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December 21, 2010

Glenn Gould lives*

Long story short: John Q. Walker's Zenph Sound Innovations team "wrote software to take a piano recording — even an old, scratchy one — and determine not only which keys were struck but exactly how they were played, including all the subtle nuances that distinguish great pianists."

Said Walker, "We saw it as a very hard signal-processing problem: Can we get backwards from recordings to the notes? We all know how to go forwards, but can we go backwards? And if we can crack that problem, the whole industry changes."

Wrote David Schneider in IEEE Spectrum, "Walker's group indeed cracked that problem. And with their software, they were able to re-create great piano performances of the past. "Reperformance" is the word Walker uses. It may seem like remastering on steroids—but in fact it's a lot more. Think about turning a mono recording into stereo, for example, changing the acoustics of the room and positioning the microphones differently from where they were placed during the original recording session—even letting the listener experience what the pianist heard sitting on the bench. The commercial value was obvious, which is why Walker's company was able to strike a deal with Sony Music."

More: "To demonstrate how well his system could capture even Gould's rapid-fire playing, Walker had me listen to the original recording while his robotic piano played along. Had the re-created notes been even a fraction of a second off in timing, you would hear the dissonance. There's none. Walker's piano re-created Gould perfectly."

Equally impressive: Walker's team was able to reconstruct, from a 1969 video of Jerry Lee Lewis's hand movements during an appearance on the "The Ed Sullivan Show" (the piano was unmiked and couldn't be heard at all) what he was playing and then add it to the performance via Walker's robotic piano.

*Coming to your living room holographic theater circa 2030: Glenn Gould playing, so indistinguishable from the living, breathing artist that you can't tell the difference.

And as Alan Turing pointed out, if you can't tell a difference, for all practical purposes there is no difference.

[via Richard Kashdan]

December 21, 2010 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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Quite eerie to see the subtle workings of the pedal--even more than the keys--much like, I imagine, a seance with Gould himself showing up at his most musical.

Posted by: Jane | Dec 21, 2010 9:59:48 PM

Glenn Gould.

"Fats" Waller?

Scott Joplin?

Posted by: John A | Dec 21, 2010 7:41:27 PM

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