Here’s Why the ‘Westworld’ Piano Plays Songs by Radiohead and Soundgarden

The player piano on 'Westworld' features songs by Radiohead, Soundgarden, and the Rolling Stones. But why – and how?

westworld piano radiohead soundgarden


In the first episode of the new HBO series ‘Westworld,’ a familiar tune is heard plunking out of the player piano in the Mariposa Saloon. Soon, you recognize it as Soundgarden’s 1994 megahit ‘Black Hole Sun.’ It’s both exciting and jarring to notice the anachronism of a 90s rock staple in a setting that recreates the bygone era of the American Old West. The show also includes versions of Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’ and ‘Paint it Black’ by the Rolling Stones (‘Westworld’ Soundtrack versions now streaming below). But why, and how?

The player piano is a device that plays songs automatically by rotating a perforated roll of paper. Thrillist reports that the player piano versions of the alt-rock songs are real: the tunes were transcribed for the self-playing piano by Stephen Kent Goodman of Gnaw-Vol-ty Rolls. “They’re time machines,” Goodman told Thrillist of the player piano. “The machine doesn’t know it’s not 1912. And there it is blasting out something that’s a current hit of the day all on vacuum and pressure technology.”

That settles the ‘how.’ But why did the creators of ‘Westworld’ decide to put modern songs in their old-timey setting? If you were a visitor (or a ‘newcomer,’ in the show’s parlance) to Westworld, you’d likely be thrilled to hear your favorite karaoke jam twinkling from the ivory keys in the brothel – but wouldn’t it disrupt your experience of the recreation of the past?

The show’s composer, Ramin Djawadi, spoke to Vulture on the subject. “What’s so great about using these [contemporary] pieces instead of the score is that they are known melodies, which enhances the idea that this is all scripted,” Djawadi said. In other words, the show intentionally reminds viewers (and Westworld park attendees) of its own artifice. Perhaps if you were a Westworld visitor (a scenario that the show tempts you to imagine over and over again), it’d be helpful to be brought back to reality before your umpteenth casual killing spree.

Radiohead ‘No Surprises’ (Westworld Soundtrack)

Soundgarden ‘Black Hole Sun’ (Westworld Soundtrack)

The Rolling Stones ‘Paint It, Black’ (Westworld Soundtrack)

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