Yamaha’s AI Piano System “Dear Glenn”

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Yamaha has unveiled its first comprehensive AI piano system. The Japanese musical instrument manufacturer has been working with artificial intelligence technology for many years, and the fruits of their labour were showcased at a recent concert held at the Ars Electronica Festival 2019 in Linz, Austria.

Yamaha's AI System on stage at Ars Electronica

Yamaha’s AI System on stage at Ars Electronica 2019

But what is an AI piano system? And what does it actually do?

Yamaha’s AI System consists of a Disklavier player piano driven by special software that is designed to think for itself. And to demonstrate the technology, Yamaha’s engineers initially set themselves the goal of getting the system to play any piece of music in the style of Glenn Gould. With the support of the Glenn Gould foundation, they called the project “Dear Glenn”.

The first step was to study the pianist’s performances. Using deep learning technology (a mathematical modelling methodology employing neural networks for data processing) over 100 hours of Gould’s recordings were analysed. In addition, Yamaha examined the performances of several other pianists known to be exponents of Gould’s style.

The “Dear Glenn” documentary explains the processes involved in the project

With all the information processed, the AI System proved capable of playing virtually any piece of piano music as if Gould himself were the pianist.

But Yamaha didn’t stop there. They also integrated their original AI Music Ensemble Technology (first seen back in 2016). This enabled the system to actually interact with other musicians. So the AI pianist could form part of a “real” ensemble.

The Ars Electronica Concert

The event started with a panel session discussing the future use of AI in music performance. Three presentations of the “Dear Glenn” project followed: a solo piano piece, a duet with pianist Francesco Tristano, and an ensemble piece with members of the Bruckner Orchestra Linz.

The piano performances were all AI interpretations — they hadn’t been previously analysed as part of the deep learning process. So the audience was hearing a unique Glenn Gould performance.

Footage from the Ars Electronica Concert (released October, 2019)

Concert footage has just been released (above), and it appears the results of the “Dear Glenn” project were widely appreciated.

The lines between music, people, machines, and algorithms are dissolving, and ‘we are all part of it.’ I want to express my deepest gratitude to Yamaha for trusting in me and allowing me to contribute to the first AI that will provide an interpretation of one of the most visionary musicians in the history of the piano: Glenn Gould.

Francesco Tristano, pianist/composer

So what does this all mean?

Well, this is more than just an academic exercise. This technology will inevitably find its way into digital and player piano systems of the future.

Already we can have a famous pianist “playing’ the piano in our front room (Disklavier, Spirio, etc.). Wouldn’t it now be great to hear world-class pianists, such as Gould, performing one’s own humble compositions!

More information about the “Dear Glenn” project can be found here on the Yamaha website.


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