This AI has reconstructed actual Rachmaninov playing his own piano piece

2 March 2021, 15:44 | Updated: 4 March 2021, 09:08

By Rosie Pentreath

In 1919, Rachmaninov’s performance of his own devilish Prelude in C minor was punched into piano roll for posterity. Now you can see him play it. No, really.

In 1919, legendary Russian composer, Sergei Rachmaninov, recorded his own performance of his Prelude in C sharp minor onto piano roll, so it could be preserved as a recording.

The Prelude in question is a very difficult piece, and Rachmaninov was able to play its hardest passages up to speed, and with exhilarating energy.

And now – as well as hearing the performance through the historic piano roll, you can now see the performance (watch above).

Through clever artificial intelligence (AI), Canadian technology company, Massive Technologies, has produced piano-playing hands that allow you to all but see Rachmaninov in action.

The hands are shown in ‘first person’ – i.e. roughly where your own would be, if you were sat down at the keyboard to give the mighty Prelude a go – so it feels like you could even be Rachmaninov.

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The technology that has allowed Rachmaninov’s performance to come to life is a type of computer learning that can internalise and replicate music virtually. It’s visualised as a piano player – or, more accurately, a piano player’s arms and hands – and has been devised as a learning tool for pianists keen to see a demo from their teacher.

For the Rachmaninov animation (watch above), the AI has extracted notes from the audio recording from the original 1919 Rachmaninov piano roll, and generated the appropriate hand and body animation based on what it’s ‘seen’ from piano players before.

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And although the video shows just the arms and hands of the AI pianist, the programmers ‘attached’ a virtual camera to the virtual pianist’s head to ‘simulate eye gaze and anticipation’, according to the original YouTube post.

Rachmaninov was known for having very big hands and a prodigious technique at the piano, hence the hugely complicated and expansive melodies he wrote for the piano.