September 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Play Classical Music with Simple Gestures, as Inspired by Glenn Gould in 1969

piano invention glenn gould app

The Glenn Gould estate authorized the late performer’s tacit endorsement of Piano Invention, a classical music-playing app released today for free in the iTunes app store for iPhone and iPad.

Who’s Glenn Gould? Let me google that for you. Anyway, in 1969, good old Glenn Gould apparently had the idea that music would be created by gestures, rather than by playing individual notes on a piano. In 2012, he’s starting to be right.

Spun out from one of the scenes in Art Jam Universe, Piano Invention lets amateurs and even children as young as five years old have fun with songs from the great classical canon by playing notes that are part of the songs; activating chords; altering motifs; and triggering loops from the music of Bach, Beethoven, and others. All you have to do is tap little animated elements, which is easy enough, although the app does reward musical thought.

glenn gould piano inventionIt might be tempting to dismiss this as a gimmick, given the child-friendly, cartoonish design of some of the scenes (more images). But once we got our hands, er, fingertips dirty with the app — especially in the variation of Bach’s “Prelude in C” (listen to our first, faltering efforts in the video below) — we realized it’s for real.

“We’ve added some cool features since [Art Jam Universe], including swipe control of musical phrasing, and a multi track recording feature – and added more content (there are seven scenes in the app now),” Piano Invention creator Shaun Elder told “[It's] interesting to note that Steve Jobs was a huge fan of Gould  – Apple even approached the Gould Estate to have Gould included in the “Think Different” campaign (approval was given, but Gould didn’t end up making it into the campaign). Isaacson mentions Gould in his bio of Jobs. Kind of cool that Gould’s vision for technology gets realized on Jobs’ iPad.”

Each song in this Piano Invention app is represented by a different graphical scene, with all sorts of elements to unlock and play. The result is something of a classical remix that retains vestiges of the original composition while granting the user a degree of compositional leeway.

In other words, it’s fun, and the sounds it makes do not suck.

If this sounds intriguing, we recommend simply installing the app and trying it for yourself, because it’s free — or, rather, two of the songs/scenes (Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and Bach’s aforementioned “Prelude in C”) are free. Each of the additional seven songs/scenes costs $2. If you get hooked, you could find yourself installing some of these.

What’s your motivation? Well, we found the app pretty relaxing, and stimulating from a creative point of view, but in an interesting twist, you can also brag a bit by recording up to 90 seconds of your performance, so that the app can automatically upload it as a YouTube video, showing each of the elements you triggered. These videos get submitted to a special channel on YouTube dedicated to these videos, called “Glenn Gould @80 Online Tribute.”

Perhaps more satisfyingly, you can also submit them to Facebook so your friends and family can wonder at your classical music prowess, even though all you really did was tap a bit on your screen during your commute to work.

Here’s the demonstration video and announcement:

YouTube Preview Image

And here’s the version of the Bach piece I made on my first try:

YouTube Preview Image