Danetkas – Music Stories

Resourcefulness - pic 1

“Sylvia: How was the dance recital?

Fabian: It was a complete mess! The composer decided to replace the musicians with a bunch of random tools and materials! Can you believe this?

Sylvia: What? How did he do that?”

Episode 3 - Resourcefulness – John Cage and Prepared Piano (ft. Mariana Miguel)

Short Summary

In this episode of the Danetkas podcast hosted by Francisco Chaves, the focus is on the Danetka titled “resourcefulness.” The riddle involves a dance recital where the composer replaces musicians with tools and materials. The host introduces three hints (Rigolettos) to solve the riddle:

  1. Working with what you have,
  2. The key to success is good preparation
  3. A piano that was not heard.


The answer reveals that a musician, constrained by a limited budget and stage space, used rubber, plastic, bolts, and screws between piano strings to create percussive sounds, leading to the concept of the “Prepared piano” by composer John Cage.

The podcast then features Portuguese pianist Mariana Miguel, an expert in the field of the prepared piano, discussing her experiences, inspirations, and compositions related to this unique musical approach. Mariana shares insights into her album “Piano Oceano,” inspired by water, and explores various aspects of working with prepared piano, emphasizing resourcefulness and creativity. The episode includes excerpts of Balinese gamelan, Mariana’s compositions, and concludes with reflections on John Cage’s influence and the importance of inspiring creativity.

Hello and welcome to another Danetkas podcast. I’m your host Francisco Chaves.


And in this podcast will have a special guest, which I will later introduce in the episode. The Danetka we will discuss today is called: “resourcefulness”. It goes like this:


Sylvia says: How was the dance recital?

Fabian replies: It was a complete mess. The composer decided to replace the musicians with a bunch of random tools and materials. Can you believe this?

Sylvia replies: What? How did he do that?

Accompanying the riddle. We have an image. I will describe the image for you, so the image is a kind of destroyed stage. We have a lot of materials. We see paintbrushes. We see a ladder. The background is a musical score. We see screws. So in short, there was a kind of disaster in the stage. It seems like a poorly decorated stage or damaged. The questions that we have to find out are: Why did the composer decided to replace the musicians and how can tools and materials replaced them?

Before I will tell you the answer, I will start by reading the Rigolettos, our secret hints. The first Rigoletto says: You have to work with what you have. It seems that there was not a lot of stuff available, so the musicians or the composer had to work with the tools, the stuff that they had. So there was kind of some limitation, maybe financial limitation. I don’t know. The second Rigoletto says: the key to success is good preparation.

So it means the musicians have to be well prepared or something. The third Rigoletto says: Did you hear a piano? No. And so the third Rigoletto points to us that there is a piano in the story. That was not heard. Now that I told you the tree Rigolettos the tree secret hints to solve this riddle, feel free to post the audio and try to come up with an idea of what might have happened.

I will now read the answer:

A musician was invited to accompany a ballet performance. The original idea was to use a group of percussionists, each using several instruments. The budget was very limited and the stage was poorly organized and very small. There was no room for a percussion group. There was only enough space for a piano and a dancer on that tiny stage. With these limitations, the composer had an idea: he put pieces of rubber, plastic, bolts and screws in between the strings of the piano. This created a percussive sound, making the piano emulate a percussion group whenever the pianist hit the keys. Like that, one pianist could replace several percussionists. These technical and budget limitations led American composer John Cage (1912-1992) to develop the idea of the “Prepared piano”, inspired by the sounds of Balinese gamelan. The most famous pieces using this technique are the “Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared piano” (1946-1948).


F: We will now listen to an excerpt of one of these Sonatas, and then I will introduce you to our special guest.


F: Welcome back. I am now with Portuguese pianist Mariana Miguel. I consider her an expert when it comes to prepared piano. I know that she likes prepared piano a lot, so I invited her to this podcast.

Welcome, Mariana.

M: Thank you.

F: Why do you like prepared piano so much?

M: Because it gives you a lot of different possibilities for what a piano might sound like.

F: When did you discover this story by John Cage?

M: I discovered it by reading the Bunger, I think it’s his name, book called the well-prepared piano.


It’s a sort of a workbook, where he gives you a lot of hints on what you might do with the piano and what Cage was doing at the time, and he professes the book by saying this anecdote about Cage.

F: So Bunger was like, let’s say, a scholar of the prepared piano and made a book about it after John Cage came up with the idea.

M: Yea, yea, kind of.

F: Okay. And how do you use the prepared piano in your music?

