Pianoteq is an effort to model, rather than sample, acoustic pianos and other instruments on the computer. Now in its third major release, its interface and sound generation have each matured. Using mathematical models in place of recorded sounds, an entire grand piano fits in just a few megs of space, rather than requiring several DVDs, and the software maker claims the results can be more natural and playable.
Pianoteq, which runs as do its rivals on Mac and Windows, is also unusual in providing support for the Linux operating system – something some developers have claimed isn’t practical with commercial music software. And a new “Player” addition, announced this month, makes it more affordable. In addition to software development, the team has even launched an extensive piano restoration effort:
I’ve been impressed with my time playing with Pianoteq’s software. That’s especially meaningful to me, as my background in music has been on acoustic pianos, back to when I was literally old enough to reach the keys for the first time. But I also wanted to know more about how this software developed. Its rigorous approach to modeling has attracted a lot of attention in the virtual instrument world, and the fact that it targets Linux alongside Mac and Windows challenges notions that commercial software can’t make it on the free operating system.
Pianoteq sent along some extensive answers, which I’m pleased to be able to share. Naturally, they’re proud of their software, so there is a bit of expected boasting here. (I’ll discuss more of the experience of using the tool, and the new Player version, shortly). But they also have some fascinating commentary on sound design, modeling, and the development process. In the “geeky as we want to be” spirit of this site, here’s the full scoop.
CDM: Can you talk about the background of the company? How does one make a shift from dealing with the physical instruments and tuning to thinking about mathematical models, let alone translate that into actual software?
Philippe: the Pianoteq history is strongly connected to my first job as a piano tuner. Then at the age of 31, I started a new life with basic studies in mathematics at the University of Toulouse, France. After what I prepared my PhD thesis on the parametrization of vibrating phenomena, without imagining that it would be the basis of my third life with Pianoteq. Thanks to these two skills and to an exceptional scientific environment in Toulouse, I succeeded in identifying important phenomena responsible for the generation of the piano sound and proposed a model which describes the whole interaction of the soundboard, strings, bridge and air.
Julien: I was working as an engineer at Institute of Mathematics of Toulouse, with Philippe (who was also my teacher when I was a student). My focus was on an open-source finite element package ( http://home.gna.org/getfem ) when Philippe told me about his project of piano sound synthesis. I took charge of the development of the real-time engine, and we quickly decided that we wanted to turn this research project into a commercial product. Thanks to the French law on innovation and research (1999), the support of INSA Toulouse, and the Institute of Mathematics, the start-up MODARTT was created in 2006 to sell Pianoteq, which was at that time the first fully modeled piano instrument.
Niclas: I represented many of Pianoteq’s customers of today, being a part time piano composer with a love for the piano instrument. I was updating an extensive article on digital piano technology in 2004 when someone advised me to have a look at Philippe’s research. I immediately understood its potential, which is why I suggested Philippe to assist in marketing and product development. Since then, I have participated in the product development and testing and am also in charge of sales and customer service.
Modeling the Piano with Math
I remember trying previous attempts at piano modeling and finding them interesting but ultimately unsatisfying. I think people who pick up Pianoteq have, immediately, a different experience. What’s different about this modeling approach than those that have come before – and, for that matter, why did it take until now?
Philippe: The idea of modeling musical instruments is very old and has always faced great difficulties: the complexity of physical phenomena, the sensitivity of the human ear to the slightest imperfection, and the difficulty of running a complex model in real-time. The latency needs to be so small that it gives to the musician the impression of playing a real acoustic instrument. Until now, attempts have only confirmed that the task was not easy. The state of the art of digital pianos is based on sampling technology. Each note is a recording of how it sounded at a specific moment, without taking into account the complexity of the instrument. The huge data generated by sampling can reach 40 Gbytes for a single piano. The flow rate of data transmitted from the hard drive to the sound device is too high for the current hardware capacity and it can happen that one hears crackles. [Ed.: I would say fast hard drives, optimized software streaming, and other intelligent configuration can certainly avoid crackles, but the fact that, say, a low-end hard drive might choke means that Philippe's point about data intensity here is nonetheless well taken. -PK]
Moreover, the reproduced sound lacks vividness. Hence, creating a piano model which takes into account the interaction between hammer and strings, the interaction between strings and soundboard via the bridge and the interaction of the soundboard with the air is of great interest. Based on mathematical models, Pianoteq allows parameters to be stretched as long as the model permits, resulting not only in new performance styles but also in new piano sounds. Pianoteq is thus also an innovating tool for music creation and can be useful not only to musicians but also to piano manufacturers and piano tuners for simulation and training purposes. Pianoteq makes excellence in piano available to all. Among Pianoteq users, composers and professionals in music creation are certainly the most excited with our innovation. Pianoteq offers what acoustic and sampled pianos cannot offer: new opportunities for music creation and a pure piano sound that is not altered by its environment (reverberation) or by recording devices.
