Re-creating great performances

September 1, 2008 at 5:23 am | Posted in Music, Technology and Implications | 1 Comment
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I just came across this absolutely awesome TED Entertainment Gathering video, where John. Q. Walker, talks about recreating great performances, actually demos a computer controlled grand piano playing Glenn Gould and Art Tatum. One cannot not be moved when hearing such perfomances and not be amazed that the piano plays itself.

Walker talks about separating the performances from the recording itself and then goes on to appeal to the sensibilities of everyone, who hear the recording again and again, and wonders how would it be to be in the same room when the track was played. With the advent of high definition and superior computing capabilities, Walker says that thisis indeed possible. He talks about the components that the performance comprises of; notes + how it was played. And how the recording is analyzed for how the notes are played, how hard or soft the keys were pressed and so on. He delves further into the various factors such as temperature, humitdity and other external factors that affect the instrument that the music was produced from and how they try and solve such problems. And when one hears the Jazz encore that Alt Tatum played at the shrine in 1949, being palyed, one cannot help but wonder that this is a awesome thing. Walker then goes one step further, to leave one wonder the possibilities that such a technology might offer.

“Wouldn’t it be great if the same song was played sadder when you were sad and happier, peppier when you were happy, by the same great artist, wouldn’t it be great if you could hear the same song played differently everytime you heard it or played by different artists every time?” I for one, would not mind it. But……..

I cannot help but wonder at the same time that as awesome as all of this sounds, and as beautiful as it would be to hear these great performers, learning from their style, after they are long past gone as a physical presence; would Art be turing in his grave right now, as we hear the computer be him, as it recreates his encore from 1949? Would great performances be still great, if they could be repeated every single time? Walker briefly talks about hearing waltzes that Bach never played and compositions that were never heard. He talks about the future being music generated with data + algorithms. Data, to extrapolate a particular style of composition, I think and imitate the artist’s particular style. Algorithms, to generate composition? May be. Hmmm… is that the future?

Along the same lines, if technology was available to analyze Van Gogh’s brush strokes and style, re-creating ‘The Red Vineyard‘ or ‘Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers” would it be acceptable? Furthermore, if it was possible to have ‘The Red Vineyard’ painted by Picasso, or have algorithms generate work by yet not produced by Van Gogh, would this be acceptable and welcomed? I don’t know.

I guess the point I am making is, while I am excited at one level by the possibilities that such technology has to offer, I am skeptical at a different level as to what this means for the future. I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. But one thing I surely do know is that I for one would enjoy it, if I can own it.


“It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers” ~ James Thurber


What is beauty?

April 8, 2007 at 10:06 am | Posted in Music | 2 Comments

Joshua Bell, the violin virtuoso who literally fills up every hall he plays in, regardless of it’s location, played for nearly 45 minutes in a Washington DC metro, and ended up collecting $32.17, and turning a few heads and seven listeners actually paused to listen to his sublime notes…..

Here is the washington post original article > Pearls before breakfast

This brings much ye old debates out in the open…. IF A GREAT MUSICIAN PLAYS GREAT MUSIC BUT NO ONE HEARS . . . WAS HE REALLY ANY GOOD?

does beauty indeed lie in the eye of the beholder or is it inherent? or, is it just as the article above says, is it about the priorities that have changed? or, is it about a people driving ahead for finding the next meal, worrying about the next car, paying the next mortgage for the house? I really do not know.


UPDATE: Gene Weingarten wins the Pulitzer (feature-writing) for this Washington Post article.

To go faster, slow down. Everybody who knows about orbital mechanics understands that. – Scott Cherf

What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.— from “Leisure,” by W.H. Davies

Sound of Music

January 16, 2005 at 3:04 pm | Posted in Music | 1 Comment

As one of my friends used to say “music is god”, a religion, a faith, a belief that knows no boundaries. It is one universal language that everyone understands, no matter where one is from, what language one speaks, what colour one is or what one does for a living. Beatles are heard in India and are appreciated as equally as they would be anywhere in the western world, while Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Zakir Hussain and other exponents of Indian music are heard and appreciated world wide.

Google defines music as follows :

I find the following closest to my perception :

“The art of arranging sounds in time so as to produce a continuous, unified, and evocative composition, as through melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre”

But the terms melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre are as fuzzy as it can get, my definition of melody could mean Metallica while someone else’s definition of melody would be Illayaraja or M. S. And in different moods, the same perception of melody oscillates. This is one of the reasons I picked this definition as it really does not define but leaves each one to interpret it for oneself.

There’s this aesthetic quality about music that appeals to everyone. No matter what kind of music one listens to, I feel that the underlying strains are the same. This is described by the basic Indian classical music’s fundamentals, the theory of ragas. By saying so, I am not against any other for of music or do not mean to say that it cannot be expressed by the same. As with everyone, I prefer to tread on familiar grounds. The same can be translated to any other style of music. As far as I am concerned, its all in the notes and the theory of raga puts these notes together in the most comprehensive and systematic manner known to me. This was so beautifully illustrated in the Swarutsav- 2001- Streams In Confluence, by Ganesh-Kumaresh and Tafiq Qureshi. If you can ever get to listen to this music, please do, it’ll help you understand what I am talking about. Ragas transcend the boundaries of language and lyrics. They convey human emotions at different levels.

So much for digressing, coming back to what I was going to say, no matter what kind of music, the underlying strain reduces itself to a particular raga or a combination thereof that combines to produce that effect, that WOW we feel when we hear good music, doesn’t matter if you’re listening to Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman or Bryan Adams or Vanessa Mae or Bach or Linkin Park.

Coming to the point, not so much that I am indeed making a point here, the folklore of Andalusia, Spain is as beautiful as the delightful crooning of Sanjay Subramanium on full flow at Madras in December’s music season. It’s all boils down to these building blocks or strains of ragas. If one can open his/her mind to this, one can truly appreciate all kinds of music and the kind of nuances and the subtlety in each. Like the famous words go, “they are all the same and yet they are different”.


“Music is indeed GOD”

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