Become One: An experience in prepared piano, live electronics, and creativity within a minimalistic framework

Mariana Miguel1,3,4 , Ana Telles2

1LAMCI—CESEM / FCSH – NOVA University, Portugal
2CESEM – Évora University, Portugal
3Évora University, Portugal
4Companhia de Música Teatral, Portugal


This paper presents an overview on the creative process and research involved in the making of a musical work for the purpose of a Masters in Performance (Piano) at Universidade de Évora, attended by the first author and tutored by the second author.

The creation of the piece “Become One” and its public performance were at the heart of an investigation based on experimental creative practice at the piano. Inspired by the instrumentation and compositional processes of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, the purpose of this investigation was to 1) research and record inside-piano sounds and techniques which resembled Reich’s work (namely string instruments and percussion mallet instruments); 2) identify and apply the compositional processes used by Reich and Perotin (whose techniques inspired Reich); 3) use the Ableton Live software and electronic devices to create, manipulate and perform; and 4) create a new musical work using the mentioned processes which could inspire others to explore contemporary piano techniques while also stimulating creativity.

Based on Bunger (1973), Vaes (2009), Shockley (2018) and Mayas (2019), and embedding past artistic experiences, an interaction was established between the piano, the artist and materials such as wooden clothespins, bamboo chopsticks and fishing line. The use of materials and techniques was documented on the thesis and their usage shaped the ideas and structure of the piece, considering both the possibilities available and the constraints of certain techniques. The compositional analysis of Reich’s work was backed by Reich (1976) and Mellits (2009) and complemented with Burkhart (1994) on the proprieties of isorhytmic motets. The use of electronics – namely a laptop, a Zoom H2n recorder, a digital audio workstation (DAW) and a midi controller – was essential in the forming of the composition, enabling a direct manipulation of the sounds used and immediate previews of the piece. Additionally, it also allowed the limited time available to contact with a “prepare-able” piano to be fully utilized in the creative exploration process. This process of composing, recording and manipulating the piece is further described in this paper, specifically the usage of Ableton Live, its functionalities and its integration with a MIDI controller, used in the performance.

The research undertaken and resultant artwork are an example of a possible bridge between piano performers and the use of the full capabilities of their instrument, as well as an example on the use of software and electronics as an aid to compose using inside piano techniques. This might be of interest to pianists, piano students and other musicians interested in exercising their creative skills. However, further studies are relevant in determining the limitations of this process within minimalistic music, exploring the possibility of performing the piece with an ensemble instead (mentioned in the thesis) and developing a multidisciplinary approach to the described interaction (for instance, resourcing to video-art).

Keywords: Artistic research, Creative practice, Inside piano



Mariana Miguel is a pianist, percussionist and multidisciplinary artist. She graduated in Music (Piano), in Universidade de Évora, where she currently attends the master’s degree in Performance (Piano), with professor Ana Telles. She has developed and presented work where the piano takes a central role, in an experimental and improvisational language and in dialogue with other arts. She’s part of the creative percussion group CRASSH (WeTumTum) and takes an interest in interaction and collaboration with people, artists and audiences. She collaborates with Companhia de Música Teatral in the artistic-educative constellations Anatomia do Piano (Pianoscópio), Gamelão de Porcelana e Cristal and Metamorfose, taking roles as a facilitator, performer and creative. She’s a collaborator at LAMCI-CESEM in NOVA FCSH, at Escola de Artes da Bairrada, and teaches at MUSA (Escola de Música de Aveiro)

Ana Telles | Agregação (Música e Musicologia), Universidade de Évora (2017); Docteur de l’Université (Musique et Musicologie), Université de Paris IV – Sorbonne (2009); Diplôme d’Etudes Approfondies (Musique et Musicologie), Université de Paris IV – Sorbonne (2002); Master of Musical Arts (MMA, Music – Piano Performance), New York University (2001); Bachelor of Music (BM, Music – Piano Performance), Manhattan School of Music (1999); Bacharelato em Música (Piano), Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa (1995).

Ana Telles performs regularly in Portugal, Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, Cuba, Brazil, Taiwan, Canada and the United States, as a soloist or integrated in chamber music groups. Her discography includes over twenty published CD’s. She develops research projects in the fields of Music of the 20th and 21st centuries, Portuguese modern and contemporary music, Piano music, having authored a significant number of book chapters, papers in peer-reviewed journals and musical editions, including a critical edition of Luís de Freitas Branco’s Piano Preludes (AvA Musical Editions). Associate professor with habilitation at the University of Évora’s Music Department, she is currently the Director of the School of Arts of the same university.