This post is in the The Music Room category the details

The premise was to create a piece that explored a new take on an old sound - specifically the technology of physical modelling that has become available commercially through Modarrt's Pianoteq virtual piano instrument ("Modartt Company," 2006), which is based on mathematical models developed by Philippe Guillaume at the Toulouse Mathematics Institute's CNRS Research Laboratory.

Physical modelling has a number of advantages over the "traditional" methods of computer based piano reproduction, sampling. There are a number of companies that produce sample libraries of classic pianos that are meticulously recorded at various velocities and articulations, pedal combinations and microphone positions. While these libraries can and do sound great in the right context, they are expensive in terms of memory and hard drive space, typically consisting of several gigabytes of data. They also require very complex scripting to allow for playing styles. And they cost lots of money. Modarrt's approach results in models that are extremely accurate to acoustic instruments1 and are responsive in ways that samples cannot be, for example pressing a sustain pedal after playing the note. In addition, the interface allow realtime control and automation of model elements such as the length of the strings, the hardness and position of the hammers, the octave stretch and internal tuning of strings. These parameters can be applied to each individual string, providing big opportunities for prepared piano recreation. The first point I must make is that I am not a pianist - coordinating two hands is not one of my strong points - and I do not pretend to have a grasp on the way that pianists think. This gave me the thought that I should create something that explored subtle changes to the detail of the sound produced by the model, in a context that could not be "played" in anything other than a midi based performance, such very fast repetitions of single notes at controlled velocities while ten other notes are held and the size of the instrument is altered.

The process of composition revolved around exploring the subtle changes in tonality achieved through manipulating velocity and repetition of notes. I initially chose a modified morse code phrase as a rhythmic basis, but this was abandoned early as just a bit too pretentious. I like the idea of using references that are obscure or obscured but this one just didn't sound right - there wasn't enough variation in dots and dashes. The various rhythmic figures were copied and manipulated across several MIDI tracks and octaves, allowing easy access to editing. A pedal track was also created, allowing fine control of sustain, sostenuto, una chorda and harmonic pedalling. In some cases sustain was achieved via very long notes rather than pedalling.

The second instrument in the composition is a sampled drum set from Toontrack ("Ezdrummer," 2010), specifically their Jazz Drumkit extension. My original intention was to record a "real" drummer for the composition, but as the work progressed, I became more and more engrossed in the challenge of programming of "jazz beats" that it presented. Here was another opportunity to subvert a form with technology. I am not a drummer2. I used two of the supplied "MIDI Loops" as a basis, but soon found myself extensively modifying and reprogramming and playing the parts on the keyboard. All thoughts of a live drummer have vanished by this time - having way too much fun getting lost "... in the details".

The piece is constructed in Cubase 5 with a single instance of Pianoteq addressed by multiple MIDI tracks. A natural stereo microphone model is used with a small amount stereo delay. The drum parts are the EZDrummer Jazz kit, again addressed by multiple MIDI tracks. Reverb is supplied by an Altiverb impulse response I recorded in the QCGU Concert Hall and the track is mastered using BrainWorx bx_digital EQ and PSP's Vintage Warmer.

  1. including some rare historical ones. Obviously I have not heard these original instruments, but the electronic versions breathe life. []
  2. The two hands thing again! []

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