28.07.20

Words by: Jas Shaw & Bas Grossfeldt

The 10 Best Piano-Based Electronic Tracks, according to Shaw & Grossfeldt

"Who needs drums when you've got a piano? A driving force on every techno dancefloor, mental!"

Simian Mobile Disco’s Jas Shaw and fine artist-turned-musician Bas Grossfeldt are Shaw & Grossfeldt, a meeting of minds whose collaboration took them in a surprising new direction. ‘Klavier’, their joint album, came about entirely by chance, after discovering a Yamaha Disklavier in the studio they’d booked, a real piano fitted with electronic sensors and triggers. Where their original plan was to set up synths, they decided to base the record around the instrument, applying a software patch to control it while dampening the strings to make some interesting sounds.

Released in June, the LP marries piano minimalism of the likes of Hauschka with Basic Channel-style dub techno into something reverent yet contemporary-sounding. Below, the pair aptly take us through their favourite piano-based tracks in the electronic canon, from Terry Riley to Steve Reich.

1. Arvo Pärt – “Fratres” for violin and piano

“Arvo Pärt’s influence on electronic music is often referenced and rightfully so. So we couldn’t leave this one out of this list, its dramaturgy is mindblowing and Pärt’s minimalistic approach once again shows that most of the times, less is more. Just a violin and a piano, close your eyes, listen.”

2. Carl Craig & Moritz von Oswald – ‘Movement 5’

“Nine times out of ten if you suggested that someone who DJs regularly gets involved in re-working Ravel, we would say “not today, thanks”. But Carl Craig and Moritz Von Oswald get a pass to have a crack at this.”

3. Efdemin – ‘The Meadow’

“Efdemin’s music has been a big influence on both of us both for a long time so including something from him is a given. It’s restrained but too late-night sounding to be loungey, more dreamlike than relaxed. Phillip Sollmann has a got feeling for atmospheres that only he has.”

4. Infiniti – ‘Think Quick’

“Loopy, heavily reverbed piano-esque sounds from the Originator himself. The groove, the drive, the hypnotic collage of all the elements make this one to a powerful tool to space out into different spheres.”

5. La Monte Young – ‘The Well-Tuned Piano’

“We were confident enough that we could have the panels off the Disklavier we worked with, so that we could manipulate the strings to change the sounds. But we never dared to change the tuning on it for fear that we would not get it back to where we found it. The work of a piano tuner is fascinating, the changes to each string are minute, once a string is close enough, the adjustments are not made based on the pitch of it but on the tremolo effect its difference to the other strings causes. La Monte Young plays with the tuning in a mind-blowing artistic way and you should take the time to listen to it as a whole. One day perhaps we will be able to get in and start turning pegs.”

6. Steve Reich – ‘Piano Phase’

“We discussed that this is maybe an outlier because it’s not electronic, but came to agree that it absolutely is electronic music, or at least in the sense of what we are talking about. Heady, loopy music that coincidentally happens to be played by a person. The way this morphs is absolutely mechanical and we mean that in the complimentary sense of the word. Its influence on other electronic music is kind of a given and its cult status rightfully earned.”

7. Terrence Dixon – ‘Test Track 4’

“Is it a piano? Possibly? If not does that make it illegal for this list? We don’t think so. It feels like it could be a treated piano and reminds us that the sounds that something makes is just the beginning of the process.”

8. Terry Riley – ‘In C’

“Classic of classics from Terry Riley. Small snippets of music run across each other, converging and making fleeting sense and then morphing into something else. Constantly changing but without any actual change.”

9. The Tuss – ‘Death Fuck Mental Beats’

“The obvious AFX choice would be something of the piano-heavy ‘Drukqs’ album, but this is just as compelling and is a great excuse to wheel out the fact that ‘tuss’ is an insult that means ‘boner’ in Cornish slang.”

10. Thomas Brinkmann – ‘LHR’

“Who needs drums when you’ve got a piano? A driving force on every techno dancefloor, mental!”

Shaw & Grossfeldt’s ‘Klavier’ is out now via Drone – stream or purchase it here.