Can you talk more about the model itself? I can see the components that are modeled, but – realizing we have fairly technical people among our audience – what are the basic modeling techniques?
Philippe: the modeling technique is based on various standard techniques issued from mechanics theory including modal analysis (calculation of vibration frequencies and the corresponding modes) and parametrization techniques that we developed at the university, as well as from a precise knowledge issued from my previous job as piano tuner/restorer of what is going on in a piano and what is important.
How did that approach to modeling evolve? Obviously, there’s this strong mathematical research background. But what’s the process like of translating that theory into something that’s usable? Were there mistakes or adjustments along the way?
Philippe: I don’t think there were mistakes along our model evolution, but more a constant improvement in the details taken into account by the model, looking closer to the physics of the piano and finding suddenly some simplification in the algorithms that allow to take include more details for the same computational cost or being more precise in the simulation.
Developing for Linux
How did you make the decision to support Linux in addition to Windows and Mac?
Julien: The initial prototypes for pianoteq were developed on Linux, using [audio system] JACK, with no GUI. Later, when we added a graphical interface and turned it into a VST plugin, we used VSTGUI for its interface, which is not available on Linux. However we had quite a few requests from Linux users, and we did make sure that pianoteq was running fine in WINE [an open-source implementation of Windows' APIs, allowing Windows programs to run in Linux]. During the development of Pianoteq 3, we switched to the JUCE toolkit, which is a great piece of cross-platform software. Thanks to JUCE, the Linux port was really easy to do, so we decided to give it a try and see what happens.
One complaint I hear from developers about Linux is that it’s “impossible” to do commercial development, because you “can’t” distribute binaries. Obviously, that didn’t stop you. I’ve tried Pianoteq on Fedora and Ubuntu, though, under both the real-time and default kernels, and had immediate success. Now, I imagine there’s a good bit of work that goes into making that happen. What was your experience like as a developer? Do you feel that the result is successful, that it is a usable solution for users?
Julien: This was in fact something that we also feared, that the Linux port would turn into a support nightmare. However a good example of a successful application that is distributed in binary form is Renoise. That showed us that it was possible to do. In fact Renoise also uses JUCE, but I was not aware of that fact at that time. What helps here for binary portability is that we have very few dependencies. JUCE is statically linked, so pianoteq depends on very few dynamic libraries: ALSA, X11, libc (even old versions), and basically that’s all. We had to hack some sort of weak linking for JACK in order to allow pianoteq to run even when libjack.so is not available. Of course, if you want better integration in the desktop, things get much more complicated.
What’s your own Linux testing setup like? (distro? kernel?)
Julien: Pianoteq is built on a Debian Sarge box, otherwise we generally use Ubuntu for the desktop, with the default kernel. [Ed.: The distribution Ubuntu is itself built on packages from Debian; 10.04 LTS uses Debian Testing.]
I’ve likewise been impressed with the vanilla kernel (as opposed to the “real-time” branch), which can save some setup time and configuration work. (My audio interface is a Native Instruments Audio Kontrol 1). Any thoughts on what setups may be most advisable? (You document some of this in the readme.)
Julien: I’ve never been lucky with the kernels labelled “rt” , and I really hate when the computer randomly hangs so I prefer to stick with default kernels. We don’t have issues with them, as long as your user account has been granted real-time priviledges. I believe that for now, the most overlooked setting for realtime audio is the CPU frequency throttling, which is a real audio performance killer, especially on the less powerful machines such as netbooks. You really need to have your cpu running at full speed 100% of the time, especially with a software like Pianoteq which needs quite a bit of CPU power.
Ed.: Before we give the realtime kernel a bad name, some of those “random hangs” were not necessarily the kernel’s fault – a bug in Ubuntu’s implementation caused the system to crash when combining the RT kernel with proprietary NVIDIA drivers, for instance. But if this sort of thing scares you, the vanilla kernel remains a strong option – it’s the default for a reason. The larger discussion is best saved for another article, but suffic,e to say, if latency-sensitive piano instrument developers are okay with the vanilla kernel, you shouldn’t feel you have to install a realtime kernel just to make music. If you want to test it, projects like Fedora’s Planet CCRMA can make it easier to use.
