Christian Long

John Walker: Re-creates the Great Performances

In TED Talks on April 17, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Reflection by DEVON H.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

John Walker:  Re-creates the Great Performances

Wouldn’t you just love to hear the performances of great piano artists, such as Glenn Gould and Art Tatum, as if they were right in the room with you playing the piano? I sure know I would.

Well, with this technology shown by John Walker you can.

The technology takes all the aspects of the notes – what instrument they were played on, where they were played, how the keys were struck, the inflection of the dynamics and accents, even how the pedal was used – and discovered the science behind them to re-create these wonderful performances to make it sound like the original composer is right in the room with you. His first example was a re-creation of Glenn Gould, who eventually stopped performing and stuck with creating and recording his songs. He also had 70+ albums produced. The piano they use is basically a computer. They played the Glenn Gould song data through this piano, pressing the keys as well as the pedal.

“How do they know when it is finished or not?” Well, they play the original recording in their right ear and the new recording in their left ear, which Walker demonstrates by playing the original through the right speaker and the new through the left speaker.

Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to hear these new recordings all the time?

Well, you can.

Sony has come up with the technology to re-create these performances through headphones. When they record a new performance, they use technology called binaural recoding using a sort of dummy dead with microphones where the ears are. They place this head in front of the piano where the pianist would sit to give the illusion on CD that you are the one playing. The only problem with this is that this piano/computer is greatly affected by temperature and humidity, so in order to maintain the quality of work it has to be taken apart after each song and be cleaned.

Now, I think this technology is pretty awesome at this point. The fact that they can re-create great performances just as it would have been performed live is an amazing concept. Now, they can also take it one step further. Think about the songs that were never performed or recorded. They can take this technology and use it to create recordings of songs that have never been recorded before just by re-creating their playing techniques. They can also take a song that was recorded by one person and record it by someone else using the same technology. They can also use this technology to make a song sound different everytime you listen to it. It can make your favorite song sound sad if you want it to sound sad, or any other intonation. This technology is forming the computer tranistion. Most people think of music as notes and how they’re played, but this transition is taking it into data and algorithms.

The last thing he plays is an encore that jazz pianist Art Tatum played at Shrine Auditorium in 1949. This recording was done at the Shrine again in 2007 in front of a live audience. If you close your eyes you feel as though you are sitting in the room with Art playing the piano right in front of you.

If this is what we can do now with music, just imagine what we will be able to do in the future.

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