The Talking Piano You Didn’t See Here First

Yeah, yeah – here’s that “talking piano” video that’s been bouncing around the Internet for a week.

I didn’t feature it here, because I thought Conlon Nancarrow was doing a lot more interesting things, and more musical things, with player piano sequencing back in the 1940s.

And, if you’re going to make a talking instrument, in my book – it’s either got to make music, or it’s got to say “Exterminate!”

But others are obviously seeing potential in this. Or that je ne sais quoi that makes an Internet meme.

Anyway, this video captures a”speaking piano” reciting the Proclamation of the European Environmental Criminal Court at World Venice Forum 2009.

Composer Peter Ablinger basically pixelated sound, at a resolution appropriate to the range of the piano, and used the pixelations as “notes” to sequence and reproduce a lo-fi version of the original sound.

UPDATE: Astera on hackaday wrote a rough translation:

Pretty amazing, how all of a sudden the words of the Declaration become understandable to a European Environmental Criminal Court. Wien Modern was one out of ten cultural institutions asked for an artistic contribution to the event in Palazzo Ducale in Venice. The ambitious goal was to make this message audible with musical means, without falling back to a simple setting.

Berno Polzer: I think, its partially understandable, partially not. And it plays well with the limits of our construction abilities. That is, we hear sounds that obviously arent normal Music, but neither they are language, and one could say that sometimes, a bridging happens. Personally, I think you can understand individual words even without knowing the text, and the Eureka moment happens when you see the text, and suddenly, the language is there.

Yet another bridge: Miro Markus, an elementary school student from Berlin, narrated the text for the performance: Youth as a hope for the older generation.

The Austrian composer Peter Ablinger transferred the frequency spectrum of the childs voice to his computer controlled mechanical piano.

Peter Ablinger: I break down this phonography, meaning a recording of something the voice, in this case -, in individual pixels, one can say. And if I have the possibility of a rendering in a fairly high resolution (and that I only get with a mechanical piano), then I in fact restore some kind of continuity. Therefore, with a little practice, or help or subtitling, we actually can hear a human voice in a piano sound.

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