June 05, 2005
Dead Can Dance (and play piano too)
A provoking piece on today's New York Times introduces new technolology allowing audiences to hear live music from dead people. It begins:
The house lights dimmed at the BTI Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh, N.C., one night last month, the stage lights came up on the grand piano, and in front of a rapt audience Alfred Cortot played Chopin's Prelude in G (Op. 28, No. 3), as he had not for nearly 80 years.
Cortot is dead, of course. He was not present in physical form, nor was anyone else sitting at the keyboard of the Yamaha Disklavier Pro as the keys rose and fell. But this was his performance come back to life: his gentle touch, his luminosity, even his mistakes, like the light brush of an extra note at the periphery of the final chord.
So for all you classic and jazz piano aficionado's, you've been one-upped. Sure, there are folks that will argue that the fidelity of a record is superior to the cd. Or that the scratches add charm. There is even software to add noise and other acoustic filters to recordings to give them "authenticity". The Acoustic Mirror plug-in for SoundForge can even simulate different environments including bridges, churches, concert halls, modern and classic microphones, and even caves. And for hardcore audiophiles, there is even a tool generating noise types to your flavor: white, pink or brown.
But where is the magic? As a child, I was fascinated by the piano that would magically play without the performer. Even as my mother explained how it merely ran off something akin to a punch card, it was no less absorbing. But for me, there are only so many times you can listen to the ghost of Scott Joplin do ragtime...
Old recordings of great performers are often marred by scratches and surface noise, or by sound badly filtered through primitive microphones. Dr. Walker is offering the same music with the immediacy of live performance and the acoustical advantages of a contemporary piano. To demonstrate the contrast, Dr. Walker also let the audience at the BTI Center hear the original Cortot recording from 1926, which sounds as if sand had been poured on the old disc's shellac.
"The farther you get from the recordings, the worse they sound," Dr. Walker said by phone a few days before the concert. "The fundamental root of the problem is that I don't want to hear a recording. I want to hear the young Horowitz, Schnabel, Fats Waller, Thelonious Monk on an in-tune piano."
The little boy in The Sixth Sense could see dead people. Now he can hear them too.
Posted by rst at June 5, 2005 02:46 PM
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