Pianos that play themselves were the coolest thing since sliced bread at the turn of the 20th century. Perforated metallic rolls dictated which hammers would strike and when. Purchase the encoded roll with your favorite ragtime ditty and let ‘er rip — great for your formal parlor.
Those programmable canisters were the precursor to modern music sequencing. In the digital world, we use MIDI files — codes that tell virtual oboes and cellos when to chime in during a composition. Folks at the creative agency Digital Kitchen made the connection between old school player pianos and digital music composition. They even put a social spin on it.
Meet Stanley, an interactive player piano. Tweet a request to @StanleyPiano and the song will queue up for performance. Online, you can watch Stanley play the songs at his (its?) live debut at the Capitol Hill Block Party, a music festival that kicks off Friday, July 20 in Seattle, Wash. The account will tweet at you when your song is up next.
Right now, Stanley’s repertoire is limited to the indie artists performing at the festival, but it “grows with every tweet,” says David Mikula, creative director of the project. “Stanley plays MIDI files. To build his repertoire, we had to transcribe piano renditions of these songs by ear and hand using an 88-key MIDI controller and Logic Pro. Song requests from Twitter are rolling in constantly. People want to hear Stanley play songs from every genre and musical era. Luckily, there are huge MIDI databases of popular music online, which we combed through to also include in his song catalog. We also couldn’t resist including some of our own personal favorites.”
So while building the catalog is a manual musical endeavor, Mikula aims to make the Twitter request process more streamlined. “A custom moderation tool named S.T.A.N.F.O.R.D. allows a team to curate the experience. Any part of the process that isn’t automated is meant to be personalized. All direct communication is handled by our team — whether that be an @reply when Stanley doesn’t know how to play a track, or when Stanley has to call out a drunken Block Party attendee in the blue shirt for spilling beer on his stage.”
There’s no limit to the queue, according to Mikula. “Stanley is a crowd pleaser. He’ll make his way through as many songs as possible before the weekend is over.”
Stanley is a player piano by birth, but he can no longer read piano rolls. “The fact that he already had all the mechanics to play notes himself made it much easier for us to modify this existing system and drop in his new electronic components.” After his debut at the Block Party, Stanley will be waiting at the Digital Kitchen office in Seattle for his next big gig.
Well, what are you waiting for? Tweet your favorite NKOTB jam at Stanley and tune in this weekend to hear the results.
Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/07/18/stanley-player-piano/