Pianist Bruce Brubaker has gone above and beyond with his latest album, reinventing the piano to produce a reinterpretation of Brian Eno's Music for Airports. "With this album, we made Brian's music, but it isn't - but it is."
To explain: most of us have used the odd plugin effect to change the sound of a piano or other acoustic instrument. But we haven't gone to the trouble of totally rebuilding the piano sound from the ground up to get where we want to be. However, that's what Bruce Brubaker has done with his latest album, Eno Piano.
Brubaker is one of the most highly regarded US pianists, with 150 million Spotify streams. With Eno Piano he started out trying to reinterpret some of Brian Eno's early ambient music, asking, "can Brian Eno's Music for Airports be played on a piano?"
Music For Airports was arguably – and we say that because Wendy Carlos and others might have different ideas – the first ambient album. It was a concept that Eno came up with while waiting at airports, to create music that evoked an atmosphere of a place: ambience, if you like.
Recreating it on a piano was not going to be easy, so Brubaker decided to use a more unconventional approach, completely reinventing the sound of a piano and creating a new instrument along the way.
"I played a Steinway piano in the recording sessions," he explains. "But, through using electromagnetic bows and additional ways of making the piano vibrate, I wanted to make a new instrument, an 'Eno piano.'"
The album, then, is Bruce's piano playing, but with a piano fitted out with these electromagnetic 'bows' that vibrate the strings inside to create drones. The bows are suspended over the piano strings and 'can make a piano string produce its fundamental pitch, or overtones, or more complex and colorful vibrations'.
"It might be like when you go to a fancy bakery, and see a detailed version of the Empire State Building - but, it's made out of cake," says Bruce of the resulting work. "We made Brian's music, but it isn't - but it is. The music is very detailed, it seems like the original, yet it's entirely made out of piano sounds, out of cake!"
During the recording of Eno Piano, Brubaker also channeled the ambient pioneer's studio methods, often turning to Eno's Oblique Strategies when faced with a dilemma. This is essentially a set of cards with outcomes and gnomic axioms written on them and you simply choose one at random to help you make a decision.
Understandably, the album has taken a while to complete - some seven years, but with some of that extended time being down to COVID - so we suspect Brubaker's next work will be less ambitious, maybe making an actual Empire State Building out of cake.
Eno PIano is out now on InFiné.