Piano Street Magazine

Dear Glenn – Can Yamaha Bring Gould’s Genius Back to Life?

January 9th, 2020 in Piano News by | 9 comments

Yamaha’s ongoing project to develop a piano playing Artificial Intelligence system has been dubbed “Dear Glenn”, as a tribute to Glenn Gould. The project is “inspired by his unique creative style and launched to explore the future of music through the use of artificial intelligence.”

The famous Canadian pianist announced the end of his concert career at age 31 and began to concentrate on studio recording, broadcasting, and writing about music. The recordings from his later years, including his legendary 1981 Goldberg Variations, were recorded on Yamaha pianos. With the support of the Glenn Gould Foundation, Yamaha has now analyzed over 100 hours of Gould’s performance recordings to develop an understanding of his playing style, and turn his interpretations into music performance data. Here is a short documentary about Yamaha’s effort to bring Glenn Gould’s musical genius back to life:

Unique performances “in the style of Glenn Gould”

Rather than just reproducing Gould’s performances, the project’s aim has been to train a mapping between the music score and the performance data, so that the AI ends up being able to generate performance data to any music score. In other words, when the AI plays the aria of the Goldberg variations, it’s a new interpretation, supposedly “in the style of Glenn Gould”. In addition to Gould’s audio recordings, AI learning data included human input in the form of performances by pianists who were admirers of Gould and intimately familiar with his performance style.

Training of the AI in three steps:

The system is also able to interact and synchronize with fellow human musicians. This capability is achieved by controlling the playback based on an analysis of the sound and the motion generated by the human partner.

Would Glenn be horrified?

The pianist Bruce Brubaker, one of the projects advisors, says that many things remain to be done, but that “in its best moments, the project offers the sense that the playing we hear is expressive and does have a very strong connection to some sort of humanity rather than feeling machine-like”.

Of course, the inevitable question is what Gould himself would say about this. “It’s possible that on one hand he might be horrified, but then on the other I think he would be really thrilled — probably a little of both”, says Brubeker. What fascinates him about the Glenn Gould project is really not the project itself, but how much it tells us about what the future may hold: “AI can be used to capture the artistic personality and ethos of a human player.”

Doubtless, this project raises a lot of questions. Watch the extract from a concert featuring the “Dear Glenn” AI system and form your own opinion. How far have Yamaha got towards capturing Glenn Gould’s “artistic personality”? What do you think the future may hold in terms of human vs. AI music performance?

Feel free to post your comments below!

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  • Raro2020 says:

    The next sentence of Brubaker’s comment is revealing:

    ”Of course, this raises the question of what exactly expressiveness is, because we used to imagine that humans had some ideas or feelings, or thoughts, and that somehow those things were then transformed into a pattern of sounds that were received by another human who received an experience something like the first person had.”

    The full interview at the “Dear Glenn” website:

  • Robert says:

    This is the saddest post I have read in a long time. I embrace technology but to try to emulate human activity is ludicrous! I shal not give this any more time.

  • Gary says:

    Good, but still missing something else that Glenn had?
    The human element, I suppose?

  • M K Stahl says:

    Thank you for your sensitive learning and willingness to pass it on to many music lovers, especially, the piano students.

  • Mary B says:

    I think Horowitz once said that he never played a piece the exact same way twice. I don’t think that AI can ever capture that freedom of expression that comes with being in the moment. It may capture a style, but it can never be a true expression of a human soul and spirit.

  • Kathy G says:

    How depressing!! Every day I read of yet another way to rob humanity of their spirit, soul, connection to the One Creator. This is on a par with purchasing a robotic plastic sex doll. Really? Not the same. Sad, sad, sad and then more sad.

  • Bruce says:

    The question ‘Can we?’ becomes ‘Should we?’. The answer depends.

  • Tony S. says:

    Utterly depressing. AI has no part in the truly human experience.

  • Jenny Backwell says:

    Clever no doubt. BUT WHY ? What’s wrong with just listening to the original recordings ?

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