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Aeolian Piano Soars and Sings at RIBA

The legs of a grand piano are not made for dancing. Yet, hanging high in the sky, this piano is undertaking a strange and beautiful choreography amongst a company of cranes. 

Catherine Yass's film, Aeolian Piano, screened at RIBA on Tuesday evening. This is a breathtaking, anxious and wistful work, a swansong for the departed BBC at Television Centre and one of White Noise's East Tower commissions

03.03.2017

The concept of Aeolian Piano is simple and powerful. Suspend a grand from a crane in the heart of Television Centre's circular inner courtyard. Record the wind in its strings while the din of construction is temporarily stilled.

I've been familiar with the idea ever since I picked up the phone to Yass last May and told her that her idea was probably impossible. I've looked at many a production shot of the piano in the air. Yet watching Yass's finished work premiere at RIBA on Tuesday was no less a revelation.

In motion, the piano looks heavy. It looks vulnerable. There's an implausible beauty to its slow movements. Then there's the sound. Produced from recording the wind in the strings, this was then piped back and back again in real time, until it becomes an eerie throb. 

In the accompanying panel discussion, Yass told the RIBA audience: “The circularity of Television Centre seems to relate to going out towards the world and embracing it. Then it's got this central opening space, like an inward-looking sitting room, the way that the BBC brought the news into sitting rooms. I remember that they used to broadcast the globe after every programme. There is this sense that watching it you became part of the world and part of a larger body.”

Yass was in conversation with Robert Seatter, Head of BBC History, and White Noise's Alice Cicolini, as well as her collaborator on this piece, architectural producer Francesca Hughes. 

Hughes spoke of the highly-charged figure of the piano, “It is necessarily romantic, and therefore nostalgic. There are some interesting things that happen to the figure of the piano in the film. What you hear and what you see start to challenge each other. What could the grand piano become in this new world?”

There's an odd intimacy to this piece. Even as the piano swings high above the construction site, you can still imagine yourself running your hands over the keys.

Production stills below are by Hilary Knox, and at top by Nick Ballon. See more photos of the piano in flight.

Catherine Yass Aeolian Piano RIBA BBC Television Centre

Catherine Yass Aeolian Piano RIBA BBC Television Centre

Catherine Yass Aeolian Piano RIBA BBC Television Centre

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