Are you finding that there is some positive response to the Linux version?
Julien: Yes, very positive response. In fact, a bit more than what we expected at the beginning. Approximately 4% of our customers are using the Linux version.
I could even imagine it working on netbooks. Based on load, it appears perfectly workable, which means a really cheap ultra-portable piano you can take anywhere.
We spent some time to make sure that the latest versions could run on netbooks, altough with very high CPU load (80% or more). However I’d recommend to use a more powerful laptop in order to have more room for the cpu. Ed.: Given the range of Atom netbooks out there now, I may have to test some of the newer models on this.]
There’s not currently a Linux plug-in version, correct? I’ve been just as happy using JACK [a standard for routing audio between applications], but what went into that decision?
Julien: Right, no plug-in version on Linux for now. The problem is that “plug-in” may mean any combination of VST, DSSI, and LV2. VST would be the easiest for us, but very few hosts support it ( basically only proprietary hosts such as renoise and energyxt, and also jost). DSSI is said to be obsolete, while being not to hard to support (except the GUI has to run in a separate process..). LV2 is said to be the future, but
it seems to be quite complicated to fit a “vst-like” plugin into an lv2 plug-in. We have not yet taken a decision. It is already enough of a pain to support the numerous plug-in formats on Mac and Windows. We will probably add support for JACK sessions quite soon.
Initially, having so much power over sound could be overwhelming – looking at the number of parameters you can adjust in the real-time mathematical model. Aside from the presets (which themselves sound pretty terrific), how would you suggest someone go about beginning to explore the options? Is there a workflow that makes sense for approaching adjusting the sound?
Answer from Pianoteq:
Ed.: So I should have read the *** manual! Here’s their advice:
If you need to adapt the piano sound you could for example try adjusting the hammer hardness (2) to achieve a different brightness of the hammer strokes. Increasing unison width (3) makes it a bit out of tune (resembling certain acoustic pianos). The new powerful sound recording feature (4) lets you place up to 5 virtual microphones anywhere around the piano to achieve ultimate ambience and tone colour. The dynamics and velocity curve (5) will most likely need to be adjusted to the keyboard used in a MIDI file performance.
Indeed, this commentary makes sense. Hammer hardness is something that could be adjusted in the maintenance of an actual piano. Since you listen to a software piano model as though it is amplified, adjusting mic placement (as on a number of piano software emulations) is a no-brainer. And dynamics and velocity curve are essential not only for MIDI files, but if your keyboard controller lacks these controls onboard.
As my friend Jim Aikin noted in his review of Pianoteq – why would you adjust the speed of sound? ;) (I suppose you could account for different altitudes; I could replicate the Aspen Music Festival!)
Julien: Well, why not ! Being in a virtual world gives you access to some parameters that cannot be easily modified in the real world, if they give interesting variations of the sound, then they are worth being adjusted!
One small note – it seems the metronome is not connected to the playback and recording, which means that MIDI sequences won’t export to SMF correctly? (Or is this a Linux bug?)
Julien: Yes, it’s not a bug, the MIDI recording and playback abilities of the standalone application are very minimalistic. It is best to use a real sequencer for serious work.
Where can people read more about the featured historical instruments?
There are some fascinating add-ons that aren’t pianos. Is it possible at some point that other sound designers might be able to use the sound engine to design their own instruments?
Julien: We believe that Pianoteq PRO is already a first step in that direction, with its ability to edit each parameter note by note.
How are users using this onstage and in the studio? What sorts of users have you found using the product?
Niclas: There are many composers and keyboardists that use Pianoteq, from amateurs to professionals, on stage as well as in the recording studios. We have presented a few reference users here: http://www.pianoteq.com/references
Thanks to the Pianoteq guys for being thorough in the answers. I know not everyone responds in the same way in regards to the perceived quality of the model, but my own feeling is that the effort makes the instrument terrifically playable and responsive. The best way to see for yourself is to give the demo a go, and listen to the results. I’ll follow up more on this instrument, and how it’s become a central part of my Linux music workstation, soon. Let us know if you have questions for the developers I missed.
Customization has always been fashionable and sneaker freaks have really taken advantage of the on-going craze. With major sneaker companies pushing personalized shoes, Nike has decided again to get you wanting more by adding some new colours and models to their NikeID store.
Street wear shop inflammable.com offers, in association with Nike, users the chance to win their very own personalized sneaker.
