Bringing Glenn Gould Back to Life
Can't wait to hear this.
Zenph claimed it could take a 50-year-old mono recording and distill from its hiss-laden, squished sound all of the musical information that originally went into it. It wouldn’t “process” the recording to get rid of noise; it wouldn’t pretend to turn mono into stereo; it wouldn’t try to correct things that were sonically “wrong.” Instead the claim was that it would, using its proprietary software, learn from recorded sound precisely how an instrument — a piano, for starters — was played, with what force a key was struck, how far down the sustain pedal was pressed, when each finger moved, how each note was weighted in a complex chord and what sort of timbre was actually produced.
Then it would effectively recreate the instrument. A digital file encoded with this information would be read by Yamaha’s advanced Disklavier Pro — a computerized player piano — and transformed into music. A recorded piano becomes a played piano. This would be sonic teleportation, monochromatic forms reincarnated as three-dimensional sound — not colorization but re-creation.
Zenph also announced it had accomplished this feat of technological legerdemain with one of the most remarkable recordings of the last century: Glenn Gould’s 1955 mono rendition of Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations. Gould, who retreated from performance into the private realm of the recording studio where he could splice and fiddle with sound and phrase, would be posthumously pulled back into the realm of public performance.
Gould believed technology liberated performer and listener. Here this pianist, who died in 1982, would be freed from the ultimate constraint.
And indeed, last September in Toronto, Zenph gave a public “reperformance” of Gould’s “Goldbergs” on a specially prepared Yamaha Disklavier. Zenph’s “Goldbergs” inspired a standing ovation from the audience members, many of whom knew Gould and some of whom had heard him play live. The press reports glowed.
Then one day last week Zenph — which took its name from “senf,” the German word for mustard — brought a press demonstration of its “Goldbergs” to Yamaha’s New York piano studios, playing portions of the work both on the Disklavier and from its recording, due to be released at the end of May on Sony BMG Masterworks.