was no question, it had to go on the album. I love the relationship and communication between these two instruments on this track. Geoff composed and played with a great deal of sensitivity and thought. It's a great and very difficult art when you add something to the pre-existing piece which not only showcases your own skill and sound but also enhances the other instruments playing. Geoff succeeded in doing this beautifully.

Shruti Ratios

These are the ratios to Sa I used as proposed by Dr Vidyadhar Oke. These were used as a starting point for tuning the Fluid Piano to each raga with small adjustments made before and during the performance based on ear and raga intuition.

Todi

Sa: 1
Re: 1.0535
Ga: 1.1851
Ma: 1.4062
Pa: 1.5000
Dha: 1.5802
Ni: 1.8750

Bageshri

Sa: 1
Re: 1.1111
Ga: 1.1851
Ma: 1.3333
Pa: 1.5000
Dha: 1.6666
Ni: 1.7777



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