With the cut-off date quickly approaching, June 8th at noon, a flurry of emails has ensued. To get in on the action, follow the steps below:
Step by step process:
1. Go to www.nikeid.nike.com
2. Find your category (e.g. Men / Nike Sportswear)
3. Chose shoe type (e.g. Air Max 1)
4.Go to the left side and click on ‚Start Blank’
5. Start customizing!
6. Chose shoe size
7.Save your shoe style
8.Click on the ‚Email Button’ located to the lower right
9. In the following email follow these guidelines and answer these questions:
– From: Your email address
– To: email@example.com
– Your complete name
– Your name on facebook
– What will you call you model
– Telephone number
10. Add Inflammable as a friend at http://www.facebook.com/inflammable.de and become a fan of http://www.facebook.com/inflammable.shop on Facebook
11. A email confirming your customized shoe is visible on Inflammable’s facebook page will be sent to you
12. From that point onwards it is up to you to kindly ask your Facebook friends to go to Inflammable’s Facebook page and to LIKE your shoe!
For further questions email firstname.lastname@example.org
Need more help? Watch the video tutorial:
Experimental hip-hop and found sound producer Lukid is set set to release his third album on Actress‘ Werk Discs label later this year. No details have been revealed as yet, just a copy of the cover art posted on the Werk Discs’ Twitter page. However, Lukid has been a busy man recently, releasing a brace of remixes on Ghostly International, so we can hopefully expect something rather special from the English producer.
Due to be released on vinyl only the album contains a mix of new songs and tracks such as ‘Saddlebags’ and title track ‘Chords’ that were available on his previous, CD-only album, Forma. There is currently no information about a release date so, in the meantime, immerse yourself in the rather wonderful ‘Sky Fly’:
C1 Hair of the Dog
C2 Child of the Jago
D2 Through Gritted Teeth
Via Fact Magazine
I got to the RichMix a couple of hours early as I was meeting a good friend (TJ Chana, Asian Underground London FB) to chill out and chat with. To my surprise and sheer good fortune Karsh Kale, Midival Punditz, Vishal Vaid and Pt. Ajay Prasanna where busy sound testing. Can you imagine the excitement within? Being a fan of these gents as long as I’ve been a fan of Talvin’s I got the opportunity to watch them fine tune their performance – a true blessing.
After having dinner with them and the legendary Osmani Soundz and Shandy from The Nasha Experience we made our way back to the venue to an absolutely pumpin’ vibe. Bobby Friction was on the decks busting some of the finest dubstep getting the crowd warmed up for one amazing night.
Like majority of the people I had been waiting for this for ages! The last time they were in London together was 1999 when Karsh and Punditz first met! The place went MENTAL when Karsh, Punditz, Vishal and Pt Ajay walked on stage.
Below pics & vids by TJ Chana:
Jumping straight into the first track PD7 from the album Breathing Under Water a great way to start. Intense table beats and drum n bass combined with beautiful melodies being played by Pt Ajay on the Bansuri was a treat!
PD7 – Live @ Richmix
Next up was Letting Go from the album Liberation. This time, Karsh switching from Tabla to the drum kit and a fantastic entry number for Vishal Vaid, whose voice captivated the crowd. I was watching some of the reactions of some of people around me and their eyes popped.
Letting Go – Live @ Richmix
Letting Go was followed by the very dreamlike and feel good track – Sunbeam that features on a fantastic compilation album called REVOLUTION RISING: ethnotechno.com vol.1 presented by dimmSummer.
This track carries you off to a totally different place if you allowed it to soak into and through you. Utilising Vishal’s vocals to the best of its ability.
Then a track we had all been waiting for, named after his daughter and on the original featured tabla maestro himself Zakir Hussain! A beautiful improvisation and an expansion of the original just enhanced it tenfold! I don’t have need to say anything more … just watch the below clip …
Milan: Karsh Kale/Midival Punditz Ft Pt Ajay Prasana
After Milan, my favourite track off the album Hello Hello and originally sung by Angaraag Papon Mahanta was on. Naina Laagey, a seriously beautiful track. I cannot fault it in any way, was simply enchanting and breath-taking.
Heres the original: Live at Paleo Fest 09 not RichMix.
After another an amazing 4 tracks, Atomizer, Electric Universe, Drifting, Bhangra Fever
They ended the gig with Challa.
