This AI pianist performed an 'unplayable' piano piece and it's terrifying

26 February 2021, 17:17

AI pianist plays ‘unplayable’ black MIDI music
AI pianist plays ‘unplayable’ black MIDI music. Picture: Massive Technologies / YouTube

By Rosie Pentreath

Black midi music was unplayable. Until now. Watch human(ish) hands scale the piano keyboard with a mind-bending ferocity that would leave even Rachmaninov quaking in his boots.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Somebody has asked artificial intelligence (AI) – in other words, a computer robot that learns – to play an ‘unplayable’ piano piece. And it’s terrifying.

AI is meant to do impossible things. Like beat grandmasters at chess, and realise what we want to buy before we do. And now, it’s taken on the sacred realm of virtuoso piano playing.

In this video, we see developer of the software, Massive Technologies, ask their AI piano player to play ‘Black MIDI’ music, which is music in MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) computer files containing huge numbers of notes packed together.

And the music (noise?) created from the AI’s little virtual hands on the keys is something to behold.

Read more: AI piano plays Bach just like legendary pianist Glenn Gould >

AI Attempts to Play Black MIDI on Piano

Okay – here’s what’s going on.

The AI here has been programmed to hear music, learn it and play it back with these very life-like hands you see.

When that’s a Chopin Etude or Liszt rhapsody (watch below) the results are lovely – a pair of surreally smooth, slightly odd but basically human, hands playing the piece.

It’s only when you ask the AI to do what’s otherwise impossible, that it says “challenge accepted” and gives us the baseline traumatising performance we’ve just seen.

Read more: AI can judge your piano skills just by watching you play >

A.I. Generates 3D Virtual Concerts from Sound

Black MIDI music was inspired by dense scores developed by avant-garde composer Conlon Nancarrow. In around 1947, when he was at his wits end with performers who seemingly couldn’t keep up with his complex rhythmic notation, he started notating absolutely impossibly complex piano rolls, for player pianos to interpret his maddeningly brilliant music.

Created by Canadian-based Massive Technologies, who specialise in music tech, this AI pianist was crafted as a learning tool – basically, a virtual piano teacher that could help students learn by seeing.

The developers setting it off with this crazy black MIDI mission was a bit naughty really (not that they were the first!). We don’t think even Rachmaninov would approve.