I’m watching a friend practise piano with headphones. The effect is a little surreal. Stripped of sound, these purposeful movements could be almost anything. She could be sending telegraphic messages, firing off banks of weapons, controlling some vast and complicated high-speed power loom.
It makes me think about several things. Like why are music keyboards this shape while typewriter-style ones are so cramped? Both are designed to let you ‘play’ them as quickly as possible, both have around the same number of keys, yet they came out so different.
Maybe it’s simply pressure on space in an office environment that forced the adoption of the multi-row typewriter layout. I’m pretty sure you could type as fast if the keys were all in a line, but they don’t need to be so you can ‘fold up’ the letters into a neater space.
Why not do that with piano keys? Well you could, but laying them out in a straight line reflects something intrinsic about them – that they have order. Though the actual notes that make up the scale are pretty arbitrary – other cultures use entirely different ones – their order is not. On the other hand there is no order to letters except alphabetical order, and that is so arbitrary that typewriters can blithely ignore it.
Having found two reasons for the difference (never be satisfied with one – nothing happens for just one reason) I move on to the next question:
Could performance weaving, composing and improvising on keyboard-controlled looms with colour instead of sound, give us wonderful new ‘silent concertos’?
- Music Writing Device Records Notes Played on Piano (Oct, 1930) (modernmechanix.com)
- Keaton Music Typewriter (flipflipmeheidi.com)
- Carol Cole’s Mesmerizing Steinway Mandala is Made From Recycled Piano Keys (inhabitat.com)
- Self-tuning piano can tune itself, can’t tuna fish (hackaday.com)