Last Saturday they placed fourth in the final of Vidbir 2019 — Ukraine’s controversial national final. We thought we’d missed our chance to publish this story. But now that the show’s winner MARUV is out, it’s all very much up-in-the-air about how Ukraine will replace her and which, if any, Vidbir act will get the honour.
So, nodding to silver linings and all that, we’re publishing this nugget on Brunettes Shoot Blondes and their magical piano. Sadly we won’t be seeing it in Tel Aviv — they’ve announced they won’t accept any offer from UA:PBC.
If you watched Vidbir, then you’ll be mightily familiar with their Eurovision bid “Houston” and the inventive music machine they brought to their performance. It was eye-catching from the very beginning, and helped them rank second with both the jury and the televote during the first semi-final of the show.
“We just call it the piano when talking between ourselves. The reason is simple, we just don’t have any other one at home, hehe,” the men of Brunettes Shoot Blondes told us. “However when talking to people about it, we usually call it a multi-instrument/hybrid piano or something like that.”
Brunettes Shoot Blondes revealed that they spent a lot of time creating and designing it, and plenty of time practicing with it. It took them almost three years from idea to realisation. “It is a beautiful feeling to have everything done!”
They didn’t have an exact design in the beginning, just some abstract ideas that Andrew had come up with earlier. It was difficult to predict how everything would proceed, so the piano’s design came together little by little, being altered every time they found new instruments to incorporate.
“Of course, we had a lot of challenges — we involved a team of about thirty people. Our main engineering team consisted of three people. The main idea or concept, the design and music were developed by Brunettes Shoot Blondes. We involved seven camera operators on set to shoot our performance simultaneously, along with a few GoPros attached to the instrument itself. We want to say ‘thank you’ to everybody involved in the project. Without all the people helping us: engineers, the shooting team and many others, it wouldn’t be possible.”
The history behind the piano
The group told us they were lucky to find the 19th century piano in a small town in Western Ukraine. When they bought it, it had been out of use for a while and the transportation costs of moving it to Kyiv and transporting it within the capital were almost as much as the piano itself!
“The best thing about this vintage piano was the body construction. None of us knew much about the difference between the old and new models so it was simply a matter of luck that we stumbled upon this one. Most modern pianos have cross-shaped string-holders, leaving a comparatively small place for anything else to be put in between. In our case the piano’s body had only two parallel cast-iron barriers with some thin wood and a lot of free space, in case you needed to get rid of the strings.”
The science behind the piano
This eventually brought Brunettes Shoot Blondes to the idea of dividing the piano roll into three sections:
– Central section. The actual piano
– Left section. Violas, Cello, Organ, Xylophone
– Right section. Percussion
The instrument’s organization
“The central section hasn’t changed much except a few strings in the lower part which had to be replaced. Since only the middle register strings were saved, we had no bass tones. The only solution to keep some low sounds was to replace the first piano section octave with some bass strings. For example: C1 turned C0, D1 turned E0, E1 turned G0, etc. It became pretty confusing when performing but with time you get used to it. Also, the sustain pedal moved to the left leaving some extra space for somebody who would sit to the right.
The right section was appointed to house all the percussion instruments. The mechanism here is the same as the one used for the piano section. Whenever pressing certain keys, the hammers strike the other side. Only, instead of hitting strings, the hammers now strike tambourines, cymbals, etc. Our teammate and DOP, Kirill Svetashov, suggested some keys could be paired not with the opposite hammers, but with ones further out. When the two connected to each other, you can press one key but get a sound from a different place.
The shakers are also connected to the keys but they produce the sound two times: on press and on release. The chimes, on the other hand, are a one-time deal. When pressing the far right key, a fixed clothespin releases a thread. A counter-weight on the other side falls down, pulling a small hook through the chimes.
The left section was the tricky one. We spent a lot of time searching for the right engineers to help figure out how the strings and organ could work together. two violins, a cello, organ and harmonica all ended up working from rotating a sewing machine’s mechanism. In case of the strings, it makes little wheels spin very fast when laying down on the neck, thus producing a sound that imitates the bow rubbing.
The organ and melodica are also connected to the spinning mechanism. However, the sound is being produced differently. Here we have a pump and bellows producing the air required for the instruments to sound off. You can’t immediately start playing organ, you need to start building up air in the container up a few seconds in advance.”
They were limited with the selection of notes, since one wheel could work only with one note and one string. The group was left with four cello and four violin notes.
“In the meantime, some extra instruments were added. A kick drum and hi-hat were set on a side of the piano. A person sitting right can normally play it by pressing leg pedals. A xylophone was placed in the left section, producing sound from the striking hammers. A kalimba and metallophone were basically pasted into the piano frame.”
The amount of instruments played is split equally: Roma Sobol plays twelve instruments, Andrew Kovaliov plays twelve instruments too. The instruments however don’t play all together, some of them are only played once in the entire song.
Looking towards Eurovision and beyond
It is obviously a well-known fact that at Eurovision one cannot play any musical instruments live. What would they have done on stage with it?
“The video received very positive feedback, and the piano is fully in a good working order.
So it’s a part of our performance. We are sure that people will love the idea of such crazy object, and they will see how instruments inside are playing by pressing the piano keys. We’re going to press keys and play everything for real, so we believe a viewer will definitely feel it.”
They reveal that the piano was not especially made for “Houston”, neither was “Houston” for the piano. As soon as they completed the instrument, they had to choose one of their songs to perform it with. They went with “Houston”, since it was originally written as a piano composition, as they figured it sounded very natural.
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BSB SHOWS? 24/04 Brno TBA ?? 25-27/04 Poznan/ Enea Spring Break Showcase Festival & Conference ?? 01/05 Leipzig/ Noch Besser Leben ?? 02/05 Berlin/ PRIVATCLUB ?? 03/05 Boberow/Moorscheune ?? 04/05 Rostock/ Zwischenbau ?? 07/05 Hamburg/ Pooca Bar ?? 08/05 Trier/ Exhaus / ?? 09/05 Kaiserslautern/ Salon Schmitt ?? 04/10 Kyiv/ Atlas ?? 17/10 Warsaw/TBA?? 18/10 Lodz/TBA?? 19/10 Wroclaw/TBA ??
At the moment, Brunettes Shoot Blondes are not able to play any other of their songs on the piano, but everything can change soon. And we cannot wait!
Do you love “Houston” by Brunettes Shoot Blondes? Do you think that the piano is the craziest instrument you have ever seen? Let us know in the comments below!