M: Well in a lot of ways. Mainly, I just like to experiment a lot. So try to come up with new things that you can put on the piano. I am very much concerned with finding materials that won’t ruin or harm the piano, so it’s interesting to try to look at different objects and stuff that maybe it’s part of your day and that you can perhaps find a use for it in your instrument. Do the objects that John Cage uses damage the piano? Not really. It depends on how long you use them for and so anything that’s harder than the materials the piano is made of, like the strings, metal strings, and copper strings. If you use anything harder than that’s like if, for instance, you had lots of diamonds and you wanted to use them. Of course, that would harm the piano and so metallic screws and anything of the sort must be used with caution.

F: Have you harmed the piano in the past?

M: I have. It wasn’t a really serious thing. I just put a screw a little bit harder than I should have and I left a mark from the soundboard.

F: Did you cry that day?

M: No, I didn’t actually.

F: Was it your piano?

M: No.

F: So that’s why you didn’t cry.

M: Yeah, yeah, but it wasn’t serious. It’s just something that’s visually, not very nice to look at.

F: Okay, but you didn’t get in trouble for that.

M: No, I didn’t. I didn’t. It doesn’t make any difference. It was really, really small thing.

F: And is there like a favorite sound that you would like to show us, maybe from one of your compositions. Yeah, I think that the Balinese gamelan sorts of things are really interesting because they have lots of harmonics. And you can listen to a whole set of notes just by playing a single key on the piano. And that’s really interesting.

F: So maybe let’s listen to a tiny excerpt of Balinese gamelan.

M: Yea, to compare it.

F: Yes, to compare it. Yes.


F: After hearing the Balinese gamelan, maybe we listen to one of your compositions, also inspired by these sounds.

M: Yea

F: How is this composition called, that we are going to listen?

M: Is called “Fog”.

F: So I hope you enjoy Fog by Mariana Miguel.


F: This track, Fog, this song, piece, however you want to call it, is part of your album: Piano Oceano. Do you want to tell us a bit about that?

M: Yeah, I can start by saying that “piano oceano” means ocean piano, and I chose that name because I decided to write and play an album of my own music, and I decided that my main inspiration was the water and different kinds of water, different means of getting water or interacting with water because that was something that I was working on in another theatrical project. And so I was really inspired by that universe and thinking about that, and I decided that it would be fun to Water inspired music.

F: So, basically, it’s music that sounds like water, not that you use water in the piano in any way.

M: Yeah, Not really. That would definitely harm the piano. Not interested in that. I don’t think it’s really sounds like water. But that was my main inspiration. So I’m not sure that people will think or will listen to it and be thinking about water. But that was my main idea.

F: We already listened to your track Fog, which is also kind of condensed water, we might say. So we heard water in its condensed state. How do you think water sounds like?

M: I don’t know. I can tell you that I’ve done some musical research or audio research on water and playing with water because I’m also a percussionist, so that’s what I think of when I think what water sounds like, but I can point you to another track, called “Águas Mil”, which roughly translates as waters, a thousand. It’s part of a saying that we have in Portugal which goes like this: “Em Abril, águas mil.” which means: in April, it showers a lot, it rains a lot. And so a thousand Waters. That one is something that I think water sounds like when raindrops fall.

F: So we will now listen to:

M: Águas Mil

F: Águas Mil by Mariana Miguel.


F: So now we just heard “Águas Mil” by Mariana Miguel. Water in its liquid state, according to Mariana, right?

M: Yea.

F: Have you tried out other Danetkas? Other riddles?

M: I have some of them. I don’t think I’ve gone through them all. But this one’s my favorite for obvious reasons.

F: Yes, that’s why I invited you exactly for this one.

M: Good choice.

F: Is there anything else that you would like to say, before we close this episode on the prepared piano by John Cage, maybe how John Cage influenced you, or maybe another anecdote or fun fact that you might have about the prepared piano.

M: Just that I started this research about the prepared piano for my masters. I was really interested in experimenting new things. I think it’s nice to see other people discovering these kinds of stories, mainly because of the resourcefulness, the title, isn’t it? The title of the Danetka, since that’s what I’m actually interested in, is exploring new things and thinking creatively about your instrument. Whether that’s a musical instrument or it’s just your work instrument or what you use for your hobbies or something. So I hope it might inspire people to find new ways to work with things.

F: So they become resourceful.

M: Yea.

F: Like John Cage was.

M: Exactly

F: It’s good that you’re also a percussionist. So it means you can replace yourself.

M: Yeah, Yeah.

F: In this case, John Cage replaced the percussionist, since you’re a percussionist yourself, you’re putting yourself unemployed.

M: Yea, I know.

F: Thank you so much for being a guest in this podcast.

M: Thank you

F: And I wish you a nice day.

M: You too.

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