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Soniccouture Bowed Piano

EXS24 & Kontakt 2/3 By Dave Stewart
Published April 2009

Following their excellent esoteric tuned‑percussion releases Hang Drum and Balinese Gamelan, Soniccouture stay off the beaten track with Bowed Piano. How on earth do you 'bow' a piano? Allow me to explain: as piano strings are laid out on a flat plane it's impossible to bow them as you would a violin, but you can get a bowed effect by threading a nylon fishing line coated in rosin below the string and pulling it back and forth against its underside. This style of bowed piano was first adopted by composers in 1972. A later development was the 'rigid bow' consisting of horse‑hair glued onto a wooden tongue depressor, which is used for short staccato attacks.

Soniccouture Bowed Piano


Inspired by recordings of bowed piano, Soniccouture got messy with Krazy Glue, tweezers, horsehair, nylon filaments and tubs of rosin, and used their home‑made bows to chafe and caress the strings of a nine‑foot Baldwin SD10 grand piano. The recordings took place in Ottawa, Canada, a town Bob Dylan described as "the worst goddamned hole in the universe”. But I'll try not to let that influence my review...

The stereo samples require 1.7GB of disk space and are formatted for EXS24, and Kontakt 2 and 3. There are three articulations: normal sustains, strong sustains and short staccatos. The looped sustains' tone is rich and somewhat ethereal, like a cross between a church organ 'mixture' stop, a waterphone and a small string section playing without vibrato. At the top end, they sound like a disembodied mini‑orchestra from outer space; at the bottom, not unlike the twangly bass-drone of an Indian tambura. The pulling/bowing action imparts a lot of harmonic movement to notes, adding a slightly voice‑like character, and because the piano was bowed with the sustain pedal down, the sympathetic resonance of other undamped strings creates a beautiful, floaty reverb‑like wash: a unique and colourful pad sound.

With a fiercer attack and louder harmonics, the stronger sustains bear a passing resemblance to a hurdy gurdy but sound way more pleasant and melodious. The short staccato notes reminded me of a bass harmonica, and of early stringed instruments such as the viol. I guarantee that if you use this sound in an arrangement no‑one will know what it is! The 'Bowed Piano Synth' patch adds superb effects, making the samples sound immense. A fantastic 'glissando' control transforms long bowed notes into sirens, seagull cries and wailing choirs — just the thing for your latest psychedelic epic.

I can recommend this exotic library to all sonic adventurers, but I couldn't help feeling that the inclusion of a few more under‑the‑lid piano articulations (plucked strings, soft mallet hits and harmonics, for example) would have widened its appeal. That said, it does a great job of exploring its fascinating chosen theme. Dave Stewart

DVD £61.10, download £57.57. Prices include VAT.

Soniccouture +44 (0)208 392 8837.

DVD £52, download £49.

Soniccouture +44 (0)208 392 8837.