[Dixielandjazz] A New Musical Computer that raises the dead.

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sun Jun 5 16:32:18 PDT 2005


Not OKOM . . . YET, but it sure as hell could be. John Farrell, you might
want to look into this.

My oh my, from Morton to Monk, think of the possibilities.

Steve Barbone

Play It Again, Vladimir (via Computer)

By ANNE MIDGETTE  Published: June 5, 2005 NY Times

THE house lights dimmed at the BTI Center for the Performing Arts in
Raleigh, N.C., one night last month, the stage lights came up on the grand
piano, and in front of a rapt audience Alfred Cortot played Chopin's Prelude
in G (Op. 28, No. 3), as he had not for nearly 80 years.

Cortot is dead, of course. He was not present in physical form, nor was
anyone else sitting at the keyboard of the Yamaha Disklavier Pro as the keys
rose and fell. But this was his performance come back to life: his gentle
touch, his luminosity, even his mistakes, like the light brush of an extra
note at the periphery of the final chord.

So, at least, claimed Dr. John Q. Walker, the president of Zenph Studios in
Raleigh, which sponsored the event and created the software that allowed
Cortot to return. Dr. Walker is developing technology that enables him to
break down the sounds of an old recording, digitize them and reproduce them
on a Disklavier, an up-to-the-minute player piano that can record and replay
performances by means of a CD in a slot above the keyboard. Sophisticated
fiber optics control the instrument's hammers.

Old recordings of great performers are often marred by scratches and surface
noise, or by sound badly filtered through primitive microphones. Dr. Walker
is offering the same music with the immediacy of live performance and the
acoustical advantages of a contemporary piano. To demonstrate the contrast,
Dr. Walker also let the audience at the BTI Center hear the original Cortot
recording from 1926, which sounds as if sand had been poured on the old
disc's shellac. 

"The farther you get from the recordings, the worse they sound," Dr. Walker
said by phone a few days before the concert. "The fundamental root of the
problem is that I don't want to hear a recording. I want to hear the young
Horowitz, Schnabel, Fats Waller, Thelonious Monk on an in-tune piano."

If the claims he is making for his new technology are accurate, he will soon
be able to. His plan is to approach the major labels with his software and
delve into their back catalogs, acting as a record producer to make old
recordings new. Josef Hoffman without the scratches, Glenn Gould without the
mumbling: brought back to life and performing on modern pianos, recorded
with modern technology.

"People say this is like colorizing old photographs, but it's not," Dr.
Walker said. "This process is like being able to set up the entire scene of
that photograph again and shoot it with a new camera from any angle,

This is the new world of computer music. In its infancy, way back in the
1960's, the goal was to use digital technology to create new sounds and new
musical forms. Today scientists around the world are turning computers on
human performance, seeking to quantify an element once thought to be
intangible: the expressivity of a human artist.

The piano is a good place to start. It offers a relatively limited set of
variables. With the violin, every aspect of sound production is subject to
human vagaries: bow pressure, bow speed, the placement of the fingers. On
the piano, it comes down to hammers hitting strings.

Developed by Wayne Stahnke, the first Disklaviers were made in the 1980's by
Bösendorfer, the renowned Viennese piano manufacturer. When that company
stopped making them, Yamaha took up the baton, hiring Mr. Stahnke as a
consultant. Mr. Stahnke's best-known Disklavier project was a foretaste of
Dr. Walker's efforts: translations of piano rolls recorded by Sergei
Rachmaninoff. The two resulting CD's of "new" Rachmaninoff performances,
both called "A Window in Time" and released in 1998 and 1999, are still
available from Telarc. Some listeners find these revelatory. Some find them
mechanical, even soulless. The reactions demonstrate a basic difficulty with
mechanical reproduction of music: there is a subjective element involved in
determining if it works. The final criterion for any such reproduction is
the rather imprecise "Turing test" of artificial intelligence: that is,
whether it can make the listener think he or she is hearing a person rather
than a machine. 

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