The significance of the research and experimentation discussed in this thesis is, perhaps, difficult to place amid current music technology directions. Operating acoustic pianos through microprocessor control is a research backwater in comparison with mainstream activities. Yet on a number of levels such an integration can be viewed as a rather natural, if somewhat rare, synthesis of both contemporary technology and a prominent musical tradition. It demonstrates, at the very least, the compelling character of micro-electronics with its ability to integrate with a system and contribute to its operation through a myriad of often unexpected functions and directions.

It is unfortunate that the general image of the domestic player piano has, to some degree, stifled thought and research into the potential of the acoustic piano beyond the boundaries of normal performance practices. Except for a few composers, the player piano is perceived as having had nothing further to contribute to contemporary music after about 1930. It is interesting to observe that now, with a general interest in music and machines, those early composers and technicians who worked with the player piano may have a far greater influence on contemporary composers that they did during the instrument's golden age. It should also be noted that this interest is to a degree being cultivated by the emergence of 'state of the art' digital player piano systems, in particular, the Bösendorfer SE 290 system and the Yamaha Disklavier piano. From this it maybe inferred that the climate is now more conducive to the results and implications of music from machines even if, as in the above examples, the technology itself remains restricted in application and prohibitively expensive for general use.

Microcomputer control of acoustic pianos has naturally attracted few technicians, composers and musicians for largely expediency and cost reasons. Yet regardless of the difficulties with the medium, other composers and music technologists may in the future return to further investigate this musical domain, perhaps when the dissemination and application of technology is more established. Although this is taking place now on a small scale, and in a personal and idiomatic capacity, the field remains substantially unexplored. For the moment, however, contemporary events have superseded such a candid integration of the past with the future. This is perhaps unfortunate, for the outward perception probably obscures more interesting creative possibilities than those presented in this thesis.

In this respect, it is hoped that this thesis has shown microcomputer technology as an adjunct to the piano, expanding it beyond its nineteenth century functionality. The technology essentially opens up the instrument in two distinct areas of performance:

  1. As a sophisticated automatic acoustic performance medium (electronic player piano).

  2. As a composite computer instrument which responds in real-time to performer input.
The logistics of developing, using and maintaining a unique microcomputer controlled music system will remain problematic. One of the great temptations is to continually refine the components as an understanding of the system matures. This is, of course, not a unique dilemma, but in this case, much of the system is metal and wood and therefore less easily changed. Certainly, to a greater or lesser extent, all creative uses of contemporary technology arrive at the point where the technology fails to allow particular ambitions to be realised. Sometimes this can be tolerated or worked around. Eventually, however, there comes a time when artistic demands and frustration with current conditions force some type of change, typically as the abandonment of some or all of the previously employed techniques.

In this respect the digital piano system was always reflecting the need for improvement and alteration. When the basic hardware of the system was tolerable and stable the most expedient path to change was through software. Changes took the form of minor alterations or modifications to an existing system or development from the ground up. Either way it was a problem largely confined to an intellectual rather than physical space. An ideal situation is where the system's design readily incorporates change or can be specifically and dramatically reconfigured to allow different conceptual angles to the exploitation of the physical instrument (HMSL is an example of this type of software environment). This is the principal attraction of contemporary electronic instruments. For the piano, where the sound source will remain more or less the same, software development is vital to the exploitation and investigation of sonic possibilities not immediately comprehensible.

The preceding discussion has more or less assumed the musical instrument under microcomputer control to be the piano simply because it is predisposed to such an integration with contemporary technologies. This may in fact, be taking a rather narrow view of the possible evolution of acoustic instruments. Integrating traditional instruments with digital technology for reasons other than amplification or sound processing could be a possible direction when it is clearly understood what benefits can be obtained. At this stage all that can be said is that Human/Computer interaction could bring about new paradigms in human performance while maintaining the performer/acoustic instrument relationship. If acoustic instruments are to continue to evolve along side their purely electronic counterparts then this may be the only significant direction for the future. In this respect, it is hoped that the practical work in this thesis has contributed towards this evolutionary path.

Tile Page | Acknowledgements | Abstract | Contents | Examples
Introduction | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5
Bibliography | Discography | Appendices