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Inspired by Glenn Gould’s fantasy of a kit of recorded elements that would allow the listener to become a composer, the Piano Invention app allows the user to create their own compositions using pre-recorded chords, notes and short motifs from famous classical compositions.

In a 1969 CBC-TV documentary, pianist Glenn Gould predicted that in the future recording artists would no longer offer the perfect, studio-mixed recording but would produce instead a kit of musical components that listeners could arrange and rearrange to suit their tastes, becoming their own editors or even their own performers.

Today's digital culture fulfills Gould's prediction; but to date, sampling is usually limited to popular music. Piano Invention, an app that makes it easy for young users to create their own classical compositions by associating sounds with pictures, seeks to fill the void.

"How can we make musical creation as accessible to people as listening is?" asks Shaun Elder, the Canadian music educator who developed the app, recording all the chords, notes and motifs it features.

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The app, which relies on the Art Jam platform created by Toronto entertainment-software developer Moonrider, associates sounds with animated images, allowing users to create music by touching the screen. "The second I saw it, I said 'This is what Gould was talking about,' " Elder says of the software. So, with the permission of the Gould estate, the new app carries the tagline "Technology inspired by Glenn Gould."

For music, Piano Invention relies on Elder's recordings of sections of famous classical compositions: Users can download the app plus Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and Bach's Prelude in C Major for free. They can then buy additional compositions, including Beethoven's Fur Elise, Debussy's The Girl with the Flaxen Hair and Chopin's Chanson de l'adieu.

Of course, Gould disliked the Romantic composers and, notoriously, would not play Chopin: Elder stresses that the technology is inspired by Gould but does not feature his recordings nor music he would necessarily have liked.

"I think Gould was saying we need to bring improvisation and creation back into music-making," Elder says. "… It is amazing he could see down the line and see that technology could empower people to do that."

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About the Author

Kate Taylor is lead film critic at the Globe and Mail and a columnist in the arts section. More


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