The piano is a conventional grand, but with digital interface and camera, the composer is separated from it by air, playing without touching. It’s a Theremin interface for a keyboard instrument.
Piano post-modern? Gestural post-digital?
Whatever it is, in a work composer Benjamin Martinson composed for player piano, computer, and Kinect camera, the piano work holds up as musical content – compositional gesture, not just gimmicky digital hand-waving. Martinson himself looks oddly isolated and awkward, a man making rough mime gestures in unseen water, molasses, and wind. I can’t tell whether this is more about our expectations of human movement, or of the piano, or perhaps a combination, that makes these seem incongruous. But the modal rushes of notes from the piano, brash and bright, are confident. I found myself re-listening to the music with my eyes shut. Somehow, then, this strange camera interface allows Martinson to conduct his work, to more completely connect his brain to the musical output.
The music is somehow effortless, and the effort of the composer then becomes infinitely more satisfying than a player piano alone.
To put it another way – Benjamin Martinson’s music is beautiful, earnestly clear without being overly sentimental. (I enjoy his acoustic works.) The interface here becomes extension rather than impediment, as he continues to work across media.
Player pianos and cameras – old technology keeps colliding with new, in endless recursive loops. Here’s what Benjamin says about his work:
A Microsoft Kinect tracks the motion of my arms and legs, and sends this information to a Python program on my laptop. This program uses this information to compose musical instructions, which are sent to the MIDI-controlled piano.
Torrent attempts to find a new sonic world in the familiar piano, by playing it in a different way. Effects like echos or tremolos are applied to the outgoing notes to create a thick, sometimes almost electronic-sounding texture in a completely analog way.
The piece is composed of three main sections. In the first, the performer controls the music by playing an imaginary piano, and in the second he controls it by conducting. In the third section, the intensity of the music is calculated by the distance between the arms and the legs, and the speed of movement.
To check out my other work, please navigate through my YouTube channel, or visit my website at benjaminmartinson.com
Thanks, Benjamin – and Seth Boyer, for the tip!