Nils Frahm—known for blending traditional and electronic instruments to reach ethereal dimensions—will tell you that no two pianos, even of the same model, sound the same. “Even the best manufacturers struggle to make instruments of the same quality,” he says. “It is a very, very complex physical system and you need a little bit of luck to make an instrument that goes beyond, in terms of quality.” The nine-foot CFX grand piano is considered Yamaha’s flagship model and typically reserved for concert halls considering the price of over $150,000. Frahm selected his personal piano after sitting down with many different CFXs, and then re-intonated it to his personal preference. Not all of us can afford access to a real upright piano, but you can now play Frahm’s own piano, stationed in one of the most unique studios in the world (Saal 3, or Hall 3, of Berlin’s historic Funkhaus recording complex), from the comfort of your laptop.
NOIRE, a new software instrument, is Native Instruments’ attempt to sample the German musician’s piano as best as possible. And it’s not easy to translate the piano’s acoustic characteristics into a realistic virtual instrument. The piano itself was recorded over 21 days and nights using vintage equipment, led by Uli Baronowsky of Galaxy Instruments, and developing the software took another year.
Apart from the purely recorded piano, NOIRE also includes a felt-prepared version with gentler hits, as well as standard customizable parameters to transform the original piano sound into something else entirely. The result is an instrument that feels alive, but more importantly, provokes a desire to sit down with it for hours and create something magical.
Frahm has previously collaborated with Native Instruments for another KONTAKT instrument, Una Corda, which recorded a rare, custom-designed piano that strikes a single string per key. Its hauntingly beautiful yet mellow sound (almost harp-like, and dubbed “a piano that doesn’t sound like a piano”) and endless effects customization options have made it a favored tool for film scores. The company has a lot of other software keyboard instruments to play around with, including “Alicia’s Keys” (her own studio piano), vintage organs, and the world’s biggest upright piano.
NOIRE is available from Native Instruments for $149. You’ll need to download their KONTAKT software to use it.
Images courtesy of Native Instruments