Groven Piano Project
- the un-tempered clavier -
[IMAGE Groven-pianoet]

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the Groven-Piano?
A: The Groven-Piano is a new keyboard instrument modeled after Eivind Groven's 36-tone pure-tuned organ. It is comprised of four pianos networked together via a computer. The primary purpose of this instrument is to make it possible for the piano to produce acoustically purer and more colorful harmonies.

Q: What kind of music can be performed on the Groven-Piano?
A: The Groven-Piano is intended for a wide variety of music, including the standard classical repertoire (e.g., Bach, Beethoven, etc.), folk music, jazz, as well as new works composed especially for the instrument.

Q: Who was Eivind Groven?
A: Eivind Groven (1901-77) was a Norwegian composer, scholar, and folk musician. He built three 'pure-toned' organs in 1936, 1954, and 1965. The latter two are still in operation at Groven's Organhouse in Oslo, Norway.

Q: How do you play the Groven-Piano?
A: The pianist plays on a silent control-piano (with a normal 88-key keyboard) which sends a MIDI-signal to a computer. The computer program determines the proper tuning in real-time, and redirects the MIDI-signal for each note to one of the other three 'player' pianos. These three pianos are coordinated to play simultaneously as a single instrument with no extra burden placed upon the pianist.

Q: Are they synthesizers or acoustic pianos?
[IMAGE SmartKey_ani.gif] A: The Groven-Piano uses acoustic pianos out-fitted with special hardware which can make the keys move and hammers strike the strings by remote-control. The software will also work with synthesizers, but it is preferable to use real pianos. The premiere of the Groven-Piano in Oslo, Norway used Yamaha Disklavier pianos donated for the performance by Yamaha Scandinavia AS.

Q: How can a computer decide how to tune the music?
A: The computer program is a kind of specialized artificial-intelligence containing knowledge about harmony and tuning. One could compare it with a computer chess program. In the latter case, the rules of chess and guidelines for long-term strategies are programmed into the computer. During the game, the computer analyzes what has been played on the chessboard (or the keyboard), evaluates all of the available moves, and selects the best one.

Q: Why do you need four pianos?
A: The first piano is to play on, but it doesn't make any sound. The other three pianos produce the sound and are tuned differently from eachother to provide a larger number of pitches. Each note has three variants separated from eachother by about 1/8th of a half-step.

Q: What does the "un-tempered clavier" mean?
A: Keyboard tunings are called tempered because they involve an alteration of earlier, more acoustically pure tuning systems. On a normal piano, each note must have its own key. Therefore, in contrast to (for example) a violin or the human voice, a piano has a rather limited number of possible pitches and must make compromises. The Groven-piano is called the un-tempered clavier because it overcomes the mechanical limitations of the keyboard which necessitated tempering.

Q: Aren't 12 notes enough? Why change?
A: To play with only 12 notes is like painting with only 12 fixed colors (i.e., only one red, one blue, etc.). Just like colors, there are an infinite number of pitches available in nature. In both classical music and other musical cultures, one finds many different tuning-systems besides the piano's. It is a common misconception that we have used the same tuning system for hundreds of years. In fact, twelve-tone equal temperament, the standard used today, did not become wide-spread until as late as 1917. In other words, all music prior to the 20th century was written and heard in other kinds of tunings.

Q: What is just intonation?
A: Just intonation is a tuning system based upon acoustically pure intervals from the harmonic overtone series found in nature. These pure intervals have a mathematically simple frequency ratio and sound crystal clear. It is natural to hear just intervals from a string quartet or an a capella choir without the use of piano. A piano tuned in equal-temperament, however, has no pure intervals, with the exception of the octave. Hear the difference.

Additional information about:
Groven Piano Project
Pictures and soundfiles from premiere
Tunings Comparison

Dr. David Loberg Code
Associate Professor of Music
School of Music
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
Phone: 616.373.6877