When we last checked in on Mark Rober, the NASA engineer turned actually-really-entertaining YouTube guy, he was risking life and limb to explore shark science with one of the Stranger Things kids. Now, he’s returned with another experiment that loses the sense of terrible danger but holds onto the need to present viewers with unnervingly lifeless eyes: A customized self-playing piano that sort of speaks English and has a pair of googly plastic peepers slapped onto it.
Though the “talking” aspect of Chopstix, the super piano in question, requires subtitles to easily understand, the creation is still an engineering marvel. Rober has customized a piano so it can accept audio inputs and perform perfect musical replications all on its own.
Unlike traditional player pianos, Chopstix doesn’t strike each string with full force and can actually recreate a human player’s dynamics. Unconcerned with our fleshy limitations, the piano can also play stuff that’s impossible for a single musician with only ten meagre fingers at their disposal. The first demonstration of this is Chopstix performing every part of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” including a garbled piano-speak version of the vocal melody.
The second, even more impressive test sees Chopstix running through Sheet Music Boss’ absolutely absurd composition, “Rush E,” complete with an edited visualizer overheard that makes the robot piano’s performance look like a deeply inhuman Guitar Hero level.
What Rober has created here is at least as impressive as his elaborate squirrel obstacle course and mutant Super Soaker, which leads us to hope that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Chopstix. This piano deserves to have a long, fruitful career in music, after all. It ought to perform all over the world, delighting us with its seemingly magical abilities. Or, if nothing else, Chopstix should at least audition to join Dream Theater.
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