In a bizarre twist on the recent history of the automotive industry, Audi has decided to mark its centenary by commissioning its youngest designers to come up with a new … piano. I’m as much a fan of the piano as anyone who’s played the instrument regularly from the age of six, but this decision strikes me as a classic “Titanic deckchair” moment from an industry that has been consistently incapable of finding the horizon on a flat surface. Surely Audi’s creative team, let alone its sales department, would at least have researched what’s happened to sales of old-fashioned pianos over the past century (the same century Audi has been in the business of selling automobiles). It must certainly be aware of how many customers it might reasonably expect for a flash new grand piano with the price tag of 100,000 Euros. Even after reading Audi’s official announcement about this “innovative” project, I’m at a loss to explain its purpose. To wit, project director Philip Schlesinger on the Audi piano:
Generous surface areas ensure formal clarity; there are no decorative applications, the edges and lines are sharply drawn, the joints logically positioned. All these are important aspects of the Audi design.
Forgive me Emperor Audi, but these “important aspects” have been part and parcel of acoustic piano design for at least 150 years; possibly even longer, as upright and grand pianos alike have undergone next to no technological development over that period precisely because of declining sales. Instead, sales of pianolas in the early 20th Century, then in more recent decades digital keyboards and electronic instruments, have found favour with practising musicians due to their portability, convenience and price. Perhaps that lesson would have been a more significant one for Audi’s designers to learn: coming up with an alternative to the car that meets our needs without being so burdensome in environmental and financial impact.