Forget the Rock Band video game, software is being developed that not only recreates Beatles performances, it allows the Fab Four to play other artists' music in their own style... which means you could be hearing a Beatles version of Coldplay songs in the near future!
Fancy some tickets to a live performance by the Beatles – with Jimi Hendrix on guitar? This could become a reality thanks to Zenph Studios, a North Carolina company that is developing software which not only recreates famous musicians' performances, it also learns the "DNA" of their style, letting them perform music that they never played before.
Zenph is best known for their "re-performances" of works by Glenn Gould, Art Tatum and Rachmaninov. On those albums, the company's software memorised the original musicians' performances and then recreated them on computerised pianos, in state-of-the-art recording studios...
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"We know what makes an artist sound like them," Jeff McIntyre, Zenph's director of sales and marketing, told the Pocket-Lint technology website. By studying the musical "algorithm" of a given artist, Zenph hopes to recreate performances that never actually happened. "Everything you've known to be frozen will be free," McIntyre said. "It will be a sea change."
Not only does Zenph hope to release a CD of, say, "Oscar Peterson" playing Moon River with "Keith Moon" and "John Lennon", but the company's audio fingerprinting lets them tweak tiny aspects of the performance. "You will be able to change key, tone, make it sadder, happier as well as change the point of view or the location," McIntyre said. "Imagine if you wanted to hear the songs Norah Jones played as if you were Norah Jones. We could re-record her performance with the microphone where her head is as she doesn't have to be sitting at the piano. Or how about if you want to hear what the song would sound like in the audience at a certain concert hall or venue. All is possible."
Then again, it's also technically "possible" that Lady Gaga will win the Nobel prize for literature. Zenph admits that the technology is still a long way off. So far, they have only captured the performance "essence" of four artists: Gould, Rachmaninov, Tatum and Oscar Peterson – all pianists. But McIntyre says that work on the bass guitar is 90% complete, and they hope to create "fantasy" performances – like Eric Clapton with the Byrds – within five years.
However, even if the technology is there, and Zenph finds the funds ("When we started it would cost us $14 a note to capture the musical DNA," McIntyre said, "now we are down to $2"), there is an unresolved copyright issue. "We are breaking new ground here," McIntyre said. "There is nothing in the law about bringing back artists from the dead to play to a concert hall or stadium."
This week, New Yorkers will have the chance to judge Zenph's high-tech player piano for themselves – Rachmaninov plays Rachmaninov at Carnegie Hall on Friday.
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