Musical MoCap

I spent a very pleasant couple of hours this week with distinguished pianist David Owen Norris, who is a noted pianist and accompanist, having appeared at the London Proms and at concerts around the world. He is Professor of Music at the Royal College of Music and at Southampton University. He and a scientist, Dr Cheryl Metcalf have  developed a technique of motion capture of the hands & wrists of musicians, with the emphasis at present on the piano. Whilst it would be normal for Prof Owen Norris to play a very superior Grand Piano, for the purposes of the experimental work he is limited to a small electric keyboard, as the motion capture lab is on the third floor of one of the University buildings with access only by a small lift. This didn’t stop him playing almost without pause – a medley of classical & light classical music mixed with scales and improvisations.

All the playing was recorded by light reflecting back from retroreflective markers to special cameras and the digital information processed by computers to triangulate the markers’ position in space. The equipment used is the same marque as used in many Hollywood blockbusters, but for the analytical use displays the captured finger and wrist positions as ball-and-stick models.

It is hoped that the technique will be useful not only for musical analysis and teaching but also clinically, in the treatment of problems such as Repetitive Strain Injury which is an occupational hazard of some musicians.

This composite I developed, from some computer images I shot of Prof Owen Norris’s hands, is an imagined plot of the final crescendo of a piano piece, ending with a flourish and a single chord.

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