The work presented here is an unusual and unconventional union of two technologies - Nineteenth century mechanical and Twentieth century digital - brought together for the purpose of creating music from what must be regarded as an extended instrument. Although the integration of microcomputer technology and the acoustic piano may arouse mixed feelings from various musical quarters, it nevertheless draws upon two well defined intellectual and creative disciplines - computer science and the piano tradition.
In recent years computer science has become a conduit between the arts and sciences. Concepts and inspiration flow in both directions from time to time but the trend of late has been predominantly from the sciences to the arts. This is attributable to the fact that the arts have embraced the computer and digital technology as the medium of the future. Introducing the acoustic piano into this scenario also brings several hundred years of human thought and endeavour in the form of the piano tradition. Certainly, in this context some of it is of little relevance, but on the whole, it challenges the use of the new technology by presenting paradigms in performance and aesthetics. While integrating a microcomputer with the operation of a piano is not in itself particularly innovative in this day and age, it more importantly can be viewed as affording a new and different perspective on contemporary music, one which cannot be easily acquired from either technology on its own.
In the field of automatic music performance the player piano had an early and influential role. Its widespread popularity gave it a social and aesthetic context which encouraged experimentation and discussion on a broader scale than is perhaps realised now. We tend to associate it with the past but in the early decades of this century some composers associated it with the future. The fact that those few composers are today not widely remembered as being associated with the instrument in its capacity as an automatic performer is perhaps due not only to a fundamental conservatism but also to the immense changes that have taken place during the intervening years. These changes, as one would expect, have focused attention on the future with scant regard for the past.
The project from the outset was not an attempt to resurrect the spirit of the player piano (an erroneous impression that struck some people on their first encounter with the system). Inspired by the potential of the microprocessor, it was felt that the acoustic piano could be explored with a precision and originality that no preceding technology could match. Curiously, at the time of the project's inception, the microcomputer was regarded as the way of the future but of limited use in the present. Few computer music composers experienced the microcomputer environment until the advent of MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface - refer 2.1).
Since the idea of a microcomputer-controlled piano has not been extensively treated in the literature and is not regarded as belonging in the mainstream of computer music activities, it was felt that a diversity of material and broader approach to the content of this thesis was warranted. In this respect, chapters 1 and 2 present historical and general discussions on the two principal components: the piano, as a vehicle for automatic music, and the microcomputer. The remaining chapters 3, 4 and 5 detail the use and results from the systems with various subjects interspersed that were thought pertinent or influential to the past and future development of acoustic instruments under microcomputer control.
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