Designing a Grand Piano with Saniharto


Indonesia has a song about their ancestors being great seamen. Sailing boats, a major attribute of seamen, have inspired so many of Raul Renanda’s works, from architecture to paintings. Last year, he collaborated with Aksan Sjuman and Saniharto in designing a masterpiece, the Concert Grand Piano SR28-The Awakening. In corresponding with this collaboration, can you guess what the shape is inspired by?

Art has been a major part of Raul’s life, with drawing and playing music as his top two creativity channels. Later on he studied architecture at the Parahyangan Catholic University. As soon as he graduated in 1994, he was involved in a big project of making the master plan for Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM), Jakarta’s arts, cultural and science centre. He has done many architecture projects since, from living spaces to offices, in and out of Indonesia. And when the city council finally decided to revamp TIM based on the master plan, he was asked to design the theatre building, Teater Jakarta, in 1995.

Architect by day, all around artist by night, is more or less Raul in a nutshell. He has done photography, painting, sculpture, music, writing on architecture, and has even hosted an architecture-related TV show. He has so much creative juice in his blood that just cannot stop flowing.

One day in 2017, he was asked to set up a designer showcase in one of Jakarta’s biggest art exhibitions. Little did anyone know, what he ended up showcasing there became the start of a beautiful collaboration with Aksan until today. They were introduced by a mutual friend, the singer slash surgeon Tompi. Aksan, an accomplished musician and musical instrument designer, helped provide a piano and deeper knowledge on the instrument for Raul’s showcase, where he decided to turn a piano into an artwork.

People’s enthusiasm towards the artwork gave Raul an idea. He and Aksan started talking about a possibility of building their own piano. “We want to make the best piano in the world. That’s our goal,” said Raul. However, he was worried about the product design quality in Indonesia. “Our people in general don’t aim for perfection. Indonesians like to live in comfort, we don’t like to push it to the max,” he explained. Even so, Indonesia is actually known as the top four piano makers in the world after Europe, US and Japan/Korea. But usually the best ones manufactured here are under foreign brands. So it was a blessing when they found Saniharto, a manufacturing company, that has the same mindset of creating the best and would like to invest in the project.

Raul drew the concept of the piano, Aksan threw in his technical expertise, and then the piano was crafted in Semarang. They wanted to use the best of everything for the piano parts. They use macassar ebony wood for the outer body, which gives a look of luxury. And spruce wood is used beneath the strings, which conventionally resonates the best sound in piano and other string instruments. The strings are imported from Germany, weaved very skillfully. The average piano uses copper strings, but this one uses nickel-plated strings that are produced with the latest technology.

They designed the piano to the tiniest bits, from the cabinet to the bolts, and the parts are mostly handmade. He was quite nervous about the outcome, but even at first trial the production was as good as expected.

As for the shape of the piano, even if you weren’t familiar with Raul’s previous works, you might have guessed that it is inspired by a sail boat. Other than wanting to create something unusual, he just loves sail boats. “I do believe that our ancestors are great seamen. We, Indonesian people, came from various places. They spread out and moved around by boats. It mesmerises me and I think it is an important part of Indonesian history. That’s why I often use boat symbolisation in my projects since Teater Jakarta,” Raul explained.

The piano is called SR28-The Awakening. S stands for Sjuman, R is Renanda, and (19)28 is the year when the national anthem “Indonesia Raya” was first played publicly at the national youth congress. It was launched on 27 November 2019 at Teater Jakarta, played at Jakarta City Philharmonic’s last concert of the year.

The collaborations of Raul and Aksan has borne fruit. Two sets of this piano have been produced for the first batch. One is to be shipped to Las Vegas to set sail into the international market. For the next production, they will make sure to improve some parts to always have better quality and design, and are open for customisation.

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Vira Tanka
Having her bachelor degree from Visual Communication Design of Bandung Institute of Technology, she explored her other interest in writing by being a writer for TV programs and travel magazines. Always keeping her love for the art, she actively sketches just about everything, from urban landscape to nature, in between writing projects.
Bagus Tri Laksono
Wirawan Sanjaya