"Listening experience": Anita Pianesi's research about musical performance and audience's reception

Musical performance and its reception by the audience have always been important aspects for the performers. Anita Pianesi made a research about this topic, which she also brought to Cremona Musica, in the event "Listening experience", with the pianist Costantino Catena, the robot-pianist Teo Tronico, and a Disklavier piano. We interviewed Anita Pianesi to know more about this study.


How was the idea for this project born?

The idea for the research came through the years, with my studies and thanks to the meeting with Prof. Mario Baroni and Prof. Johannella Tarufi, who encouraged me to follow this path.


The recordings from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century show that the approach to the musical performance was quite different. The agogics were considered at the service of the performance, freely; mistakes were common since the musician is a human being. During the 20th century this approach changed, musicians are required to play in a cleaner fashion, almost like a robot. How do you explain this change?

Personally, I do not completely agree. It is true that the evolution of the instruments made the performer and the listeners increasingly expect “perfection”; modern pianos help, but the musicians are supposed to be faithful to the idea of the composer. If you are talking about improvisation, it is certainly true, it is less common. Today media also allow to listen to the performance of great musicians, and the emulation can lead young musicians to find a similar style. I also want to highlight that the most successful musicians are those that avoid “robotic performances”, as you called them.


Besides your study, do you think that this project could have some consequences on the conception of “perfect performance” that the listener had before the event?

The aim of my project is to understand if and how the performer affects the reception of the musical message by the listeners and the published outcomes will certainly contribute to understanding this. I do not know if listeners have a “conception of perfect performance”, and I do not know if there is any research about it. This could be an aspect to study in the next research, it could be interesting to understand, for instance, what the listeners evaluate to define a “perfect performance”.


Recently we have seen many attempts to replace the artists with technology, here we have a pianist robot, but there are also compositions created by AI. Do you think that there will be less space for humans in the arts, in the future? Are humans so unreplaceable?

I think that the artist, like the musicians, in this case, should be open to the discovery of everything that exists around him, and then use and welcome what he likes, and what he thinks is closest to his ideas. Being defensive, considering technology a threat, or discrediting what it can offer is, in my opinion, the wrong approach, and it limits the personal and artistic growth. This does not mean forgetting the past. AI is part of our daily life, it is a help in many fields, such as surgery. Arts are human expressions connected with emotions and needs, technology can be an expressive means, but the message can be originated only by the human artist.


How do you think this study will evolve? What is the aim and what results have you reached so far?

Music is a language, so it follows the rules of communication. The reception of the message is one of the main elements of the communication process, that needs at least four elements: the sender (that sends the information, in this case, the musician), the message (in this case, music), a shared code (music notation and its system) and, last but not least, the recipient. The coding and decoding of the reception of the message depend on many variables. People have studied these variables ever since the language existed. Predicting how this study could develop means predicting the outcome of the study itself, and that is not easy. The goal of the study is to discover, and the more you discover the more the goals become ambitious, and there is no final goal since knowledge generates new questions. Answering these questions is the aim of the research. Today we already discovered many things, not just because of the research in the musical field, but also because of those in the linguistic and neurological field. I do not want to disclose anything, let’s wait to discover the outcomes of the research “Listening experience”, and most of all, let’s enjoy the music!


(in the picture, Anita Pianesi and Costantino Catena).