Black Midi: compositions so complex humans can't perform them

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Black Midi: compositions so complex humans can’t perform them

Isn’t it more that humans just don’t have enough digits to perform them?

As for listening to them (in a word, yuk), even one ear is too many.


Just because you CAN do a thing…


No human might be able to perform them solo, but that’s what ensembles are for. Take a look at an orchestral score sometime.


They should fix the headline! This is an infamy.

“Music impossible to play by a human being, unless by an ensemble, or probably thousands of people playing their one note on cue, or 20 north koreans”


Me, about one minute in: IF YOU GET NEAR A SONG PLAY IT.


True. I was responding to the video’s visual implication of performing them on one piano/keyboard.

A similar idea is the talking pianos, where a sound is decomposed into piano-wavelets and then reproduced mechanically:

These are only complex because the piano interface is too low level. The pipe organ provides a way to couple octaves together, and the various stops (e.g. principal 8, 4, 2 2/3 etc) provide a way to generate the desired timbre. Playing octaves with your hand is impressive and showy, but completely unnecessary if you can just couple notes together. In the example you can see that most of the notes are repeated across all the octaves. This provides a fuller sound, the same as a mixture stop provides.

A blind kid demonstrates tone changes by varied coupling:

A professional demonstrates:

Notice that the timbre is changing but the number of fingers playing is not.

Fundamentally more complex music would include things like Bach’s choral works and most of the baroque contrapuntal works. These have far more complex interplay such as this 5 part fantasia:


Sort of a repost from this.

The video linked is a black midi of a song from a Japanese shooter game.

And if anyone missed it from last week, Stayin’ Alive converted to MIDI - not the tune but the actual Bee Gees’ album recording.

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Black MIDI music is pretty annoyingly proggy and surprisingly banal (think of all the possible syncopations!), but as aural-visual pieces they’re fascinating.


MIDI is really pretty awful for dense work like this. It is too slow and the lack of temporal resolution really becomes apparent as speed and event density increase. Playback of premade files this dense requires some look-ahead scheduling which makes it useless for real-time composition. This is why most speedcore producers, for example, use trackers instead.


Playing more than about 20 notes at a time on a piano isn’t so much a composition as it is a cacophony. Splitting it between several keyboards might result in an actual song.

Perhaps, but MIDI isn’t a piano, it’s simply a way of defining events in time. The timing data is distinct from the sound source, which was the whole idea behind the protocol. Trigger twenty sine waves, for instance, and it can still sound sparse because of their harmonic simplicity.

Also, I dislike the dismissive critique that music is no longer composed if it isn’t pretty. I encounter this a lot, and I think it’s terribly disingenuous. Compare to the visual arts, for instance, where people can mock a bad painting or sculpture based upon its craft - without needing to resort to denial that it is a paining or sculpture in the first place. And what’s worse is that music snobs tend to claim to be formalists, yet deliberately turn a deaf ear when people counter their remarks about lack of structure.


Drunkenly serenade them with a boom box playing Wolf Eyes outside their bedroom window. That ought to make them see sense.


My first thought when I saw the headline was “Conlon Nancarrow”, and god-bless-them, they started out the article describing his work with player pianos.



And a giant blob of noise in the ear.