Thursday, September 11, 2008

Galvanize me: Reanimation and the logic of piano recreation

How much is recording fidelity worth to you? And how much the fantasy of a musician performing just for you? Technology is now letting those values battle each other for your music budget.

In this TEDTalk, John Q. Walker (so close to being John Q. Public!) describes the astonishing technical achievement involved in his method of recreating and then re-recording great piano performances. As you can see, the talk culminates with a piano, guided by a computer, "performing" for the live audience. And Sony is selling the recordings of these performances.

I'm guessing that the conventional highbrow response to these recordings is to find them amazing but unattractive: given the choice between a recording of Art Tatum and a recording of the reconstructed keystrokes of Art Tatum, who wouldn't prefer the latter? I'll admit, however, that poor sound quality detracts significantly from my enjoyment of recorded music. I suspect that I would strongly prefer listening to Walker's recreations as long as I didn't know what I was hearing. What does that mean for the relationship between technology and beauty?

It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! -- Great God!

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