Re: A piano is a piano is... ("Andrew L. Kaye" )

Subject: Re: A piano is a piano is...
From:    "Andrew L. Kaye"  <androsky(at)FAST.NET>
Date:    Wed, 14 Oct 1998 16:32:38 -0400

lseltzer(at)PHOENIX.PRINCETON.EDU wrote: > If one is going to challenge, from an ethnomusicological point of > view, the idea that an acoustic piano, as opposed to an electronic > piano, is the "real" piano I am sorry if I caused some confusion in my post. I suppose the main issue is, how significant is the difference, to the human mind, of various sounds of the piano-type. All sounds must be mediated through the human body, whether by the ear (which we consider to be the most common channel) or directly through the skin as with pulsating bass sounds in a discotheque. In this respect, the only "real piano" is that (or those) sound-construct(s) in our own minds that we refer to as "the piano." This sound may be produced by that old wooden and steel contraption we call the acoustic piano, or by synthesis, or internally, through the result of pure memory. > then cultural theory is wreaking havoc upon the traditional way > ethnomusicologists classify instruments. >From the latter point of > view a piano is a plucked zither. I don't quite understand how we got to this problem of cultural theory wreaking havoc; customarily, ethnomusicology classifies the piano as a "struck zither"; a harpsichord would be an example of a plucked zither. > Some piano synthesis algorithms do not even model a plucked zither. No surprise here. > So if the definition of the piano is to be expanded, who wins, the > anthropologists or the organologists? Organologist's taxonomies are typically based on some mixture of the mechanisms by which instruments generate sound, and the material basis and shapes of the sound-producing instruments. In my opinion, what we need are taxonomies of the sounds themselves, and this seems to be what at least some researchers on the Auditory list are devoted to. The traditional taxonomies kind of work, because there is a certain degree of correspondance between instrument shape or type (reed, brass, plucked strings) and the resultant sound. In the age of synthesizers, this correspondance breaks down. I made my post because I wanted to remind myself that my daughter recognized (or claimed to recognize) the piano as such, and it was through hearing a piano modified through pretty bad radio speakers. So, I'm not surprised that people can't tell the difference between a synthesized piano sound, and the so-called "real thing". I did not intend to posit the idea that the acoustic piano was the Ur-Piano. Sorry! Cheers, Andrew Kaye musicmap(at) Email to AUDITORY should now be sent to AUDITORY(at) LISTSERV commands should be sent to listserv(at) Information is available on the WEB at

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