C++ Conquers the Piano: the Modartt Pianoteq
Friday, April 04, 2008   

Physical modelling. Taking the bits and pieces that make up a physical thing, and modelling them in software with unprecedented fidelity. We've already seen what physical modelling can do for the computer graphics world; now I'll present a sneak peek at what it can do for the world of music and tone generation.

By way of illustration, I'd like to talk about one of the most amazing pieces of software engineering I've ever encountered: the Modart Pianoteq. 

Weighing in at a mere 15 MB, the Pianoteq produces piano sounds that are breathtakingly realistic and it does so without the benefit of pre-recorded samples. In the words of the Modartt website:

The [Pianoteq] creates the sound in real time while you are playing and takes into account all the complex factors that makes the piano a truly vivid instrument, such as the interaction between strings, the use of pedals, the cabinet resonance and the position of the hammers.

The Modartt Pianoteq throws historical simulation-and-sampling approaches out the window. Rather than focusing on clumsy tone-generation (filters, oscillators, etc), rather than storing many gigabytes worth of prerecorded piano sounds, the Pianoteq models the physical structure of the piano itself.

That means you can do things like:

  • Hear what pianos sounded like in the time of Mozart
  • Tweak the piano's structure (in software): for example, you can make it twenty feet long
  • Create pianos that have never existed and will never exist
  • Tweak piano settings to achieve the distinct sound "flavor" of a particular real-world piano

The technology - often referred to as physical acoustic modelling - promises to produce living, breathing models of actual instruments, producing tones that sound as good as, if not better than, the real thing. This is the future. And if you listen to the Pianoteq (example recordings are are available as well as a demo version of the Pianoteq itself) I think you'll agree: it's already started to arrive.