What ghostly keyboard sound is used in *Emil Cioran: The Life of a Sage*


  1. Please identify the ghostly keyboard sound from Emil Cioran: The Life of a Sage at 46:21.
  2. Does this sound form a recognized subgenre? Are there any composers who composed such music? This feels more eerie than John Cage's prepared piano music.

Greek - Area 51 Proposal

Posted 2019-05-09T06:30:11.747

Reputation: 1 021

1Your title, body and tags seem to be at odds with each other. The title seems to imply you're asking how the sound is produced, whereas in the body you're asking for artists who compose such music, and yet you've tagged it as identifying a genre of music. Could you please clarify your question to make it more precise? – Brahadeesh – 2019-05-09T13:47:16.660

@Brahadeesh Sorry. I've clarified that I intended to ask 2 questions. – Greek - Area 51 Proposal – 2019-05-10T04:57:53.183



This is a de-tuned (deliberately out-of-tune) piano, with a heavy amount of reverb added. It is made yet more eerie with the addition of some dissonant (violin-family) string instruments. Reverb, which suggests a big empty chamber, and dissonance, which can introduce a feeling of "wrongness," are two of the most common techniques for making something sound scary.

Piano detuning is a technique that captures the sound of pianos that have naturally gone out of tune. Since pianos have doubled strings, this introduces dissonances even with single notes. We associate the sound with saloons in old Western movies, honky-tonk pianos in country-and-western bars, pianos in old mansions in horror movies, pianos in old recordings (not really detuned, but sounding that way because of recording limitations) and --for some of us-- with the pianos in our childhood homes. The little dissonances in the detuning give the piano a slightly bell-like warble that some people really like (again, see: childhood memories).

There isn't really a genre based on detuned pianos, but the detuned piano sounds "right" with genres like ragtime and country, and has a definite place in horror movie soundtracks. (The high-reverb setting is what gives that empty mansion feel, whereas the cheerful honky-tonk piano sound is likely to be low-reverb.) I wasn't able to find any examples of compositions for detuned pianos in the classical tradition, but there are plenty of videos featuring classical songs played on detuned piano.

Chris Sunami

Posted 2019-05-09T06:30:11.747

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