Creative British musician invents acoustic keyboard that can be tuned in microtones, on the fly
All hail conquering hero Geoff Smith, who has overthrown the tyranny of the fixed scale at the keyboard.
So many times when I hear a concert that blends Western and Eastern traditions, I think about how the Eastern instruments inevitably have to be played or tuned to adjust for Western ears. We should be in the post post-colonial era, but the West still wields its power in unexpected ways. But no one ever expected that true globe-spanning new music would ever come easily.
Digital audio generation allows composers and performers to adjust sound in micro-tones, but most serious artists prefer playing on acoustic instruments.
Enter British hammer dulcimer master and composer Geoff Smith, who has devoted this first decade of the 21st century to a true hybrid acoustic instrument that can accommodate any musical tradition that you can tap out on its keyboard.
Smith calls his invention a "fluid piano." I think he must've called it that because everybody knows what a piano is. His gizmo really is a fluid clavichord. It is shaped like one, has a wooden (instead of a piano's heavy cast iron) frame and the strings are struck by a little wooden dowel, not a felt-covered hammer.
There's also a section of the strings at the other end, between the bridge and the hitch pins, that can be plucked like a harp.
The cool part is in the tuning. There are traditional tuning pins for each note's two or three strings. Those are adjusted in Western style (more often than a modern piano's because wooden-framed instruments are much less stable than metal ones). Between the pins and the hammer are sliders, which allow each note to be adjusted fluidly across a full tone, allowing the performer to literally mimic any scale from any musical tradition. There's another set of sliders to allow similarly fluid tuning for the harp string segment.
It is simple, straightforward, brilliant.
There's a detailed article in yesterday's Guardian, along with a companion video: