Dan Tepfer brings code-augmented improv to NPR’s ‘Tiny Desk’

A taste of his musical programming project, ‘Natural Machines.’

Pianist and coding extraordinaire Dan Tepfer recently gave NPR a taste of his boundary-breaking record Natural Machines with a fascinating Tiny Desk concert.

Thanks to algorithms Tepfer developed, he effectively duets with his own piano—a Yamaha self-playing Disklavier—that processes the notes he plays and generates its own responses. Released in May, Natural Machines is a collection of 11 engrossing tracks, each improvised and recorded in a single take.

Seated at his trusty Disklavier in the NPR offices, Tepfer took time after each song to explain the mechanics of the Natural Machines project, sparing little theoretical or mathematical detail with regard to his programming.


“As soon as I play something, it goes into my computer, and these programs I’ve written shoot back notes to the piano to play in response,” he told the audience. “Since I’m improvising, I’m reacting to what the piano is playing too. The programs are also sending data to these other apps I’ve written that generate a visual representation of music as it’s happening. This is all in real time; nothing is pre-recorded or pre-planned.”

Tepfer’s performance is incredible to watch, not least because of the beautiful visualizer which generates beautiful projections of the music. It plays a particularly stunning role in the performance of “TriadSculpture.”

Watch Tepfer’s Tiny Desk here:


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