While my elected representative gently weeps?

Yes, don’t miss this video, going social today, from Japan, in which a guitarist perfectly times playing to a politician’s sob story.

You might assume this isn’t relevant to CDM. But let’s say it hits the whammy bar — on your MIND. Earlier this month, I attended the NIME2014 conference – New Interfaces for Musical Expression. Year after year, groups like these discuss the merits of instrumental interfaces for expression. Generally, instruments like the guitar – good. Instruments like the piano – bad. No ability to add nuance after you hit a note, no ability to find any intonation between the pitches specified by the keys.

And with electronic instruments, the notion was to find things closer to guitars and violins and whatnot, rather than the preferred electronic method of making synths into a keyboard – or, better yet, a machine where you press a button and rhythms come out.

As a piano player, of course, I always slightly resented this accepted conventional wisdom. I won’t start on what typically follows, which is people talking about how only the guitarists get laid while the keyboardist is stuck in the back. That’s for you to sort out yourselves. I would assume anyone with the patience to play a French Horn would probably make a terrific lover, though they don’t get any credit at all and to be honest, I haven’t tested that theory.

But I’m speechless. Yes, I think the new test of human-like musical expression should be whether you can capture the nuance of a sobbing Japanese official. I’ll propose that paper for NIME next year. Maybe we can find this guy and fly him in as a keynote, then show him Steel Magnolias.

I’ll keep playing the keyboards, though.

Update: here’s what happens when you add ebonies and ivories.

From the same artist, what the piano lacks in the guitar’s sobbing capabilities it makes up for in percussive insistence:

Sarah Palin, like a brilliant piano solo

(Thanks, Marc!) And yes, see also many other works mapping the melodies of human speech to equal-tempered pitches, including the Steve Reich theater work The Cave.

  • http://melodiefabriek.com Marco Raaphorst

    speech melodies done in the right way. Steve Reich would approve. and yes a guitar is a very expressive instrument. I am playing it for over 33 years now. it’s never perfectly in tune. it’s never hum free. it’s never noise free. it’s sort off analog glitchy. and I still love it. thanks for this post. that video is excellent.

  • Gwydion

    Re: French Horn theory…


    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Hey, this is a family site! Those images are —

      Uh —

      Yes, actually perfectly standard depictions of someone playing the French Horn. Never mind.

  • lala

    Fun video.
    The piano thing is much to musical and he is cheating he is not playing single notes.

  • Lime

    I guess I agree with the general idea that less mechanics in an instrument means more expressive potential. But pianos obviously don’t lack expressive power. And you can get them to indirectly intone “in-between” notes. A big part of the style of Thelonious Monk is exactly hitting adjacent keys on the piano simultaneously to produce a sound that implies the pitch between them.


    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Ha, well, you don’t have to convince me of this. 😉 I was hence being slightly tongue in cheek.

      It’s funny. I think it’s the ubiquity of the piano that causes the resistance. It’s good to think outside that instrument sometimes.

      You wouldn’t complain that percussion lacks continuous pitch capability. And you wouldn’t complain that a violin isn’t as good as a percussion instrument. At the same time, you can create pitch variations on percussion, and play percussion on a violin.

      So, there’s some value to pushing against the limitations of the instrument. Acoustic instruments actually *don’t* have unlimited expression. It’s the open-ended quality of computers that makes us imagine that for electronic instruments.

  • angstrom

    It’s actually quite easy to do this in a DAW, simply download the all new sample pack …JapoliticianPackPro ! 127 loops of politician tears programmed by top producers including DJshovels and Goldmina. Unleash the sound everyone is talking about with this 96Khz slab of raw political contrition, suitable for BlubStep, WeepHouse and more. Only 79.99 with the offer code “YOUHAVEBEENREDUCEDTOTHIS”

  • hydroid

    I’m sure this is what Hell sounds like.

  • haj

    Wow that’s really new ‘dangerous kitchen’ !!

    • Hans Tammen

      Or a new Rene Loussier with Charles De Gaulle’s speeches!

  • papernoise

    Yes Steve Reich would love this! More than proving that one instrument is better than others it proves that our languages (some more and some less) are a lot more tonal than we would think. Tough of course the politician is more screaming/crying than speaking, which also explains why the guitar works better, not because it’s better, but because distortion creates more complex timbres, which better fit the screaming voice of the politician.

  • Hans Tammen

    “how only the guitarists get laid while the keyboardist is stuck in the back” conjures up beautiful images!