25.03.2010 Dear lazyweb … or: the perfect open source piano

From a composers point of view, it would be nice to have a piece of software which models a grand piano and covers the complete range of expressions which make a piano a piano. For instance, if you hit the same note harder (with higher velocity), the sound should not only be louder, but also sound more aggressive. Also using the sustain pedal has a significant influence on the sound (and cannot be simply modelled as not releasing the notes that are already pressed. Finally, and maybe hardest to model, different notes inter act with each other (one string putting another into resonance).

So, dear lazyweb, I do know commercial products for windows that deliver high quality piano sound, either as huge sample sets, or via physical modelling. But are there comparable high quality pianos which are open source?

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  1. Cypher says:

    I must admit that I’m interested too ! I’ve only found average MIDI soundbanks so far, and they are not that great…

  2. Ole Laursen says:

    I’m pretty sure the answer is no.

    With the sampling approach you need a heck lot of samples. I believe there actually are some older (hence smaller) sets that are freely available. I don’t think they’re going to cut it.

    With the physics-inspired synthesis approach, you need a good synthesis model. PianoTeq’s got one, Roland’s got one for their V-Piano, but neither disclose any details. There’s some research on a Finnish university (http://www.acoustics.hut.fi/~hml/publications.html), although I believe they aren’t yet far enough in producing a convincing sound across the whole piano. And there’s one in development by University of Verona in collaboration with an Italian instrument manufacturer, Viscount International – as I understand it, they’ll have a paper out soonish. They’ve hired Balazs Bank (http://home.mit.bme.hu/~bank/publist/index.html).

    I’ve been tinkering with some code that follows the University of Verona model. If it ends up sounding good, I intend to release it as open source. However, I’m currently stuck. I need a soundboard impulse response, which is basically a sample of how the soundboard in the piano reacts, since there isn’t a physical model of the soundboard in this approach (I don’t think any other real-time models got that either, it’s simply too complex).

    Another down-side is that I think it’s unlikely that everything from their research will be published because of their deal with the Viscount International. If you google them, there some hints that they’re coming out with a digital piano with the model this year. Roland is basically the only competition in this field, so they probably don’t want to make it too easy for competitors.

    I’d really, really like to continue work on this project. I’d like to have a model I can understand and improve on, and most importantly play and feel happy playing on (got a neighbour who’s not happy with my acoustic). PianoTeq’s model isn’t quite good enough for me, not yet at least.

  3. While at OLPC we worked with a tool called CSound which is a sound server that is geared towards midi. There was talk of, I think it was Berkeley school of music but I could be wrong, releasing a set of high quality sound fonts. There might have been a problem with the license. I remember hearing that they wanted to make the high quality version of the fonts licensed so you couldn’t edit them (but you could for the low quality versions). My recollection is vague and second hand so I am most likely getting the details wrong but it is a starting point that might help in your search. The TamTam guys would know. TamTam is an OLPC activity that uses CSound to allow kids to produce music at different levels of complexity, from just bashing on keys to a full midi tracker to a tool that allowed you to make new sounds from circuit like diagrams.

  4. jeff says:

    Well, I’ve seen my teacher use Ounk (he created that app) with a MIDI keyboard and sample sounds from i-dont-know-his-name’s (a famous pianist) piano to achieve exactly that. But it would imply that you care enough to get ounk running, a midi keyboard, find the sample files (maybe asking him where to find them) and learn how to do basic python programming with Ounk.

  5. stw says:

    @jeff: well the details of Ounk would not be so relevant I guess, as other publicly available projects can play samples. The relevant question is: which samples did he use, and are they available under a sufficiently free license. If you could ask your teacher about this, I’d be happy to read your answer.

  6. stw says:

    @john thanks for the OLPC pointer – it seems to be problematic to find a sufficiently well seeded torrent of the samples, but I’ve found one

    google for 451CBCFF17735372DFB7683A57FC08F33F7B05B2

    which seems to have at least 1 seed.

  7. Kris says:

    I still use ProTools for just about everything, and Windows OS as well as Mac. Depends on the project. It’s tricky business to find good products. Midi et al are useful, but how to convey things like rallentando or rubato, let alone crazy bel canto cadenzas? For pop music, Ounk and the rest work well. Depends on your needs.

  8. Ole Laursen says:

    If you’re interested, the University of Verona paper has been published, it’s titled “A Modal-Based Real-Time Piano Synthesizer”: http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/freeabs_all.jsp?arnumber=5446595