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


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