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Virtual Grand Piano

American Music Teacher , Dec, 2005 by Mario Ajero

Virtual Grand Piano, by Art Vista Productions. www.artvista.net.

Virtual Grand Piano puts the sounds of a Steinway concert grand piano into the hands of someone with a computer and MIDI keyboard.

Typically, playback of MIDI files on most computers results in a flake synthetic sound. However, Virtual Grand Piano takes MIDI data and has it trigger sampled sounds recorded from an actual concert grand piano. If a pianist wants to make a professional-style audio MIDI file recording, Virtual Grand Piano can be used as a plug-in, in conjunction with an audio production program, to burn it to an audio CD without the need for microphones.

One may be skeptical with the notion that a software program can emulate the experience of playing on a concert grand piano, but the makers of Virtual Grand Piano have gone to great lengths to allow this. There are seven basic presets that change subtleties in timbre according to the style of music that you want to play, whether classic piano, jazz piano or rock piano.

Even though the programmers were so meticulous in getting the best possible sound, there were many technical drawbacks. The press release for the program boasts that it can be used on "any computer," but this is hardly the case. The minimum and recommended computer system requirements are set significantly higher than what the average music teacher would have on their current computer.

I tested Virtual Grand Piano on an Apple iMac G5 running at 1.8 GHz with 512 MB of RAM. It consistently took more than one minute to change from one piano sound to the next. I continually received warnings that memory was getting low, which resulted in some dropped notes in both playback and real-time playing. The programmers list 512 MB of RAM as being a minimum requirement, but the load time for settings with this amount of memory will test the user`s patience. You can forget about running other applications simultaneously with this much RAM. They recommend 1 GB of RAM or more, so many users would have to upgrade the amount of memory in their current computer to run this software.

I used a Kurzweil Mark 10 digital piano with weighted action as the controller. The Virtual Grand Piano reacted extremely well to my changes in dynamic shading, but you might not get similar results on MIDI keyboards that lack a weighted action.

The bottom line is that Art Vista has created a product that is ahead of its time, but perhaps too much ahead of its time. The amount of attention paid to detail in creating high-quality piano samples comes at a price. At least for the time being, Virtual Grand Piano makes too many demands on what many music teachers` computer hardware can handle. Reviewed by Mario Ajero, Norman, Oklahoma.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Music Teachers National Association, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group

The Piano. - movie reviews

National Review

* At a New York Film Festival press conference, Jane Campion said she had originally intended to have the Cannes grand-prize-winning The Piano end with the drowning of the heroine. Instead, she has her going off to live happily ever after with her lover. I wonder about a writer-director who ends up making the opposite of what she set out to do. The film starts with Ada, a Scottish mail-order bride, arriving on a desolate New Zealand coast with her small daughter, Flora. It`s sometime in the nineteenth century, and there is no dock; the sailors unceremoniously dump people and their belongings on a deserted beach. Next day, Stewart, the husband, arrives with some Maori carriers. As the return trek leads through muddy jungles, Stewart decrees that Ada`s most precious possession, her piano, be temporarily left behind, exposed to the mercy of the waves and weather. Ada, by the way, is mute, and com- municates with her daughter in a home-made sign lan- guage; with others, via a notebook she wears around her neck, on whose pages she furiously scribbles the notes she hands out. Early sequences of the film have voiceover narration in Ada`s voice at age six, when she voluntarily stopped speaking. Don`t inner voices mature?

We never find out anything about Ada`s background, her first husband, and how Stewart acquired her in marriage. Or why she gave up speaking. Later, Flora will offer a wildly fanciful explanation that we, clearly, are not meant to believe. When mother and daughter spend that first cold night on the beach, they sleep under Ada`s hoopskirt; who would have thought a crinoline could provide shelter for two?

Why would a welcoming husband abandon his bride`s beloved piano, her chief mode of self-expression, when there are enough porters to carry it; and why not at least move it out of the reach of the waves? Later, it is Stewart`s less affluent partner, Baines--an Englishman gone native, who sports Maori tattoos on his face---who buys the piano from Stewart, and seems to have no problem hauling it to his homestead. That the piano should play perfectly after what it`s been through is one of the film`s most resounding lies.

Ada refuses to sleep with her husband, which he meekly accepts; he`ll wait. Baines tells Ada he`ll let her have the piano back in exchange for lessons. She goes to his house to give them, each session earning her a black key or, if she is particularly complaisant, more than one; the white keys, evidently, have no market value. Baines watches her from odd angles, including from below, often playing with her various extremities--with anything but the keyboard. Eventually, he presents himself to her naked and panting with desire; session by session, he has already removed quite a bit of her clothing. She succumbs, and they make wild, un-Victorian love. After that, things become rather more implausible.

Jane Campion prides herself on leaving much unexplained. She has every right to be proud: at leaving things unexplained, Miss Campion is a champion. We do not even get a sense of topography, of the distances between places, of what kind of settlement this is, of the reasons for the comings and goings of certain other white persons. As for the Maoris, they are lazy, giggling children, given to making rude jokes about the whites, which are sometimes, not always, translated by subtitles. Flora`s actions consistently make no sense, but she at least has the excuse of being a child. What the adults do would make sense only as the wet dream of an inane woman, which The Piano, apparently, is not meant to be.

A final example. When Ada, who now plays teasing sexual games with her embarrassed husband (who had watched her through a window make love to Baines, and said nothing, only to keep her later under household arrest), decides to send a love message to Baines, she writes it on a key she rips from her piano---as if there were no paper, and as if Baines, who is illiterate, could read it. She entrusts the missive to Flora, who, perversely, walks miles to deliver it to Stewart instead, even though she bears him no particular allegiance. The consequences are dire, of course, but in an utterly loony way. Miss Campion claims kinship with Emily Bronte; but Wuthering Heights, another overheated spinsterish fantasy, makes a lot more sense, and has a little thing called genius going for it.

Even the music is absurd. Except for one piece of mauled Chopin, the score is by Michael Nyman, one of the most self-important, overrated, and, to my ears, worthless composers around; for this period piece, he has written his usual New Age claptrap. Yet, in other ways, Miss Campion is a stickler for accuracy, especially when such accuracy looks or sounds ridiculous to us, e.g., people wearing London street clothes and shoes to slosh through jungle mud.

Holly Hunter looks dismal and ghostly most of the time, her two white ears protruding through an oily, slicked-down carapace of black hair like a pair of stale shrimps. She plays piano and bizarre equally well. Harvey Keitel manages to act supremely randy in a childlike way, and wears his blue Morse-code-like tattoo with a straight face, which is an accomplishment. Sam Neill struggles with a role as unappetizing as it is thankless, and Anna Pacquin is an adorably precocious brat ripe for strangling. What possessed the Cannes judges to divide the Golden Palm between this and Farewell My Concubine, which is at least indisputably a film? The only similarity between the two lies in each having a main character one of whose fingers gets lustily chopped off.

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