Amazing Moments in Timbre #3

This week’s amazing moment in timbre is a bit of a mind-bender: a piano that recreates the timbre of the human voice. It’s Peter Ablinger’s Deus Cantando (2009). for a piano being played by a computer-controlled mechanical device. Watch and be wowed:

This is not digital manipulation, nor a digitally programmed piano like a Disklavier. This is a normal, acoustic piano, any old piano. The mechanism performing it consists of 88 electronically controlled, mechanical “fingers,” synchronized with superhuman speed and accuracy to replicate the spectral content of a child’s voice. Watching the above-linked video, it may seem that the speech is completely intelligible, but this is partially an illusion. The visual prompt of the words on the screen are an essential cue: take them away, and it becomes much harder to understand the words. But it is still remarkable that the auditory system is able to group discrete notes from a piano into such a close approximation of a continuous human voice, and that Ablinger was able to do this so convincingly using a conventional instrument (albeit, played robotically).

by Jason Noble