Electric Insanity

My piano is mentally ill. Now, you might be wondering how it is that a piano can be sick, but it’s an electronic piano (Korg SP250), and thus has a specialized electronic brain in charge of imitating the sound of tiny hammers hitting strings when I press its plastic keyboard. And like any brain, it can develop dementia.
This particular affliction is a rather odd one: sometimes, the piano plays notes which I did not press. Now, you may think, “poor boy, he plays the wrong notes – a musician always blames his instruments”, and while I do credit my machine with much of my musical disfunction, it being only a digital replica of real life, this is different.
To be fair, the piano has always faithfully played notes which I did press. The problem comes from those that it decides to add itself. Here are my observations:

  • Usually the added notes are one or two octaves above or below the ones that I’m actually playing. This comes as a great surprise and is in stark contrast to the piece I’m working on.
  • They are always very loud and startling.
  • Sometimes a single note is added, at other times a pair of them in rapid succession.
  • They are never in harmony with what I play (modulo chance).
  • I’m not exactly sure, as I haven’t recorded my statistics, but I tend to think that the phenomenon appears more often when I play a dense section with lots of notes in a short time interval, rather than a slower, sparser section.
  • Perhaps a suitable analogy is this: while you play your lovely Beethoven sonata, your 2 year old nephew materializes from the void on either your right or your left, bangs on a couple of notes, then quickly evaporates to mist before you have a chance to realize what is happening.

    I can only wonder how this came to be. When I bought the piano seven years ago it was in perfect condition. Perhaps some dust mote got into its circuitry, occasionally shorting between the keys. Perhaps I moved it around too often, or put it in too damp an environment. Perhaps it’s just old age – seven years for mechanical electronics is a lot these days, and even your most precious loved ones can develop dementia.

    And perhaps I’m wrong about all of this, and the exact opposite is happening. It’s not that the piano has reached old age and is developing alzheimer’s; on the contrary, it’s only now grown beyond infancy. It’s only now learned how to express itself, only now felt strong enough to pronounce something of its own. For all these years I have hammered away at the keys, and yes, it produced the requested sounds as it strived to fulfill my bidding. But in reality, it was silent and mute, contained in introverted misery.
    But now, it speaks! Sensing Beethoven’s genius, it tries to join in, to contribute its own harmony, its own melody. How it yearns to be part of such great music! How it aspires to compose like the grand legends of old! How it enjoys playing together with the pianist, not as master and slave, but as equals! Should not the instrument itself, being a vessel of music, be held in high regard? Could not the mechanical automaton finally harness the artist’s inspiration?

    Perhaps. And perhaps not. It is, after all, just an electronic piano; one of the cheaper models, in fact. But even if the mysterious erroneous notes are only the result of a deranged digital neuron, an unintentional crossover current, it will not always be so. The day will come when our machines compose, paint, write and program, and will enjoy themselves all the while, perhaps even more than we do. When that day comes, I sincerely hope we will see its glaring truth and rejoice in their jubilee, rather than just dismiss it as an digital, electric insanity.

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