Ryan Caloras isn't satisfied doing things the way they've always been done.
Encouraged by his parents to begin learning the piano when he was 6 years old, the recent Carnegie Mellon alum shelved his lessons in high school so he could focus on learning to improvise.
"Once I learned you could break away from what was printed on the sheet music and take a song to another level, I began jamming and joined a rock band. I put more thought into a song and its composition," Caloras said. "Music has been my passion ever since."
Music isn't his only passion. A close second is his fascination with computer science. At Carnegie Mellon, Caloras was able to merge the two interests in an innovative way.
"I had always wanted to do research through the university. I was heavily involved in their music technology program, and after getting to know Professor Roger Dannenberg in the computer science department, he suggested I might be interested in developing a new way for musicians to interact with software that helps them in their music," Caloras said.
Caloras and Dannenberg, who is also a musician, know firsthand how troublesome it is to turn pages of sheet music during a performance. They decided to work on developing a solution.
"Our first idea was to develop software allowing for a laptop or tablet PC to be used as a digital music stand," Caloras explained. "Our second idea was to incorporate things like optional repeats or sections of music that should be decided live, like for example, if you want to jam out a section."
Caloras performed a demo of the software at this year's Meeting of the Minds. The demo was developed using Dannenberg's programming language — Serpent — with about 1,000 lines of code and linked with an Oxygen8 midi keyboard.
"Turning pages with our digital music stand is incredibly easy; the task is reduced to the touch of a foot pedal," Caloras explained. "It also allows for the previewing of pages, loading parts of the next page while finishing the one before. And it reduces stacks of papers to files, which helps with organization on stage."
With the digital music stand they developed, the rate of progression through a piece can even be recorded and calculated to help an external system follow the score.
"In other words, while you practice and rehearse, and the digital music stand learns to turn your pages at the pace you are playing," Caloras said.
Eventually, Caloras sees networking and communication between stands. "Ideally, a conductor could execute lots of commands for all the stands that would be networked and playing together," he said.
"Although commercial music displays exist, we hope that open, programmable systems like Ryan's will open up new ways to use computers in music performance," Dannenberg said. "It was great working with Ryan and seeing his project develop into a working system."