ppff – acronym for the musical notation “pianissimo – fortissimo”, is a generative visual music installation premiered at Barcelona’s “Gran Teatre del Liceu”.
Its main element is a player piano, a MIDI automated grand piano which can strike its hammers after receiving real-time music data.
This piano receives its musical information from an unorthodox source: an ever-changing rainfall of generative graphics, displayed on a vertical LED screen. When the graphics reach the piano position, they are transformed into MIDI notes thanks to a combination of custom softwares written in C++ (OpenFrameworks) and Java (Processing).
Musically, this piece for piano solo consists of 7 generative behaviors -or miniatures-. Each miniature explores a different kind of expressive, conceptual or harmonic idea; from atonal and indetermined music, to modal or rhythmic. All miniatures are highly conditioned by randomness, chance and probabilities, therefore this musical pieces will never be played exactly the same again.
Miniature 1: Le Corbusier
Inspired by the architectural and musical work of Iannis Xenakis and Le Corbusier, this piece is an exploration of direct sonification of animated ruled surfaces, as seen on the Philips Pavillion by Xenakis and Le Corbusier.
Miniature 2: Tessitura
This is a contemplative piece which aims for beauty and onirism, through the use of a restricted pentatonic scale (Hirajoshi) and a slowly moving tessitura: the pitch range and center point of the piece slowly evolves, giving rise to lower or higher tonal passages throughout its length. The piece uses the sustain pedal to maximize resonance and the onirical mood.
Miniature 3: Phraser
An exploration of contrast and rhythmic variation. A dialogue between small clusters of short notes, phrases of notes of large durations and massive clusters. Harmonically, each phrase will be articulated using a different scale, choosen from a set of 40 different possibilities.
Miniature 4: Nocturna
This piece is an exploration on keyboard layering. While the higher region of the keyboard is played using pianissimo short notes which vary in density, the lower region is performed using long notes. Sporadically, big clusters of notes in the medium range spice the composition with strong contrasts. Although its closeness to atonality (it is quantized to a diminished scale), and thanks in part to the use of the resonance given by the sustain pedal, the composition arises as a peacefull and nightly slow piece.
Miniature 5: Primitives
This piece explores direct sonification of highly recognizable geometric primitives, inspired by the XXth century Bauhaus design school. Evolving densities and expressions make the piece mutate through time. The harmony jumps from a C minor 7th chord to a C# minor 7th chord whenever there is a silence bigger than 250ms.
Miniature 6: Functions
An exploration on mathematics and music, this piece applies a random number of mathematical transformations to simple ramp functions which control the density, tessitura and expression of musical notes.
Miniature 7: Grids
Grids attempts to create an interesting generative animation, through the use of rotating primitives. The geometric figures are displayed on screen quantized on an invisible grid, thus the name of the piece. Each geometric figure moves at a different speed, adding a rich rhythm to the composition. Harmonically, the piece jumps between different 19 pentatonic and 1 hexatonic scale whenever there is a silence bigger than 250ms, giving as a result an interesting jazzy feel.
Concept, software, graphics, music: Playmodes
Piano: Jorquera Pianos, Carles Horváth
LED screen: Custom Project
Venue: Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona