John Cage: Prepared Piano, and Percussion

This was originally going to be a post about the prepared piano app from the John Cage website but in the process of making sure that I had the info that I needed, I ended up finding a few other interesting things available for iOS that involved John Cage and I wanted to share those as well. These come from the celebrations of what would have been his 100th birthday in 2012.

Just in case you don’t know what prepared piano is, here’s the link for Wikipedia that gives all of the details. But essentially, prepared piano is a way to make a piano sound like a kind of percussion/gamelan combo by adding extra things like screws and leather into the piano. It ends up making some tremendously cool sounds but it takes a while to set up.

But the result is worth it. John Cage’s Mysterious Adventure for prepared piano is performed by Boris Berman in this next video. I highly recommend his prepared piano recordings.





Happily, there is an app available that uses samples from Big Fish Audio prepared piano sounds.

John Cage Piano is the name of the app and it comes from the John Cage Trust. A non-profit that celebrates and studies all things Cage. I love that they had the idea to make this app. What a great way for people to hear and experience the concept.

John Cage App Splash Screen

John Cage App Splash Screen

The app is a straightforward sample pad. Supposedly, the free version only shows nine notes but I don’t find that to be true. Both versions show 30 notes. The iPad version that you pay 99¢ for does the exact same thing that the iPhone version does. Bigger boxes on the iPad though. In true John Cage fashion, both versions have a shuffle button that you can use to get that random thing going.

Prepared piano on iPad with note names showing.

Prepared piano on iPad with note names showing.

Prepared Piano iPhone - No note names

Prepared Piano iPhone – No note names

Included is an essay on prepared piano and you have the ability to make recordings. Please do NOT hit the share button though, well, unless you’re ok with the test that you just made going out to a website. A bit of a bummer that you can’t send your piece to SoundCloud or another app on your device. Alas, you can’t even e-mail it to yourself. The only way to get your recording is to go into iTunes and import it into your computer using app filesharing. You could also record directly into your DAW from your device, if you had the right cords. It is a fun app to play with and I really love the sound of prepared piano. John Cage Prepared Piano is available for iPhone for free. Or you can get the iPad only version. Android users are in luck here as well.

Since this post has turned into a John Cage fest, I’ll let you know that if I win the lotto, I’ll be buying this amazing sample set of prepared piano sounds from IRCAM.

If you like this sound as much as I do, you’ll be glad to know that you can find even more info about John Cage and prepared piano in a free iBook from the New York Public Library. It’s a short iBook that has quite a few videos, including one with a gamelan transcription of a prepared piano piece. (Told ya it sounded like a gamelan to me!)



The book is nice because you can take it with you but the website has most of the same videos and excerpts but a lot more of them.

The next app is also free and celebrates John Cage. It comes from Third Coast Percussion. It is an exploration of the fourth movement of Quartet for Percussion by Cage. I love the idea here. You can look at the score or hear the piece.

Third Coast Percussion-Cage Quartet

Third Coast Percussion-Cage Quartet

The fun part is that you get to choose the instruments that will play and can even sample your own.

TCP Cage - Choose a sound or make your own.

TCP Cage – Choose a sound or make your own.

I like that there is an animation to the instruments. Easier for kids to see which one is playing while they listen. I do wish there was a way to both hear the music and see the score on the device but since it’s made for iPhone, that would probably be more frustrating than it would be worth. The app does include a link for you to buy the score and the recording.

“Whether I make them or not, there are always sounds to be heard and all of them are excellent.”

~ John Cage

Not the piece from the app but here’s some more Cage from Third Coast Percussion to listen to. Hope this interests you enough to continue to explore the man and the music…and the sound further.

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