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Yamaha Disklavier Pro Reproducing Piano recreates the Original Performance

Zenph Studios, Inc. has made music history by developing a new process that, for the first time, captures audio piano recordings – even old or poor-quality ones – and converts them into precise, high-definition descriptions of the original performances that can be exactingly replicated using modern piano technology. This dramatic breakthrough literally captures the pianist’s original performance intentions, placing the listener back at the moment of creation and recreating a performance that may previously have been obscured by the limitations of the original recording.

Because the Yamaha Disklavier Pro reproducing piano is the only musical instrument in production that is capable of high-definition MIDI playback, the piano has been the focus of Zenph’s efforts to date. The Disklavier Pro is a computer-driven grand piano that uses stored high-definition MIDI data to activate the keys and pedals, recreating live piano performances with an exceptional degree of nuance and fidelity.

Talented classical artist Mei-Ting Sun mans the Yamaha DCFIIISPRO in Zenph’s advanced Raleigh, N.C. studio.
The achievement is a milestone in the production of music, with a variety of important implications for the music industry. Now, for example, piano recordings made in mono can be recreated in surround-sound or stereo. Generations of historical recordings can be revitalized, changing them from mere artifacts to fresh, thrilling new releases, as if the artists were performing live again. Old recordings made on outdated sound equipment, or played on out-of-tune instruments, can yield modern, high-quality CDs of the same performances. Zenph can even convert a chance recording of a jazz artist’s off-the-cuff improvisation into a precise description that can be re-performed, re-recorded, or printed as sheet music.

This month, the company will demonstrate the remarkable results with a concert at the BTI Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh, N.C. Those in attendance will experience “live” recreations of French pianist Alfred Cortot (1877-1962) playing a Chopin Prelude from 1926 and Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932-1982) performing excerpts from Bach’s Goldberg Variations as recorded in 1955. Zenph has also used this process to capture a recording made by Art Tatum two years before his death in 1956.

Before this development, a standard approach to sub-par recordings has been to clean them up or “re-master” them by filtering out noise and hiss. However, re-mastering can only accomplish so much: problems associated with clarity, acoustics, tuning, and the quality of the original instrument and recording equipment remained. What’s more, the filtering process could strip away subtle harmonies integral to the performance.

Zenph’s software analysis determines the precise keystrokes, pedal movement and timing that went into a performance. “Our process is a leap beyond the recording to the original performance itself,” says Zenph President John Q. Walker. “The process even snares the individual notes within dense harmonies, so each can be reproduced with their individual shades of touch and dynamics. In a modern recording studio, the recreated performance can then become a high quality recording that takes listeners back to the original moment when the artist was at work. It’s truly striking to hear the difference between a source recording and our finished product. Wouldn’t it be incredible to hear greats like Sergei Rachmaninoff or Jelly Roll Morton play again as if they were in the room?”

This technological achievement offers the musical equivalent of taking an old, faded and cracked photograph and recreating the original scene so it can be photographed anew – even if, for example, the original lighting had been poor. The artist’s intentions are captured fully, regardless of the condition of the recorded sample.

“I’ve worked extensively with John and with Disklavier Pro pianos, and the realism of this process is stunning,” says Mei-Ting Sun, the winner of the 2005 National Chopin Competition and the 2002 Piano-e-Competition. “They’ve created a process that is really going to unlock a wealth of musical possibilities.”

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