A concert is upcoming very soon at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church which will feature Evan Mazunik’s ZAHA soundpainting ensemble. Click here or here for more details.

For this concert, Evan asked if I would do some max/msp programming to make it possible for the disklavier that the church owns to be played by a computer.

For those that might not know, a disklavier is the more modern version of a player piano. (You can learn more here). Conrad Kehn turned me on to the idea that a disklavier can take midi input from a computer via finale and max/msp.

The goal of the specific programming that I’m doing is really to take control of the piano out of Evan’s hands. It’s all about these layers upon layers of random and stochastic decisions that are made by the computer and fed into the piano. This is a project that I’m really excited about as it embodies an element that tends to be consistent across much of my work: the marriage of digital technology with acoustic instruments.

I’ll be making some videos of the disklavier in action and updating this blog with them as the project goes on. Check back for more.

One of the things I’ve been considering as I work on this project, and really since Conrad brought this up the first time, is what kinds of things a disklavier can do that a person playing a piano cannot. Generally this falls into two categories: speed, and density.
Obviously the “ultimate density” on a piano is all 88 keys being played simultaneously.
Unfortunately, even robot pianos have limitations. And telling one to play all 88 keys at once is one of those limitations.
When I asked it to do this, it did, indeed, do it.


And the result was impressive.

And then it wouldn’t play anything at all.

Fortunately the Yamaha tech support team is really helpful. So I learned that when you ask a robot piano to do something a little crazy like play all 88 keys at once, this happens:

imag0552Yep. That’s a blown fuse. Like, EXTRA blown.

So when that happens, this has to happen:

But the good news is that once both of those things happen, this can happen:

and this:

and this:

You can watch more videos of this in action on my youtube channel here.

And make sure you come to see ZAHA next weekend!