“the government is picking up the pieces after KK, MPz VV and Pt.AP smashed London” … TJ Chana
Im a huge fan of these guys, got all their albums etc. However there’s nothing like watching your favourite artists performing on stage just a few feet away from you and really bringing alive what you’ve been listening to through speakers and earphones for so many years. It’s how the tracks were intended to be heard LIVE! As I mentioned before there were some
fantastic renditions of original tracks and that a good thing! You don’t want to be hearing the same version as the CD, you want that extra spin, something unique that puts their talents on display which they delivered gracefully.
All the guys are incredibly down to earth, and that’s probably one of the best things about the music I listen to, getting to interact with the artists and finding out they’re just like you and me. The great thing about the gig was the reaction of fans. Watching their faces light up track after track, seeing a constant smile of appreciation made it all worth it in the end!
By far one of the best gigs I’ve been too!
I know for a fact the gig was only a fraction of what they are capable of, I just hope they keep coming back to the UK and allowing us to experience their life’s work.
Thank you: Karsh, Gaurav, Tapan, Vishal, Pt. Ajay, Osmani Soundz, Shandy, TJ Chana!! and Thank you to all those that follow the NADA:BRAHMAN and support the Asian Underground FB page, fantastic meeting you guys hope to see you all again.
Legendary Bristol post-punk band the Pop Group are reforming. Cited as as an influence by a number of modern producers including LCD Soundsystem, the band have been credited with creating ‘punk-funk’. Politically charged, abrasive, trailblazing – any number of adjectives could be used to describe the legacy of the seminal group who were led by Mark Stewart.
Stewart later went on to form cult band Mark Stewart and the Mafia with Skip McDonald and Doug Wimbash of the Sugar Hill Gang. Other members of the Pop Goup went on to form Pig Pag or be part of outfits such as PiL and African Head Charge.
The last time the band recorded together was in 1980 for For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?, but their influence still resonates today. Disparate acts from Massive Attack to Tricky, Atari Teenage Riot to Nine Inch Nails all carry mutated influences that can be traced back to the Pop Group – arguably the first influential band to come out of the city of Bristol, and acknowledged ‘godfathers’ of the ‘Bristol scene’. Punk funk, agit pop, industrial and noise music have all at various times been credited with being invented by the band.
In a typically oblique press release, the band state that they will be reforming to record a new project, The Alternate, and to play some secret shows. The press release also goes on to state their new manifesto : Deny The Politics of Envy. Taste is a form of personal censorship. Technique is the the refuge of the insecure. We are the new banalists.
The first two shows (according to Mark Stewart) are to take place in Italy, on September 18th in Bologna and 20th in Turin.
God bless you, 4/4. Yes, there’s still something about that four-beat, sixteen step bar that gets toes tapping and booties shaking and floors fouring on the… floor. So, when musician and maker Steve Cooley decided he wanted more physical control, he didn’t want some perfectly generic controls, and he didn’t want rows and columns. He wanted sixteen steps and faders alongside. The result is Beatseqr, an Arduino-powered hardware controller recently spotted at the Maker Faire outside San Francisco.
Because it’s just a controller, they’ve built Roxor, a Mac software step app that sends OSC, and Steppa, a Max/MSP patch, though other options would be viable. The idea is to combine software to make a productive “toolchain.” (I’m still surprised people don’t make more use of tools like Python for these sorts of tasks, not only for cross-platform compatibility, but even for ease. But the principle is the same.)
I like the idea and layout, and if you want one, you can even buy one for $299. (We’re talking extremely limited runs. Right now, there appears to be … one of them.) It’s a cool creation, though it makes me imagine this as a prototype for something else – something with onboard MIDI or possibly even basic onboard sound generation. I think we could be on the verge of a real explosion in new, hand-built devices of that sort. And that could mean layouts like the one found on Roland’s 808 are about to make a very big comeback, re-imagined for a new generation.
And the bottom line: it’s fun for its creator. It’s not only a solution to a problem from an engineering perspective; it represents bridging the gap from wanting something, and realizing exactly that thing you want by making it yourself. As Steve puts it:
The goal wasn’t to create a box that can do all things for all people. It’s a specific tool for a specific purpose. It is a very fun tool for improvising and performing.
If that isn’t the spirit of DIY, I don’t know what is.
On his MySpace, LA based DJ and producer Tony Nuccio lists “Paradise Garage in my past life” as his influences. As is apparent in his latest mix, taking the vibe from the seminal New York nightclub into 2010 for Nuccio means deep, driving house grooves with big chords and big vocals.
The mix finishes off with Tony Nuccio’s recent remix of Jill Scott’s Wanna Be Loved. We’re sure the Garage’s patron Larry Levan is smiling from house heaven.