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Home » DIY, Featured Videos, Strange and Weird, Videos

The talking piano

Submitted by on October 7, 2009 – 8:13 am 17 Comments

Peter Ablinger was born in Austria, in 1959. He’s a graphic artist and a student of jazz, and he is a fairly prolific composer. Peter has made it his mission to question the nature of sound, time, and space – the components usually thought central to music.

Now, Peter has done something quite amazing with a piano. He goes beyond notes, beyond noise, beyond composition – he can make the piano talk. Yes, talk.

What he’s managed to do is pretty incredible. Peter analyzed the frequency spectrum of a child’s voice using fourier analysis, and then transferred this frequency spectrum of the child’s voice into his own software on his computer.

He then created a mechanical “auto-player” for his piano that plays the piano keys via midi computer control. His software then assigns keys to the various frequency components of the resulting fourier transform, and uses the piano’s notes to re-assemble the spectrum.

The result is amazing – the piano actually ‘plays’ the voice, much like a vocoder. It obviously isn’t perfect, but if you follow the captions, it’s clear that the piano is ‘speaking’.

The voice is courtesy of Miro Markus, an elementary school student from Berlin, who narrated the text for the performance: “Youth as a hope for the older generation.”

Peter says:

I break down this phonography, meaning a recording of something the voice, in this case, in individual pixels, one can say. And if I have the possibility of a rendering in a fairly high resolution (and that I only get with a mechanical piano), then I in fact restore some kind of continuity. Therefore, with a little practice, or help or subtitling, we actually can hear a human voice in a piano sound.

Check it out:

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  • THE TALKING PIANO
  • Talking piano
  • Thetalkingpiano
  • incredibly fun tone generator practice
  • speaking piano software

17 Comments »

  • scarr says:

    To put it another way, this is basically a vocoder, but realized with a piano.

  • Aengus says:

    scarr – it’s completely different from a vocoder.

    A vocoder simply plays the sample of the human voice, modifying the signal in order to adjust its pitch.

    In this, nothing is adjusted – merely a spectral analysis of the sound signal is performed, the computer decides which keys should be hit, how hard, and when, in order to emulate the speech signal using the piano.

  • Alf says:

    Aengus, you’re talking about auto-tune. Not the same thing. This is indeed a physical vocoder.

  • bob says:

    aengus – scarr is right, it is like a vocoder. you may be thinking of autotune. a vocoder breaks an incoming signal (speech) into frequency bands (i.e. spectral analysis), and then plays back tones at those frequencies with their amplitude modulated by the spectral analysis. in this case, the piano notes are those tones.

  • Alex G says:

    How to get a recording of the message played back? If anyone knows… please email me!

    (sociophobe) a-t (gmail) d-o-t (com)

    Thanks :)

  • Marvin says:

    Wow. That’s insane. It’s pretty amazing that you can make a piano make those sounds… I mean… yeah. It’s really freaky when you realize how it’s happening.

  • Piano Prices says:

    The auto-playing piano, i can handle.. But a talking piano, it sounds pretty freaky.haha It may be used as props on horror movies. Seriously, I think I want the piano to stay as conventional as it was when it was first invented.

  • redvoid says:

    This is a good example of how technology has moved so fast that exploring all the permutations of existing tech is still at a very low percentage of realization. He’s using multiple forms of existing technology to create something completely new.

  • The talking / speaking piano…

    “What he’s managed to do is pretty incredible. Peter analyzed the frequency spectrum of a child’s voice using fourier analysis, and then transferred this frequency spectrum of the child’s voice into his own software on his computer.”
    Read…

  • Paul Casson says:

    This is interesting my mathematics is not that advanced if i remember fourier was simplifying algorythms into multiple trig equations
    speech range on old analogue telephone was 300 to 3500 hz range .so what trig functions would you use for each sample?This is like an electromechanical Pulse code modulation machine,Can you write one for VST

  • This is simply achieved by “playing back” a spectrogram. Basically he made a spectrogram of the voice with a resolution so there’s only one row of pixels per note, turned it into a 1-bit bitmap (because a key is either down or not), turned that into a MIDI thing (I assume) and fed it to his mechanical piano controller thing that plays it back.

  • Rob says:

    Actually, my own piano talks, but that’s only because I don’t know how to play it. ;)

    Interesting article. Thanks for the info.

    Vintage Synths

  • FDB says:

    The main functional difference for me between this and a vocoder is that the cross-talk and phasing between bands in a vocoder is harmful to intelligibility. Whereas in the talking piano, it sounds like phase relationships between the harmonics of different keys (and fundamentals as well maybe) are a feature, not a bug. To me it sounds like that’s how the consonants are produced at least (rather than just modulating a few of the higher bands of broad spectrum noise).

  • Piano Musical instrument Piano Draft service manual Pianos…

    The project was sponsored by The Man Group and Blüther pianos, so our hands were not tied to get a good sound….

  • eli57 says:

    Now, Peter has done something quite amazing with a piano. He goes beyond notes, beyond noise, beyond composition

  • Avi87 says:

    Now, Peter has done something quite amazing with a piano. He goes beyond notes, beyond noise, beyond composition

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