The player piano has come, oddly, full circle.
Peer into the editing pane of a music sequencer, and what you see is an abstracted virtual player piano. The editing views are even dubbed “Piano Roll” views (sometimes officially so). The MIDI protocol by which most music devices and apps communicate is itself a kind of port of the piano roll’s paradigm to a digital implementation, with fixed pitch and durations spanning time in an endless loop.
So it’s fitting that Dan Deacon is busy in the studio, feeding a player piano with MIDI and computers in order to make it play layers of unplayable music. The technical work is significant, to be sure, but on another level it’s natural that the computer would speak to the player piano in such terms. These are distant technologies bridged by a common understanding of how to simplify and reproduce music. The process speaks to some of the limitations in the way in which computers typically relate to musical instruments. We may be at the end of the road for this century-old way of thinking about mechanized music. But, extended to the near-breaking point, the maximalist texture that results is all the more beautiful.
Thanks to Jason Bergman for the tip.